Saturday, June 21, 2014

My experience as a ‘breastfeeding’ Dad

Adding to my eclectic mix. This subject is potentially one of the more controversial...

I’m not sure anything properly prepares you for becoming a father. You can attend all the pre-natal classes, sign-up for NCT training and read all the books available but it still doesn’t come close to providing you with experience of watching childbirth and worse still looking after this tiny bundle of life sudden thrust upon you.

Many fathers have talked about the sheer terror of having the responsibility for looking after your baby. I had the advantage of being a relatively mature father. I’m not that old, but have plenty of life experience relative to many young fathers – to put that in to perspective I was off to university when my own father was my age. Whilst this may have given more confidence it didn’t provide me with any more knowledge or helpful answers.

Feeding your most precious possession is probably the single most important thing to worry about. In fact during the first six weeks this is probably the most demanding task parents face (and you have to do it with no sleep). The effort required to stick with breastfeeding is massive and will be continually challenged by other sources suggesting easier options. Not least in our situation from almost all the NHS midwives we encountered (though not all as you will read).

Christopher’s birth wasn’t simple, though nor were there any significant complications. The biggest challenge we faced in the early days was jaundice (not uncommon in breastfed babies). Shortly after his birthday Christopher and his Mum were re-admitted to hospital for phototherapy over a couple of days.

During this time the pressure to switch to formula-feeding was significant. We continually had to push-back on the midwives to force them to accept Christopher was to be breastfed exclusively. Overnight feeding was raised and the potential for Mum to express milk as solution was ruled out due to a lack of available pumps in the hospital (one of the biggest maternity units in the UK). We fixed this issue by returning home for our own equipment which was reluctantly accepted.

The knowledge we had both gained (predominately via Mum) from reading support literature proved by LLL was key in enabling us to challenge midwives and doctors when faced with difficulties. LLL gave us the confidence to stand behind our position and demand Christopher was fed the way we wanted, not how others felt was easier. Our personal circumstances helped, but the backing we both got from LLL was significant in supporting our own beliefs.

We did get a lot of very good support and help from one of the NHS midwives we came across. Not only did she reassure Mum about breastfeeding, she provided practical ‘hands-on’ support that involved explaining to Dad how he needed to help position Mum and baby so things worked. I have to say that this kind of help cannot be replicated by reading and viewing images in books. The midwife in question was instrumental in ensuring we continued in our quest to ensure Christopher stayed breastfed.

The hands-on approach from our one helpful midwife is also one of the major benefits of getting involved with LLL. The ability to ‘network’ with mums in a similar position takes a back-seat to the ability to experience other Mums feeding their babies in front of you. Whilst I personally never attended any meetings, Mum always returned with suggestions for different techniques, positions and ideas to ensure breastfeeding worked for everyone. The practical advice available from LLL meetings is invaluable.

Once the physical skills for breastfeeding have been mastered the physiological issues need to be overcome. Feeding at home in pyjamas is one think, satisfying a hungry baby in the middle of a crowded public restaurant is a completely different challenge. Again LLL stepped in to help by promoting the fact that breastfeeding couldn’t be more natural. Many places now appreciate the value of the ‘family-pound’ but many still direct feeding mums towards restrooms and changing tables. I think my role in this was to simply protect the idea that Mum was going to feed at the table as a-matter-of-fact. Most hosts were reluctant to challenge this ‘normal’ behaviour. Again the matter-of-fact approach from LLL helped promoted this feeling in our family.

From a father’s point of view the only consistently negative issue I have come across has been lack of intimacy with their newborn. Mum gets to spend all the quality time when feeding, Dad just changes nappies!

Firstly, when you child is breastfeed, nappy contents are often not unpleasant. In fact breastfeed baby poo is often quite sweet smelling. Changing time is a real opportunity to bond and is not nearly as bad as you may imagine. It may sound odd but changing time provides Dad with an opportunity for skin-to-skin contact and a chance to improve the comfort of your baby which benefits everyone.

If Mum is able to express milk then Dad does still get the opportunity to feed using a bottle. Christopher refused a bottle quite early in his development, though when he was very young there was a small window when I was able to feed him myself, especially at night.

We fixed the intimacy issue by introducing Daddy exclusive bath time before bedtime. Whenever possible I bathe Christopher and get him ready for bed. This generally involves a lot of skin-to-skin contact, mutual trust and shared sensual experiences through water play. In theory this time could provide Mum a break from childcare and a chance to do something refreshingly different. In our case Mum does household chores so we both finish our evenings earlier. It definitely gives me a chance to bond exclusively with Christopher and is to be honest a highlight of my day.

The majority of this advice in this article is aimed at fathers and how they may want to best help Mum and baby. I’ll end with one final point aimed at Mums. Dad’s may not have the same experience or knowledge when it comes to looking after your little one, this doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing nor do that they do things wrong. They may just do things differently. If what they do works, please let them do it. Criticising or commenting negatively when they try to help may dissuade them from helping in the future. One thing we have learnt as a family is that it is much easier to look after your baby when everyone is working together.