Have you ever been in a situation where your husband did not want you to breastfeed? No explanation given; Just a firm “I do not want you to breastfeed!”. I would love to say this is not reality for a lot of women and their babies, but unfortunately it is. I will be the first to admit that I never gave breastfeeding much thought. As I’ve shared before, I had been turned away from our own hospital’s breastfeeding support class, so I walked away thinking that it wasn’t something I needed to worry about. My wife had expressed interest in breast feeding, but even she wasn’t exactly sure of her feelings on the matter. So there we were, both completely clueless and naïve about the whole process.
Is breastfeeding weird? Sure, it can be, the first time you are exposed to it as a man. It is something many men do not understand. Think about it. For most of us, until our child is born, the only exposure we have had with breasts is sexual in nature. No one is talking to us about the benefits and importance of breastfeeding for both the mom and baby and breastfeeding benefits certainly aren’t the talk of the locker room. So it’s a subject about which most of us guys are completely ignorant. I might ruffle a few feathers saying this, but women sexualize their own breasts as much as men do; then when it comes to breastfeeding they get upset that men think of breasts as purely sexual objects. Once a women has a child she is able to distinguish the difference between using her breasts for nursing or sex, for most men that switch doesn’t go off as quickly. We cannot have our cake and eat it too – although sometimes that would be the ideal scenario, it’s not realistic.
So back to the title of this post, how would you react if you were faced with the question of whether or not to breastfeed? Would you have an open dialogue with your husband about why breastfeeding is important, while also listening to him and his concerns? Would you tell him that you really don’t care what he thinks, that it’s your body and you will do it anyway? Does a father have a say in this at all? Is breastfeeding a decision that should be made together as parents? After all, it is as much his child as it is yours. Since a mother’s right to make parental decisions never ends, why should a father’s?
MY BODY. MY BABY. MY CHOICE vs. MY BODY. OUR BABY. OUR CHOICE.
Now from this paragraph down some people might not like what I have to say, but here is the truth: Being a male breastfeeding advocate, I have seen time and time again women ranting on Facebook threads and forums that they don’t care what their husbands say, they will continue breastfeeding, and if they had to they would divorce a man regarding the matter. I see women telling each other that the kind of man who is not in favor of breastfeeding is no good, and he is probably not a great husband or father!
Can you imagine how dismissive and hurtful it is to hear your wife tell you that she doesn’t care how you feel and that she is going to make a decision that will affect both of your lives without even addressing your concerns? It is very demeaning to say that a dad’s concerns aren’t valid or even worth addressing. Not only is this attitude essentially stripping him of his right to participate in parental choices, you are setting yourself up to have a very unsupportive and harsh breastfeeding environment. Do you really want your husband rolling his eyes every time you nurse your baby? Do you want him angry and hurt that you didn’t even bother to hear him out? Whether or not his concerns are science based, they are HIS concerns and his feelings are valid.
I really think men can make or break the breastfeeding relationship. The number one thing that a partner should do is create the most supportive and nurturing environment possible both at home and out in a public setting. How is he to do that if breastfeeding has become a point of contention and dismissiveness right from the start, when all he really needed is some knowledge and information. Obviously, this is a conversation you should have had before the baby was born, when that mutually informed decision is best made.
To be clear, I am not saying that a woman should not breastfeed because her husband doesn’t want her to, but she definitely should not be dismissive of his concerns. She should take the time to understand where he is coming from. I know how desperately you want to educate him and you think that by taking him to a breastfeeding support class that is taught by women for women will make him change his mind. That is not likely to happen.
As much as we men do not understand the breastfeeding bond from your point of view, women, in turn, don’t understand it from our point of view. I have heard countless stories from men – myself included, who have tried to attend breastfeeding support classes and groups, only to be told we are not welcome. No one wants to support a cause that doesn’t welcome you to support it. It’s hard for us to care about something in which we are not supposed to participate.
To all of those classes and support groups that keep excluding men, this is what I have to say to you: You are not helping! In fact, you are part of the problem! How does that really provide the best long term result? I know that a healthy breast feeding relationship may be your goal, but your policies create the opposite for many families. Your exclusion of men is hurting the mother and child you are supposed to be trying to help.
They feel support during the class or group, but then go home to spend the next 23 hours in an environment that is harsh and very unsupportive. I know that is not the goal, but through your policies it’s exactly what you are creating. In my opinion, the answer here is having a place to go to where dads can talk to other men about breastfeeding. Up until now, there hasn’t been a place like that, but I’m doing my best to change that.
My advice to these groups already in existence? Encourage men to come, help them understand how important they are to the breastfeeding relationship, and be humble enough to realize the truth; dads are, and will always be, MORE important than a group in ensuring that the mother and child have a successful breastfeeding journey! Please understand, I am not trying to bash these groups, as they have done a lot of amazing things to further the cause of breastfeeding. They have good intentions, but they are still falling short simply because they’re missing a key element: Dad.
Dads, Listen Up!
Fathers, this part here is for you. Get off your high horse and be supportive! Be a part of the process! Be willing to sit down with your wife and LISTEN to her, do research and talk to other men about their experiences. Don’t be a knucklehead and think that her breasts are yours and not to be shared. Breasts can be a fun part of a sexual relationship, but the biological function of breasts is simply to nurse and provide nutrition to a growing baby, and not just any baby but YOUR baby!
Here I am 6 months into starting Project: BreastFeeding and I still have not been able to attend a breastfeeding support class or group. That hasn’t stopped me from educating myself though. Find some experienced dads to talk to! Some of the best education I’ve had has been from other men while having a beer and just talking- now that’s my kind of class! If you want your wife to succeed, you should know what a proper latch looks like, what a lip and tongue tie is and how it affects a proper latch and the causes of so much pain for a lot of women.
Go learn about galactagogues and how they help. Learn to identify the symptoms of mastitis and how to massage out a clogged duct. Learn about thrush, and how to heal it. Learn how to work a breast pump and how to clean it. Are you seeing a theme here? LEARN. Become an expert in your state’s breastfeeding laws and stand up for your wife and child and always be her biggest advocate! Breastfeeding is a family affair and the more knowledge and education you have on the subject, the more comfortable you will be about the breastfeeding relationship.
When she has to nurse in public encourage her, let her know how awesome she is and how proud you are of her. NEVER make her feel ashamed, don’t tell her to cover up if she or the baby do not like to be covered, and don’t tell her to go to the bathroom. And don’t stop there.
Be an advocate, talk to other men and help educate them about the benefits of breastfeeding. We are the key to changing the stigma about public breastfeeding. The more men we educate, the more women we empower to do the most natural thing for their babies! We can make a difference, and our wives and babies will be all the better for it. That’s what a real man does.