Q: I’m breastfeeding our baby and I know my husband is 100 percent supportive. But sometimes I can tell that he’s feeling a little left out. Is there anything I can do to help him? How can he be involved in raising our child when so much of it depends on me and breastfeeding?
A: 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, or of becoming obese as adults. It may also transmit your immunity to certain diseases on to the baby. Pretty much everyone agrees that you should breastfeed for at least a year if you can.
Odd as it sounds, you and your child aren’t the only ones affected by your decision to breastfeed-your husband is too. And getting him involved is critical. A number of studies have shown that when dads support and encourage breastfeeding, their wives are more interested in doing it, are a lot more successful, and do it for longer.
Before their babies are born, nearly all expectant fathers 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 fathers 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 his child
- A sense of inadequacy, that nothing he could ever do could ever compete with your breasts
- A slight feeling of resentment toward the baby who has "come between" him and you
- A sense of relief when the baby is weaned because he’ll finally have a chance to catch up
- A sense that because you can breastfeed you somehow possess the knowledge and skills that make you a naturally better parent (which means, of course, that he’s just not suited for the job)
So what can you do? Start by understanding his 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.”