The Manly Business of Breastfeeding



Papa bean loves the boob.  He has been an avid follower of my breasts since the first time he saw them, pert and jiggling, ten years ago. Now that they have changed somewhat, he is still smitten.  I consider all this to be totally normal; my husband loves my breasts, he always has and I believe he always will.  And since my husband is a human being, with a brain and a heart and a soul, he has the capacity to understand that what was once first and foremost a deliciously hoisted present for him, is now first and foremost a deliciously comforting snack for our daughter.

Whilst for many women, there is no father-figure in babe's life, or at least not one sharing the same home, it seems that there is no underestimating the importance of an involved-daddy’s attitude towards (or against) breastfeeding...

There is the example of the all-caring, pro-breastfeeding champion...he is the one who checks your latch for you and researches alternative holds in the early days.  This is the guy who tirelessly runs back and forth to the kitchen for oat-based snacks and plenty of water because the lactation consultant that he hired told him of the importance of staying well-nourished and hydrated.  In truth, I am not sure where this guy is hiding out...perhaps he is busy riding his unicorn over a rainbow...

Then there's the passive breastfeeding supporter...this is my guy.  He is interested, because he loves mama and bean and because he loves the subject matter:  Milk?  Yes!  Boobs?  Yes!  This is the guy who doesn't involve himself in the details or specifics of breastfeeding because it's Women's Business, but he sure as hell remembers the 'football hold' because of its fleeting reference to sport.

Unfortunately though, there's a third guy.  This is the one who doesn't get it, doesn't like it and all-out resents both mama and bean for the way that they have taken 'his' breasts hostage.  In my naive milky bubble, I once assumed this guy to be nothing more than an exaggerated caricature; a faceless image projected as a warning and nothing more.  And then my bubble burst.  You see, I have seen and read a lot lately, of mothers who are being pressurised to stop breastfeeding because their male counterparts want to 'reclaim' what they view as theirs.  Need I remind anyone, in 2013, that a woman's breasts are actually, by rights, her own, to do with as she chooses?  Apparently, I must.

You see, mothers are bound by external expectations of breastfeeding; we are literally tight-rope walking the 'accepted' line.  I say again, this is our choice...our journey...our body.  Yet just because it is ours and we own it, does not make it easy.  It is hard enough when our health professionals fail to support our decision, strike that - our natural, biological impulse, to follow our child's lead and put her needs first...but what if we were lacking that support behind closed doors as well, from our other half, our team-mate, our child's father?

In a recent Vietnamese study*, it was found that the babies of fathers who received breastfeeding education materials and counseling services were twice as likely to be breastfed at 4 months of age than those whose fathers received no such support.  TWICE as likely.  I'm no mathematician, but the logic seems pretty clear here: doubling the parental support of breastfeeding equates to double the success.  Which really is not surprising...how incredibly hard would it have been to push through the pain, the exhaustion, the social condemnation, if I were fighting the same condemnation at home?  How insanely demoralising would it be to tirelessly try to normalise breastfeeding, if papa bean was forever labeling it as abnormal?

I can't help but see breastfeeding as spellbinding.  Before we started growing our bean, I knew that I would breastfeed but I didn't understand what that actually meant.  Sure, it means nutrition, it means immunity and bonding...but it is so much more.  Although there have been struggles; concerns over latch, issues with engorgement, judgement over my indiscreet feeding style...breastfeeding has become my heartbeat...it pulses through me, invigorating, strengthening.  It is representative of something so incredibly personal, yet also, something so much bigger than my daughter and I alone.  We are in sync, in unison, with each other and with every other breastfeeding duo across the globe.  It is uniting, unifying.  It is true, pure, unadulterated empowerment.

It is hardly surprising then, that those out of this 'loop', this womanly circle, might point the finger at a practise that is so very misunderstood.  It is hardly surprising that even a passive supporter might start to loose interest, to loose faith over time or during struggles...finding the shiny and polished formula advertisements an attractive alternative to this foreign art form.  And let's face it, the minute that our in-house support starts to dwindle, the second that the man who loves us, who loves our child, looses his faith...that's the moment we realise just how important his unquestioning acceptance has been to our breastfeeding journey so far.

Because by default, our menfolk aren’t a part of our Milky Way...they are at best watching it from afar and at worst, are standing steadfast in a totally different universe.  I hope that in time, more people will come to realise how important spousal support is to a breastfeeding mother.  Because whilst you don't need a penis to breastfeed, by all accounts, it certainly helps...

Referenced study: "Fathers as Supporters for Improved Exclusive Breastfeeding in Viet Nam"; published 26th October 2013; Maternal Child Health Journal.


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