Breastfeeding is good, isn’t it? The WHO certainly think so. They say you should breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue doing so alongside other food until the child is two. Most people seem to see breastfeeding a two year old as basically being this. Which is a reflection of the fact that in Britain we’re pretty rubbish at it; at just 3 months, only 17% of women in Britain are breastfeeding exclusively. Lots of other countries do better, indeed, a recent study in the Lancet said the UK were the world’s worst breast feeders. The worst.
This creates a lot of pressure on women and breastfeeding, from what I can gather, is pretty bloody hard going and, for some women, basically impossible to maintain. This dynamic means that mum blogs are full of breastfeeding stories, challenges, advice and thoughts. But obviously dads are part of this breastfeeding dynamic too but less is said about that.
We are fortunate that both of ours have been pretty good feeders. Both have been exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months with some feeding after that. The first one, after a bit of a battle, also took a bottle, so I could help out more with some expressed milk. The second one got off to a bit more of a slow start finding her latch and that was hard because you assume you’ll know the craic with the second one. Just goes to show it’s the baby that has to get it right too and they’re all different. She won’t take a bottle at all, so I’m sort of helpless. She’s just started weaning and she’s getting there, so that will help, but she’s fairly slow out the block there compared to the Boy too.
So here are some random thoughts, good and bad, on breastfeeding from a male perspective. I emphasise a male perspective. I do not pretend that all men will agree.
People say kids are expensive, and over their lifetimes they certainly are (a quarter of a million fucking pounds!), but when they’re little babies, they don’t have to be. We got baby grows in the charity shop for 50p a go, they will literally sleep in a cardboard box and breastfeeding is completely, 100% free. Well, maybe not 100%, you might have to feed the other half an extra pie now and then to keep them going, but it’s still a bloody good deal. Formula is not free, it is expensive.
It is genuinely surprising how cheap they are when they’re small and breastfeeding. It doesn’t last long, but it’s good whilst it lasts.
Being unable to help
Men don’t have boobs. This creates a problem when you’re a proud feminist who believes in the equal division of parenting labour because stupid biology prevents you from helping.
Early on, even in best case scenarios there are sore nipples and latching difficulties. They’re knackered, they’ve just done the whole childbirth thing and the baby is hungry. You can’t help. We did NCT classes so I’d been to the strange lady’s house in Moseley and played with knitted boobs and that, so I sort of knew the theory and tried to remind of some of that, but there’s a very real danger of coming across as an interfering prick and just making things worse. It’s a minefield.
I’ve heard other dads say they feel a bit jealous about missing out on the bonding aspect of breastfeeding. I can sort of understand it, but that doesn’t really bother me, I’ll bond with them in my own way, but it can certainly be frustrating when they’re upset and you know a boob in the face is the only thing that will calm them. I DO NOT HAVE A BOOB FOR YOUR FACE SCREAMING BABY. Men like to fix things (or hamfistedly try to at least) screaming hungry baby we cannot fix.
It’s especially frustrating when you’re really trying to help and you’ve been all like, “yeah, don’t worry, I’ve got this, you go and have a rest/do something for yourself/get on with some jobs” and then half an hour later you’ve got to be like “Baaaaaaaabe, I think she’s hungry!”
The best you can do is stuff like get drinks and snacks when they’re feeding. Look, we know you wait until you’ve started feeding to say you need a drink because then we’ve got to get it for you. We know that you know we know. But, of course, we do it anyway because we can’t do anything else. The merry dance goes on.
But being able to sleep
As noted above, our darling little girl will not under any circumstances accept a bottle. This means I have an absolutely cast-iron excuse to just pat the missus on the back encouragingly and send her off to do the nighttime feeds whilst I roll over and go back to sleep. This leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, the missus is tired, exhausted even and at times genuinely exasperated. On the other hand, delicious delicious sleep and it’s not my fault I don’t have boobs.
The De-sexualisation of boobs
This is a difficult one to talk about without sounding like a raging misogynist which is probably why nobody ever really mentions it, but I think it does bear talking about. And it’s probably about more than boobs really, it’s about women’s bodies and post-natal sex lives in general. I shall tread as carefully as possible, but I can’t believe I’m the first guy to have thought about this.
Matter-of-factly, breasts are sexual objects. I’m not saying they should be, but they are. We are heavily conditioned (both men and women) to see them that way. This is largely a patriarchy thing (what isn’t?) but, of course, they’re also erogenous so it isn’t just that, there’s fun in boobs all round. For your entire adult life until babies arrive, fun sexy times is what we’re made to think breasts are for and what we use them for. They are adorned in expensive undergarments and pushed up and embellished to serve the voracious male gaze.
Then babies arrive and they’re not for that any more. They get bigger and fuller which we’re conditioned to see as of particular sexual attractiveness. BUT THEY’RE NOT FOR THAT ANY MORE. That is just fucking with our minds. I’m certain it’s even more weird when they’re actually your boobs, but, again, I don’t have any.
“Boo hoo, poor men. Women’s bodies are transformed in radical ways by childbirth and child rearing and all you can think about is that you don’t get to play with the big boobies” I hear you say. And you are right. But it should not be ignored that these changes also require partners to make an adjustment. It is by a million miles the easier adjustment of the two, but it is a very real one nonetheless.
To be clear, I’m not for a second saying this de-sexualisation is a bad thing, boobs are meant to be used for feeding babies, that’s why the exist. The real issue here is that they’re so heavily sexualised in the first place. If that weren’t the case and the male gaze were not such a dominant social force, then people would be less bothered about how sexy their post-baby boobs might be deemed and breastfeeding rates would probably be higher. But they are bothered and they’re not higher.
It gets everywhere
Breast milk is leaky as fuck. I find spots of it on the bathroom floor, on the bedroom floor, all over the show really. Typically, it will probably have been there for some time before either of us notice. When expressing and bottle feeding, it’s in the fridge, on the kitchen work surfaces etc. It doesn’t really matter, it’s natural, it’s sterile, it has all kinds of magic healing properties, so it’s probably good to have it about the place a bit.
But despite all of that rational stuff about how normal it is, if I get it on me at all I freak the fuck out. It’s so stupid, I drink cow’s milk all the time. This is human milk evolved specifically for human consumption, but that doesn’t matter, it just seems really gross. I know it shouldn’t and I know I’m probably not helping the encouraging breastfeeding cause, but ewwwww. Sorry.
But if it’s any consolation, formula is gross too, it smells really weird and the powder sticks to everything and gets all on your clothes. Hate that fucking stuff.
Dads, tell me about your breastfeeding feels. Am I some sort of freakshow for thinking about the stuff above or is it normal?