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Help Your Partner Support Breastfeeding


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By Armin Brott

You know all about how great breastfeeding is, right? That it’s free, that it never runs out and that breastfed babies’ diapers don’t stink are major advantages.

But there’s a lot more. It gives you and your child a great opportunity to bond. It’s also the perfect blend of nutrients for the baby. Breastfed kids have a much lower chance than formula-fed kids of developing food allergies, respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses and of becoming obese as adults. It may also transmit immunity to certain diseases on to the baby. Pretty much everyone agrees that you should breastfeed for at least a year if you can.

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Odd as it sounds, you and your child aren’t the only ones affected by your decision to breastfeed — your partner is, too. And getting them involved is critical. A number of studies have shown that when partners support and encourage breastfeeding, moms are more interested in doing it, are a lot more successful and do it for longer.

So how does your partner really feel?
Before their babies are born, nearly all expectant parents feel that breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby and that their partners should do so as long as possible. After the baby comes, though, a lot of new parents have a change of heart. It’s not that they don’t support breastfeeding — they still think it’s the best thing for everyone concerned. It’s just that the whole thing makes them feel left out.

Breastfeeding “perpetuates the exclusive relationship the mother and infant experienced during pregnancy,” says Dr. Pamela Jordan, one of the few researchers ever to explore the effects of breastfeeding on men. As a result, your breastfeeding-spectator husband might be feeling some or all of the following:

• a fear that it’s going harder to bond and develop a relationship with their child
• a sense of inadequacy, that nothing they could ever do could ever compete with your breasts
• a slight feeling of resentment toward the baby who has “come between” you
• a sense of relief when the baby is weaned
• a sense that because you can breastfeed you somehow possess the knowledge and skills that make you a naturally better parent

Strategies
So what can you do? Start by understanding your partner’s feelings (whether or not he expresses them). If you’re breastfeeding, you’re in the primary parenting role and you have the power to invite your husband in or to shut him out.

“Just as the father is viewed as the primary support of the mother-infant relationship,” says Dr. Jordan, “the mother is the primary support to the father-infant relationship. … Supporting the father during breastfeeding may help improve his and consequently the mother’s satisfaction with breastfeeding, the duration of breastfeeding and the adaptation of both parents to parenthood.”

© Armin Brott

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is also the author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be; A Dad’s Guide to the Toddler Years; and The Single Father: A Dad’s Guide to Parenting without a Partner. He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts “Positive Parenting,” a nationally distributed weekly talk show. He lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com.

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