What You'll Learn
- Why It’s Important for Dads to Have a Role in Breastfeeding
- The Impact Dads Can Have on Breastfeeding Outcomes
- How Dads Change (Scientifically) After Having Babies
- What Holds Dads Back From Being Actively Involved
- Ways Both Parents Can Be Empowered and Form Strong Bonds with Children
- How Postpartum Depression Affects Dads
We talk a lot about the invisible load of motherhood—the way that so much of the labour in the home falls to moms, even before a baby is born. But that load has an impact on our partners too—leaving them without a role, unsure how to bond with the new baby.
It’s easy to think that nursing moms have to take on the role of feeding. In reality, non-nursing partners can help with breastfeeding too (beyond just bringing snacks and water)! “The Breastfeeding Father,” psychologist Eric Taylor, explains why all partners need to be empowered in the nursing process.
“What is my Role?”
It’s no secret that there isn’t a lot of support out there for dads—most parenting resources, especially those around breastfeeding, are geared toward moms. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I came across @the_breastfeeding_father on Instagram—and why I was even more excited to welcome him to the podcast.
Eric noticed the lack of resources for dads while in school for child and adolescent psychology. But when his wife was expecting a baby, it became even more frustrating. His wife told him she wanted to breastfeed, and he began researching what he could do to help.
He found lists of tips such as “bring snacks and water” and “help her get comfortable.” But that wasn’t what Eric was looking for—as he pointed out, dads should already know how to do those things. He wanted to know how he could truly contribute to breastfeeding. He asked himself, “what is my role?”
He wanted to know how he could truly contribute to breastfeeding.
Unable to find the information he was looking for, he created The Breastfeeding Father—a platform to help educate dads on the way they can forge their own roles in the home.
Why It’s Important for Partners to Have a Role in Breastfeeding
We have a lot of societal expectations around being a mom—be the primary caregiver, the nurturer, the feeder, the one to soothe and comfort. Dads, on the other hand, have historically been conditioned to be providers and disciplinarians.
But family dynamics have changed since those norms were laid out. And yet, we’re still clinging to old roles in the home, as if all families consist of a primary caregiver (mom) and their partner, who takes a secondary role.
All partners can take an active role in their children’s development.
Eric is adamant that it shouldn’t be that way. If a baby has two parents, both should be involved in every aspect of parenting. Moms don’t have to be the primary caregivers—all partners can take an active role in their children’s development.
The Impact Partners Can Have on Breastfeeding Outcomes
Breastfeeding is hard—it comes with challenges, roadblocks, and a learning curve. If the non-nursing partner is educated on breastfeeding, they can step in and support when these issues come up.
80% of moms start out breastfeeding, but only 25% make it to the CDC recommendation of 6 months. But when partners are targeted with education about breastfeeding, moms are 75% more likely to breastfeed, even beyond the six-month goal.
An informed partner might notice when a nursing mom is struggling, provide guidance on latching, encourage her to get help from a lactation consultant, or remind her of different nursing positions she might try. Partners can help moms mitigate stress as they (and their babies) learn how to breastfeed.
This empowers both partners to work as a team, in breastfeeding, and in other aspects of parenting as well—changing diapers, doing bathtime, and putting babies to bed. When a partner is involved, it isn’t just to give a break to the mom—it’s also to forge their own bonds with the baby. Babies benefit when both partners take accountability and ownership in their parenting roles.
How Dads Change (Scientifically) After Having Babies
Moms aren’t the only ones who go through biological and mental changes after a baby comes. Dr. Lee Gettler’s studies on paternal instincts in gorillas and humans show that dads also go through physiological shifts.
When a mom is pregnant, a dad’s testosterone decreases—priming him to become less aggressive and more nurturing. After the baby is born, a dad’s testosterone decreases even more.
Eric pointed out that many moms who choose to co-sleep tend to want to separate their partner from the baby. But, just as moms become natural lighter sleepers and more aware of the baby—dads experience those same shifts, even if not to the same degree.
Dads also receive the same boost of oxytocin when they see their babies giggling and smiling, or when they are in physical contact with their babies. It’s important for non-nursing partners to take every opportunity to get skin-to-skin or other bonding experiences with babies.
What Holds Partners Back From Being Actively Involved
So…why do we as a society not embrace this idea fully? Why are all partners not empowered to assist with breastfeeding or become nurturers in the home?
We’re still clinging to old ideals and patterns in many ways. Moms might begin overfunctioning, taking on too much of the parenting role, because they think it’s what a “good mom” does. They might even begin maternal gatekeeping—actively intervening and taking away tasks from their partners.
We’re still clinging to old ideals and patterns in many ways.
They might step in to correct their partner when bottle feeding, or swoop in and hold the baby whenever they cry. This not only leads to an over and underfunctioning cycle, causing partners to step back and stop trying to do more, but it also keeps them from finding their own way of doing those tasks and deprives them of bonding opportunities.
Likewise, patterns might also cling to outdated ideals—viewing themselves as the “provider” or choosing to remain less involved in the care work. But most partners want to be more involved—they just aren’t always sure how.
It requires both parents to step back and let go of those expectations and outdated ideals, and come together as a team to conquer roles together.
Ways Both Parents Can Be Empowered and Form Strong Bonds with Children
Even though dads can’t do the actual breastfeeding, there are plenty of other ways for them to be empowered in the home. Eric said that the first step for both partners is to acknowledge that a baby has two parents. Partners should not hesitate to jump in and assert themselves as parents.
Partners should not hesitate to jump in and assert themselves as parents.
For example, dads often enjoy engaging in rough play, which is very important for the development of emotional regulation, control, and decision-making. Through rough play, kids learn how to understand their own boundaries and safety.
Other ways partners can support are by bottle feeding, changing diapers, being involved in bath routine, morning routine, and naptime and bedtime. Eric shared that for the first several months of his baby’s life, he changed every diaper and gave every bath—he knew that he needed to form those opportunities to bond and connect with his daughter.
In turn, moms need to release the reins and understand that even if their partner has a different way of doing things, they are just as capable of completing the tasks. This is reflected in the language we use. Avoid phrases like “I let you bathe the baby” or “That’s not how you change a diaper.” Resist the urge to hover or correct.
(This can be particularly hard if you are used to overfunctioning or if you’re experiencing postpartum anxiety—sometimes the baby crying feels unbearable, like an actual threat to their wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a mom therapist for tips on managing the anxiety.)
How Postpartum Depression Affects Dads
Moms are also not the only ones to experience postpartum mental health issues. In fact, more than 1 in 10 dads experience postpartum depression. They are 50% more likely to experience PPD if their partner does as well.
Eric believes that part of the trigger for postpartum depression for dads is that they are often unsure of their roles. They often feel uncertain about what to do, how to be involved, and how to form bonds with their children. That’s another reason for all partners to become empowered in care work, giving them a sense of direction and a role to fulfill.
A trigger for postpartum depression for dads is that they are often unsure of their roles.
Another factor for dads developing post paternal depression is the decrease in testosterone, which can cause anxiety and depression.
Dads are also often socially conditioned to hold their feelings in and not express sadness. But, as Eric pointed out, that’s like shaking a bottle of soda—the pressure increases until it spews out.
All partners need to take care of themselves and their mental health. If a partner seems disconnected or is avoiding getting involved with their baby, it might be a sign that they need to seek help.
If you or your partner is experiencing signs of postpartum depression or anxiety, our Wellness Center can help! Book a free consultation with a mental health professional today!