Dads and Breastfeeding: More on R. Boteach

A while ago I posted about R. Boteach’s column on the perils of breastfeeding to a young couple’s sex life. I found this excellent rebuttal by Armin Brott.

Here is a sample:

In researching my books, “The Expectant Father” and “The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year,” I found the same thing as the Harvard study Rabbi Boteach cites: that new parents experience a tremendous decline in their love life in the first year after the birth of a child. But a waning sex life is less a casualty of breast-feeding and more a symptom of an overall drop in communication and intimacy-building activities. . . . .

. . . I frequently hear from new fathers who feel left out when the mom is breast-feeding. But what pushes the guys away isn’t, as Boteach suggests, that the woman’s body has gone from fun to functional. In fact, many men are fascinated and sometimes even aroused by their wives’ bodily transformations. The problem, rather, is jealousy—of the baby for monopolizing the breasts, as Boteach says, but also jealousy of the wife for the close bond she’s building with the baby. Dads can feel useless and may withdraw emotionally and even physically from both mom and baby. Obviously, this is a critical juncture in the couple’s relationship.

But rather than stop breast-feeding as a way of keeping that relationship alive, the nursing mother needs to make every possible attempt to encourage the dad to be involved. She needs to make sure he gets plenty of one-on-one time with the baby so he can develop his own, unique bond. If she’s pumping milk, she can fill an extra bottle so Dad can participate in the feeding.

Okay, I want to quibble here about this advice that many pediatricians and “experts” have been known to dispense. I agree that Dad should be involved with the baby, but not by giving the baby a bottle s/he wouldn’t have gotten anyway. Here’s why not:

  • Breastfeeding works on supply and demand. When the breasts are not stimulated according to baby’s schedule the mother’s milk supply may be affected.
  • Pumping is extra work and is never as effective as breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding feels good. Chaval to waste the relaxation hormones released during milk expression on a pump.
  • Artificially spaced feedings can lead to engorgement, plugged ducts, and infection.
  • Skipping a breastfeeding session can bring about the early onset of postpartum fertility. Frequent feedings delay the return of ovulation.

Sometimes a mother is advised to pump in advance of a night feeding, so that the father can wake up with the baby. She might only realize afterward that she “paid” for a full night of sleep with a breast infection or the return of her period (and hopefully not an unwanted pregnancy). Doctors who recommend unnecessary pumping need to let mothers know the risks involved.
Dads can diaper and bathe babies. They can rock, and hold, and cuddle, and sing, and smile. They can give solid food when the baby is ready (that’s one job I’m happy to turn over to my husband). They can support their wives, so critical to breastfeeding success. But breastfeeding mothers should not be pressured to express milk just so Dad won’t feel left out. This is simply another case of men interfering with the unique and valuable breastfeeding relationship.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I for one must admit that the ten years my wife was pregnant were sexually our most satisfactory period. Even menopause doesn’t beat it. Without desdcribing details … there is a very true issue of husbands learning to become parents. A transition must less natural than that of wives becoming mothers (I can’t figure out why ;-), but breast-feeding has NOTHING to do with it. A shame smart people start believing everything they themselves say … and end up saying dumb things!

  2. mother in israel says:

    Anon,

    Thanks for your comment. New fathers today often have even less experience of babies and children than new mothers.
    That pregnancy should be in the Guinness book of world records 😉

  3. SephardiLady says:

    It is so important for fathers to be involved. But, I see no reason for fathers to have to be involved in the same way (make that similiar way) as mothers.

    Great post.

  4. You promised me a post on the subject, and delivered! I like it – precise, thoughtful, and way more polite than I was.

  5. mother in israel says:

    Thanks for your post SL!

    mamma, there is room for more than one approach in this world!

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