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Saturday, June 16, 2012


There are practical reasons for your wife breastfeeding your children, that would appeal to any husband and father, the foremost being that it's cheaper!  The cost of formula adds up, and, when you think about it, it's pretty stupid to pay a lot of money for something trying to substitute for free mother's milk . It's also cheaper in the long run, because breastfed children are healthier. Their immune systems are strengthened, they normally have healthier skin, more acute vision, better nerve tissue and so higher I.Q., and lower heart rates, and when the time comes, are more willing to accept a variety of solid foods. They are less likely to have diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections, childhood cancer, ear infections, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, constipation, urinary tract infections, food allergies, kidney trouble, severe upper respiratory infections, wheezing, pneumonia and influenza.  They are less likely to have acute appendicitis, need a tonsillectomy or orthodontics, and as adults will tend to have lower cholesterol, and less chance of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. There are more health benefits, but I'm not here to bore you. If your wife breastfeeds, though, you're likely to have fewer medical expenses in general.

So much for the selfish reason of keep money in our pockets. There are mothers so harried and driven that they'd rather not breastfeed, and so let them be. The nurturing and bonding brought about by breastfeeding should not be forced. That would defeat much of the purpose. But the mother who wants to experience the wholeness of motherhood and bond with her babies and raise healthier children by breastfeeding should get all the encouragement she can from the man who loves her. It was my wife Micki's dream to breastfeed. I love my wife, so incorporated her visions and ideas as my own.

In our family, we saved enough money, by not buying formula, to give me the impetus to suggest to Micki that she doesn't have to work outside the home if she'd rather focus on our non-monetary needs. She had never even considered this until I suggested it, thinking she'd have to earn a wage for us to get by. My job was not a great one, but it paid enough for us to work out a modest budget, and Micki became a stay-at-home mom. I felt good that I could provide financially for our growing family, and she felt good that she could provide the needed time and caring for all of us. I've always given her the freedom to work outside the home, though, if she ever wants to.

The myth is that the natural way is easy. But breastfeeding the first time is often very difficult. There are many hard and painful times when a new mother may want to give up. You need to bear up and help get her past the hard parts. Meanwhile we live in a commercialized and unnatural society that's often antagonistic toward breastfeeding, and your wife must struggle through this, too. Help her. Encourage her. Stand beside her. She wants the best for your child by doing what mothers have been doing since the creation of humankind. Around her is a world now used to measuring ounces in a bottle and brainwashed by greedy media into believing the breast is nothing but a sexual object. But beside her is you, the man she loves and trusts. This is not a time to fail her.

Listen to your wife. This experience, although sometimes difficult, is natural for her. She must listen to her instincts and intuition, and because you love her and your growing family, listen to her. Encourage her. Develop an intuition about the needs of your family. Validate her, as together you discover the way that works for you, the way that's unique to your family. There needs to be a great deal of listening.

Breastfeeding is really a family affair. It's all about relationships. First of all, there's the mother and child relationship, but also there's how the husband supports her and enriches the dynamics and the results. You can supply acceptance, joy, trust, bonding (yes, you can join in the bonding), safety, faithfulness, confirmation or validation, protection, privacy, peace, health and nurturing.

There are many ways to do this. You can encourage your wife to learn things beforehand about breastfeeding, to become familiar with examples, to see it done, to learn about extended breastfeeding, etc., by going to LaLeche League or other support groups. And when they have social get-togethers, you can go with her. And when she's a breastfeeding mom, bring her plenty of water and liquids while she's nursing, be sure she's getting proper nutrition, try to keep her from stress and overwhelming demands, and give her time to rest and feed the baby in peace. Both mother and child need this quiet time to rest and to bond. ("I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother..." - Psalm 131:2a). If you have other children, take care of them while she's nursing. Provide transportation when needed. Give of your time to your family.

At first, it may be very awkward to breastfeed in public. Ease her worries. Make her comfortable. Don't be the problem, but give her encouragement. Work to overcome the initial difficulty. For instance, if you sit down at a restaurant, make sure she has space and that the baby doesn't have to compete with a table. Don't go out immediately with a bunch of people, but give her privacy at first, then help her work into the ease of public breastfeeding. Let her feel that you're doing this together. Guard her. If problems arise, don't get defensive, don't drop the ball, but give support, get through it together, try to figure it out together. At first there will be some embarrassment. Your wife will likely be showing parts of her breasts in public, and you'll feel like everyone is gawking at you. Have patience. Stand by your wife when attacked for whatever reason, be it breastfeeding in public, a family bed, tandem feeding, extended breastfeeding, or simply breastfeeding per se. It's not their business anyway.

