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.
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.
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|
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.
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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