The Breastfeeding Father
by Felicia Henry

Felicia Henry is a mother of three children Justin (8), Amanda (5), and Jacob (4 months) and a La Leche League Leader in Oxnard.  See the resource page for a Leader near you or call La Leche League International's Breastfeeding Help line number at 1-900-448-7475 ext. 26 where recorded information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week ($1.99 per minute, average call 5 minutes).
Felicia Henry | 295 Lafayette Drive | Oxnard, CA  93030 | (805) 988-9975

Everyone seems to talk about breastfeeding mothers and most pictures of breastfeeding show mothers and babies together.  But, what about the father?  Is there really such a thing as a "breastfeeding father" and can he be included in the breastfeeding experience?  If a mother decides to breastfeed is the father an important member of the breastfeeding team?  Many experienced fathers will answer with a resounding "Yes!"

Fathers are very important to all babies, no matter how they are fed.  Many people feel that a supportive father or other close family member is one of the most important factors in a satisfying breastfeeding experience.  Some even go as far as referring to the breastfeeding triad (mother, baby, and father) instead of a nursing dyad.  A father's support and encouragement can help make the early learning period of breastfeeding easier and more enjoyable for mother and baby.

While some people may feel that an occasional bottle is the only way a father can bond with his breastfed baby, this is not the case.  There are many baby care activities fathers can do that don't include feeding.  Fathers can learn the different ways their babies want to be held and comforted just as mothers can.  Since the early weeks of parenthood are filled with learning what their new baby likes and dislikes, both parents can learn together.  A father can provide invaluable help when baby is fussy.  One way is with burping.  The over-the-shoulder burping position works well with dads.  Their shoulders can put just the right pressure on the baby's tummy to help bring up the air bubble and can relieve the baby's discomfort.

Another very important way dads can help with a fussy baby may be because they can't breastfeed.  Sometimes when babies are tired and fussing to fall asleep, they will root and look for the breast, only to refuse to nurse when offered the breast because their tummies are already full.  When handed to dad, they will start to calm and fall asleep.  Many fathers find great satisfaction in being the one who can calm the baby and get him to sleep.

While there is a lot written about the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies, are there any benefits for fathers?  Many experienced breastfeeding fathers (as well as mothers) find they can get more sleep at night.  The ease and convenience of breastfeeding means that baby can be fed right away, without having to cry as long, and everyone can go back to sleep sooner.

Since supporting a family in today's economy can seem overwhelming, the cost savings of breastfeeding are also a good benefit for fathers as well as mothers.  A family's income can stretch that much further if there is no formula to buy, and breastfed babies generally have fewer health problems, resulting in lower health care costs.  Many feel they can't afford not to breastfeed.  Also a healthier baby is a happier baby, and there may be fewer long nights of staying up with a sick or cranky baby.

Breast milk is very easy to digest and a breastfed baby's stools are generally looser and easier for baby to pass.  The stools have a buttermilk-like odor, making diaper changes more pleasant.  Breastfed babies feel so soft and sweet, they're a joy to hold and cuddle.  All of these things are what make breastfeeding important to the whole family, and fathers, as well as other family members, can benefit from these and many other benefits of breastfeeding.

Fathers are very important to their babies.  Both parents have a lot to offer their children, and the differences between mothers and fathers are just as important as their similarities.  Each parent can develop their own relationship with their child and do it in their own way.  Feeding isn't the only way to bond with a baby; there are many different ways.  The differences are what a child will come to expect and treasure from his parents.  Let your unique parenting style be a part of your child's life and you will have a relationship to cherish.

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