Now and then we hear stories of a mother breastfeeding in public being told to go to the restroom to do that. I don't eat in the restroom, and don't expect a baby to have to do that either. It is your right to feed your baby whenever it's hungry. This prejudice against breastfeeding in public is one of my pet peeves. As I've said elsewhere, if I were to be sitting near a breastfeeding mom while someone tells her to go someplace else to do that, I would love to hear the mother retort, "Breasts are soft but noses break. Go sit down." On the contrary, when I see a mother nursing in public, and have the opportunity, I compliment her for providing the best for her baby and for being a good role model.

There are times, though, when your wife is having difficulty, that you can take advantage of not being so physically and emotionally connected, and can back up and determine the situation. When Micki was breastfeeding our second son, Samuel, I noticed that her health was failing. She was losing weight and often sick. Despite her desire to continue, I talked her into weaning the baby cold-turkey at 25 months. Although I've never lived this down, and wish our son could have weaned himself, Micki's health did improve, and she respects me for caring. So don't be stubborn. Don't let pride (or fear) keep you from trying something else that might work better.

At night, especially, breastfeeding has wonderful benefits, especially if you're agreeable to a family bed. For one thing, neither of you has to stumble up at night if the baby is hungry and crying, to go to the kitchen to warm up a bottle of formula. Micki and I had each of our babies sleep between us in bed, and when they were hungry, Micki simply turned onto her side, and I never woke up. Eventually, when I got crabbier over the years, I would complain of there not being room for three people in one double bed. A single bed pressed against the side of the double bed was the quick and efficient solution.

The Three of Us on our Hitchhiking Trip
In 1980, Micki and I hitchhiked over four thousand miles with our son, Leif, who was just under two-years-old. Not only was Micki breastfeeding him, but we also used cloth diapers. While I carried our other supplies in a Kelty backpack, Micki carried on her back a rucksack full of diapers, and on her front our toddler in a Snugli. Having to carry dirty diapers in a plastic bag and stop now and then to wash them was inconvenient, but feeding Leif never was. In Wisconsin a businessman picked us up, and as we rode through the countryside, Micki lay down in the back seat to nurse our son. The driver at one point glanced back, saw what she was doing, then he took a double-take. He then relaxed at the wheel, and with a little smile, said quietly, "That's nice."

One thing that never ceased to amaze me throughout our nursing years (Micki has breastfed all six of our children) is the let-down phenomenon. No matter how far my wife was from our baby, when the baby was hungry, Micki's breast by leaking or a tingling, pins-and-needles feeling, would tell her so. This is a miracle of nature to me, and I can't understand how it works. But she would get to our baby to feed it just as the hungry cry began. Tends to make anyone a believer in breastfeeding. I also was fascinated by netsy cups. They're a pair of hard-plastic containers that fit around the nipples of a nursing mother and catch what milk leaks out, so it doesn't make wet spots on her clothing.  Amazing inventions.

Micki also practiced extended breastfeeding, letting each child decide when to wean, and nursed two children at once. Through our last four children, she nursed fifteen years straight, even during pregnancy. This is the way we discovered that worked for us, the way that was unique to our family. The other day we were watching a video of our first daughter Glory's birth (a waterbirth at home) and at the end of the segment, the tape shows Micki nursing both Glory on one breast and our youngest son, Andy, on the other. Andy, now 22, was watching it with us, and he said, "That was one of my best memories. That's one of the deepest bonding experiences between siblings." In Glory's birth announcement we included a picture of both her and Andy nursing together, and in the caption we put a quote by John Milton: "For we were nursed upon the self-same hill."

Humor is important, too. There were times when Micki had troubles that made her feel awful. She once had a lump surgically removed from her breast, and as the wound was trying to heal, milk would painfully leak out of it. Other times, milk would squirt out of a nipple, even across the room, once hitting me in the eye. Micki's hormones were going wild, and she felt like she was falling apart, like she was losing control of her body. Enter goofy me. When the milk hit me in the eye, I reacted like an overacting victim in lazer tag. I grabbed my eye and stumbled back, putting on a great show, and got Micki to laughing. We tried to harmonize with her hormones (is that called "hormony"?), or, as the saying goes, "put 'fun' back in dysfunctional."

A husband may feel estranged from his wife's unique ability to breastfeed. Since he's being denied the privilege of sharing the job of holding a plastic bottle and letting his baby down the appropriate amount of manufactured breastmilk substitute in his lap, he thinks that breastfeeding is her thing. He ambles about in other matters. But it's not her thing. She needs the support and encouragement of her husband more than ever. Nursing is a family thing. And working together, loving each other, you can turn your nursing family into a nurturing family, a connected, complete, whole family.

