Men and Breastfeeding

I am supposed to do a reflective diary for my peer support training so I am going to do some discursive writing around various breastfeeding topics.

Firstly, the role of men.

It would initially seem obvious that men have no role to play in breastfeeding. However, most people in this country would argue that in fact men *do* have a role to play. There is a societal acceptance that men should get involved in childcare and this is reflected in photo opportunities featuring prominent men brandishing a bottle, dandling the newborn on their laps with a muslin draped over one shoulder, the Avent in one hand, and the glamorous wife looking on, beaming indulgently.

I have met women who like to hand over the baby and a ready made bottle to their partners when they come home for the evening so they may feed and “bond” with the little one.

Fair enough? Well, no, not really.

The change in social mores which has meant that a man’s presence at the birth of his child is practically compulsory has also made the sight of a man caring for a baby commonplace. This is a good thing, make no mistake. The fact that the Early Learning Centre sells little blue prams for boys to transport their toys around shows that they have seen their fathers care for younger siblings, and they want to be like Daddy. This is excellent. There are few things more manly than husbanding one’s offspring.

It is the case, though, that some men feel left out when their partner breastfeeds. Feeding a baby is presented to us as the way one cares for it. Babies come with bottles: just look at the greeting cards, or the cute bottle shaped swing tag on that adorable babygro.

It is also the case that some men will pressure their partners into allowing them to give the baby a bottle, whether that be of expressed milk or formula. Some offer to help with “night feeds” by giving the baby a bottle when it wakes.

What is the problem with that? There are several. Firstly, expressing milk before breastfeeding is established (usually about 6 weeks) can affect the supply. Secondly, some babies simply won’t drink from a bottle and others get so used to the ease with which milk flows from a teat that they get frustrated and fuss at the nipple.

The night is an important time for the supply of breastmilk and more is made at night than at any other time. Giving bottle feeds at night is very likely to affect supply, not to mention making the mother feel very uncomfortable by the morning.

In addition, preparing a bottle is a great deal more work than sitting and breastfeeding. One must sterilise the bottle (certainly if the baby is younger than 6 months) and prepare the formula (if that’s what’s being used) correctly.

Women who have done this tell me that it’s great when the father takes the baby, as they can then go and bustle off and see to older children or attend to various domestic chores. To which I say, is your partner incapable of doing these tasks, and why are you doing them when you have the option of sitting on your bottom and feeding the baby?

As Mr Trellis likes to say, it is a baby, not a lamb in a petting zoo. Feeding a baby is such a small part of looking after a baby that it is possible for a man to undertake every other aspect and be considered the primary carer.

A man that considers feeding his baby to be “caring” for it, or the only way to “bond” with it has little imagination. He can bond with the baby by changing the nappies, having a bath or just simply singing it to sleep.

I am not talking, by the way, about odd feeds when the mother’s gone out somewhere, when the baby is older, or when a genuine problem has necessitated bottle feeding. I am specifically referring to pressure exerted on a vulnerable mother at a crucial time for the establishment of breastfeeding.

There is an almost childish, castrated petulance to men who demand to be “allowed” to bottle feed their babies at the expense of the breastfeeding relationship.

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