It’s Father’s Day today, and also the start of National Breastfeeding Week, so I thought I’d combine the two and got Ameli’s Daddy â€“ my husband Martin â€“ to chip in with his thoughts on fatherhood, bonding and breastfeeding.
It’s about as helpless as I’ve ever felt as a parent.
The situation goes something like this: it’s 10pm and you’re sitting in the lounge watching TV. Nine-month-old baby has been waking up crying a lot over the last few nights thanks to a particularly bad bout of teething. Being a breastfed baby, however, the soothing reassurance of mum’s breast is all it takes to get her back to sleep within a few moments.
Problem is, mum’s in the shower and baby has started stirring. You go into her room and try soothing and shushing her back to sleep. But in her semi-awake state the only thing baby is interested in is mummy’s breast, and mummy’s breast â€“ and the rest of mummy â€“ is in the shower oblivious to baby’s distress.
And there’s absolutely nothing you can do. By the time mummy gets there a few minutes later, baby is wailing uncontrollably and you’ve lost 10 years off your life.
I’m sure plenty of dads have been through some variation of that scenario, and it sums up nicely the (perceived) difficulties dads face in trying to form a bond with young breastfed babies.
The simple truth is that you’re just not needed (by the baby), and too many fathers feel distanced and irrelevant as a result â€“ to the extent that some mothers will choose bottle-feeding over breastfeeding just because it gives fathers some way of being involved.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and there are plenty of things you as the father of a breastfed baby can do to build a bond with your child.
First of all, you need to come to terms with the fact that initially, it genuinely is all about mum. It’s nothing personal at all, it’s simply that a newborn’s needs are very basic, and it looks to mummy to take care of them.
That changes quickly, though, and here are a few ideas for how a father can start building a bond with his breastfed child.
- Pick one job as a daddy duty: look at your baby’s routine and pick one thing that can be solely your responsibility to look after every day â€“ one task you can take ownership of and make your own. For instance, you could make bath-time your thing â€“ it’s a chance to spend one-on-one time with your child, and most importantly it’s one element of baby’s life he or she expects specifically you to fulfil.
- Take over one feed: this is probably the most commonly suggested way for dads to play a part in their child’s feeding regime. For the breastfed child this obviously involves mum expressing in advance, so it does involve some co-ordination and teamwork. But it can be a great way for mum to get a break, and more importantly gives you â€“ and baby â€“ a chance to practice for when mum might want an evening out.
- Take baby out yourself: sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones. Looking to form a better bond with your baby? Then simply go out with your child. Because of the soothing element of breastfeeding, many breastfed babies will often look to nurse simply because mummy’s there. If you make sure baby is fed properly before going out, mummy might not even be missed, leaving you feeling more relevant and involved.
- Sit or lie down with mum and baby during feeding: this is in some way about the best response to the nightmare scenario I described at the start. Fine, you can’t help soothe a distressed child, but if you lie down next to your unhappy baby while mum is nursing, he or she will drift away again while the two of you have physical contact, which can have a surprisingly strong psychological impact on both of you.
There are many ways of bonding with your child, none of which have to sacrifice the breastfeeding relationship. Now, at 20 months, one of my most precious experiences, is having my daughter fall asleep in my arms. Our bond is amazing, and has not suffered at all for our choice of feeding.