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  1. Very nice one Dale, and you are correct, you do save hundreds of dollars naturally! Milt Keller

  2. I loved this and its great to see a husband there so much for his wife.. times have changed so much.. I have had lots of struggles but still going strong bf our third daughter.. very Inspiring..

  3. What a wonderful family man you are! Bravo!

  4. This was amazing and awesome- I so wish that more men shared your perspective on breastfeeding- and I love my husband even more for being as supportive as you have been.
    I am in awe. Thanks for expressing something so beautiful and natural- in such an understanding way!

  5. This is truly inspiring to read as a new mom. Thank you for sharing your families story & your approach as a man and husband

  6. Reading this brought me to tears. I succumbed to formulae twice. My husband was agreeable to my decision of .bf but when he saw me struggling and one time our second girl cried for two hours at my breast for some reason ( I take it that it's some kind of rejection phase my belle was going through at 2 months) my husband told me to feed her fm.

    Things just went downhill from there and now having the guilt since three years ago. Till today whenever I just wanted to get things out of my chest regarding on my guilt he will just say that the fm that he bought is the best in the market considering the nutrients.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying my husband is not concern of his daughters. In fact too concern till whenever my girls are hurt he will give me his face and make feel guilty. Just that technology has gotten over nature in this case. Micki 's one lucky lady. God Bless your family.

  7. Breastfeeding is the God-given, natural way to feed your baby, but it is not as important as the loving relationship a family shares. Right or wrong, your husband has been acting according to what he thinks is best for all of you. And you've been feeling guilty because you feel you could have given your children better, but to do so would have hurt your husband. You certainly don't have to breastfeed to raise healthy children. You can make up for whatever security may have been lost by not breastfeeding by helping to provide a loving and secure home for your family now; and to do that, you and your husband need to develop a loving, trusting and giving relationship. Understand that he's trying to do what's best and try to ease any conflicts that past regrets might set off. Meanwhile pray that he eases up on these guilt-trips, and try not to take them to heart. Since both of you want what's best for your family, and you're married, there's nothing that should hold you back from working together, even suffering some compromises. Please don't mourn the lost breastfeeding. Hey, I was raised on formula, and look how great I turned out. :)

  8. Hi Dale.

    It's nice to hear a reply from you considering it's early morning on your side? I was reading back my comment before yours and felt like I was speaking ill of my husband. He's not that bad of a person considering he is a very gentle and loving person.

    I remembered reading that the spouse can encounter PPD as well and I dont need another moody face and added stress to everyone in the house considering I'm such a wreck myself.

    However i felt better after I read your comment and I've always been the kind of person who count the blessings rather than your troubles. To be able to bf my girls for 2 and 4 months respectively was quite a rewarding feeling.

    P.S Thanks for letting me rant away. Felt much better after. :)

  9. I'm happy to know that the problem isn't as severe as I imagined, and that I didn't offend you with my DearAbbyness. We, too, have had our share of difficulties. Our first child often screamed nonstop, nursing or not, and we attributed it to colic. It turned out that he has ACC (agenesis of the corpus callosum) along with an underdeveloped limbic system, and so was having limbic rages. He's on disability today. The stress caused by all this had much to do with Micki's health during our second child's nursing - the reason I had her wean him early - and she's felt guilty about this ever since. So we've been there, too. Nevertheless, we strive toward the ideal, don't we? You've done and are doing a wonderful job. God bless your family!

  10. Thank you so much for writing this. My husband is actually the reason I breastfed instead of formula fed, and also the one who talked me into cloth diapers (now I am hooked on cloth diapers!). Our son is 17 months, and due to pregnancy complications and other issues, we had to wean him last weekend. I was really hoping to breastfeed through pregnancy and tandem nurse, but I also thought he was going to be more traumatized than he actually is. He acts like he couldn't care less that he is getting milk out of a cup, and he is so much more cuddly. We sometimes struggle through bed sharing with him, but I wouldn't change how we parent for anything. It amazes me that wearing a baby in a sling, breastfeeding, and bed sharing is so looked down on in America. I am the only one in my family to breastfeed, and especially after six months, even through so much pressure from family and friends to wean him, my husband told me it was OUR decision, not theirs, and if we did have to wean him before he was ready, we would do it on OUR terms, and try to make it as smooth as possible. We are also the only ones we know that bed share, and I laugh when people tell me that it's so much harder than having a baby in a crib. Like your wife, at night I would just turn over and feed him, and fall right back asleep. What could be more convenient than that?! It's wonderful to know there are men out there like my husband who support their wives fully and with love.

  11. Simply beautiful article. :-)

    And, so true that you sometimes need a sense of humour when breastfeeding. But, then don't you need that for all forms of pregnancy, birth and parenting!

    Would love to see more dads writing about their experience in their children's breastfeeding journey.