Men, here’s a quick quiz for you. What’s the biggest reason women give up breastfeeding?
a) The pain of cracked nipples?
b) The constant feeding demands for the baby?
c) Leaking breasts?
d) Difficulty in getting the baby to ‘latch on’ and obtain adequate milk?
e) None of the above?
The first 4 answers can all cause breastfeeding difficulty in the early days. But, with the right support, most women can work through these problems and feed successfully and enjoyably within a few weeks.
Sadly, and often surprisingly for the men to whom I give the above quiz, the correct answer is ‘e’.
This is because the biggest reason women give up is that men aren’t supportive of breastfeeding.
What does the research tell us?
In one study, the result found a huge 50% of babies were no longer exclusively breastfed by 2 months, and the biggest reason for that was lack of partner support.
There’s a significant amount of research to indicate not all men support breastfeeding, absolute breastfeeding rates are lower, and women who do breastfeed wean their babies earlier.
So how could this be? Why are men the cause?
Men want to do something … anything
Men don’t wish to see their partners upset or in pain. For the first few weeks, lactation can be painful and difficult to learn, both for mothers and babies.
For most infants, feeding is instinctive. But for many women, the idea of using her body to nourish another human being can feel strange. Women might need to learn how to breastfeed.
Overcoming physical and psychological barriers to feeding can take some time. But with the right support from the midwife or a breastfeeding counselor, nearly all women can breastfeed.
During this difficult time of learning, a woman needs a man who’ll support her to learn, rather than one who’ll say, in an attempt to be helpful, ‘Come on, bottle-feeding isn’t that bad. Let’s not muck around with breastfeeding’.
Breastfeeding and breast milk provide benefits
These are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding:
- Breast milk is exactly formulated to meets the needs of your son or daughter at different times in their development
- Breastfeeding has been shown to provide children with many developmental benefits, and breastfed babies have higher IQs
- Breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies
- Breastfeeding is convenient; there’s no messing around with bottles, teats, sterilizers, spoons, and containers
- Breastfed babies and children have fewer illnesses than non-breastfed babies
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease in mums
- Breast milk is cheap
- Breastfeeding causes no harm to the environment compared with formula milk
- Breastfeeding increases the bonds between baby and mother.
When the father understands the vast benefits of breastfeeding and mother’s milk for a mum and her child compared with formula feeding, the research shows that he’ll support her more if she has a tricky time trying to establish feeding.
If men really think they need to do something about their partners’ breast feeding problems, then they can read the extensive amount of material about the benefits of lactation, and attend an Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) course.
Boobs are for sex … aren’t they?
There are two aspects to this concern.
Firstly, some men have only ever considered their partner’s breasts as sex toys and not milk bars. Secondly, some men believe that feeding at the breast interferes with their wives’ sex drive.
The answer to the first point is, ‘Get over it’.
Breasts are indeed beautiful parts of the female body, and men seem to be innately attracted to them. Maybe there’s some deep evolutionary purpose to men’s attraction to breasts.
More certainly, though, we know that the biological purpose of breast tissue is to create human milk to nurture the next generation.
The sexual pleasure that both partners get from breasts is simply a bonus. Get your priorities right!
The second point is more complex.
Breastfeeding is controlled by the production of several hormones, including oxytocin and prolactin. The hormone oxytocin is actually a powerful love hormone.
Read our article How Dads Can Bond With Their Babies for more information about this.
Tell me more about this magic love hormone you speak of?
The cocktail of hormones that governs breastfeeding can, in fact, make some women desire sex more often. For others, however, the side effects of breastfeeding reduce their sex drive.
If the man’s partner falls into the second group, then giving up breastfeeding might not be the answer.
The side effects of parenting a young baby and the rigors of childbirth are more likely to affect a mum and her sex life than breastfeeding.
Keep in mind that if you throw yourself into parenting as an active Dad, then you too will be tired, and sleep might be preferable to sex for a few months after the birth of your baby.
I don’t want other men seeing my partner’s breasts!
This concern is linked very much to the view that breasts are for sex rather than for nourishment.
Once a man comes to terms with his feelings about breastfeeding, and understands the great benefits to his child from breastfeeding, this becomes an irrelevant issue.
However, the practicalities of breastfeeding mean that women are often very discreet breastfeeders. As a rule, most women don’t spend their time flashing their breasts around when feeding and, as infants get better at the latching on, few people would notice the brief flash of a nipple.
The final point is that most other men actually look the other way when a woman attaches her little one. Give them some credit!
Men seem to have an innate understanding that staring at their best mate’s partner’s boobs or nipples whilst she’s feeding the baby isn’t considered polite.
If she’s breastfeeding, she can’t work, and we need the money
It’s quite possible, and practical, to express breastmilk using a high-quality pump and store it for feeding your baby when the mother has to be at work.
Anything that can extend the period of breastfeeding will be valuable to your baby’s welfare.
Many government and private workplaces allow breastfeeding breaks for women who don’t pump, and provide a quiet room for the mother to feed her baby.
If you are concerned about money, breastmilk is far cheaper than formula.
Breastfeeding costs between $50 and $100 per year for the extra kilojoules of energy your partner will require to create milk, and possibly for a good quality pump.
Formula is another story. Ignoring the costs of bottles, teats, water, and the electricity cost of heating the formula and sterilizing all the gear, formula costs between $1,400 and $3,000 per year, depending on the quality.
I want to bond with my baby too!
There’s no doubt that breastfeeding is a most wonderful bonding mechanism for mother and baby, and some dads feel that by not feeding the baby, they’re missing out on bonding with their baby.
There are even ads and stories in the United States and other parts of the world about the phenomenon of a male breastfeeding kit, which allows dads to ‘chest feed’ to bond with their little ones!
But do you really want to look like you had a boob job?
There are many other ways for a man to bond with his baby, such as cuddling with her on your bare chest, changing his nappy, bathing her, playing with him, burping her, comforting him, dressing her.
There are so many tasks involved in bringing up a baby that simply throwing yourself into baby care and maintenance will allow you to bond successfully with your baby.
Leave the feeding with women for at least the first six months. Trust her body, give credit where credit is due and let it do what it’s designed to do!
If you become an expert in baby care and maintenance, then you won’t only be bonding with your baby, you’ll also be bonding with your lovely lady.
A mum cannot resist a dad who’s willing to be a good father to their baby. It triggers her oxytocin, and as a result, she feels all warm and loving.
What was that about enjoying sex again?
Here are 8 Ways Dads Can Bond Without A Bottle.
The benefits of breastfeeding are so great that there are many resources, such as articles and videos, available specifically to assist parents with issues related to breastfeeding.
If you have engaged your own midwife, then use her skills.
Otherwise, you can’t go past the services offered by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA). See their website: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au.
The ABA offers a 24/7 helpline for breastfeeding problems. If you’re in the USA, check out La Leche League.