Before a baby is born, many couples are concerned that if they breastfeed, dad will be left out of the parenting. Many parenting books, pediatricians and other experts often suggest that father give one feeding each day of pumped breastmilk or artificial baby milk to ensure that dad is part of the relationship. This practice, which may undermine breastfeeding, disregards all of the other wonderful ways that daddy can be a part of a baby’s life.
A baby has so many needs. The need to eat, the need for physical contact with other human beings, the need to be comforted, the need to be clean dry and the need to be taught about the big, wide wonderful world. Dad can participate in all of these activities while preserving the breastfeeding relationship.
New babies crave human contact. They enjoy being close enough to hear a heartbeat, feel skin, smell their parents, hear the sound of their voices and experience the ongoing motion and activity of the human body. And why not? They have just emerged form a world where they were surrounded by all of these sensations. While mother can provide all of these through breastfeeding, dad can provide them in so many terrific ways.
Napping on daddy’s bare chest is a favorite of almost all babies. Visualize the end of the day. Mom has been caring for the baby (and perhaps other children) all day. The baby was just fed but isn’t ready for sleep. Mom is tired and craving a few moments alone, bathing, reading, or just being by herself. Dad has been away at work all day and hasn’t spent any time with the baby. As he takes the baby in his arms, off they go to explore the pictures on the walls, look at the plants in the yard or just enjoy each other’s company. When baby becomes sleepy daddy heads for his favorite chair, leans back and places baby on his bare chest. Mom emerges from her much-needed time alone to find them both peacefully sleeping.
Another activity that fathers especially enjoy is bath time. Fathers can handle this activity from the time the baby’s cord falls off and bathing can begin. What fun it is watching the baby’s initial reactions evolve into fun playful times of exploring the wonders of water. Bath time provides so many opportunities to develop a special relationship. This necessary activity can be a time for both fun and learning. The reward for both dad and baby is that they have time alone together daily (or every other day) that helps to build a bond and develop those special memories that relationships evolve around. It is easiest to bathe a tiny baby if you have a combination bath/shower. Dad quickly soaps up and rinses off. Then the tub is filled and baby and dad relax and play in the bath. Baby on dad’s chest or in his arms is pleasurable, safe and fun.]
It has been said that good readers grow from children who were read to as children. This can begin long before the baby can become an active participant in the activity. As dad reads the newspaper he can easily share the information he is learning with even the tiniest baby. Babies love to be talked to and hear that voice they heard so often while still in the womb. It’s not important what you read in the early months. Even the newspaper will do. Reading can emerge from a simple nightly ritual into sharing simple children’s books, enjoying the Sunday comics together every weekend and finally reading together during the school years. What a special way to create a lifelong love for reading in daddy’s lap.
These are just a few of the many ways that a new father can become a part of baby’s life. There are probably as many variations as there are fathers for this story. With a little creativity, experimentation and time, the breastfeeding relationship can be preserved and the father/child relationship can and will flourish.
Denise Parker, IBCLC, works as a lactation consultant and publicity coordinator for The Lactation Institute and Breastfeeding Clinic in Encino. She has over 15 years of experience working with breastfeeding families.