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Fathers, Breastfeeding & Bonding

By Dr. Lucas Godinez, DO, IBCLC

Reprinted with permission from the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh

At the special moment a baby is born a lot of changes occur instantly.  For the father, new relationships and responsibilities begin.   They transform from being a husband and “expectant” father to the husband and “new” father.  Their role in the family dynamic becomes structured with guidance, strength, teaching, leadership, support and encouragement.  They must nourish and love more than one person and divide their time into multiple unpredictable circumstances.  As a father of three children myself, fatherhood is the most wonderful, frustrating, exciting education to embrace.

Photo by Ben Heine via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Ben Heine via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the first important decisions to make as a father and mother is to choose the nutrition for your baby.  Breastfeeding is the best natural way to feed an infant to help them grow.  This essential nourishment also causes change for the father.  It “continues the exclusive relationship the mother and infant experienced during pregnancy” as stated by Pamela Jordan (She is a researcher and associate professor in Department of Family and Child Nursing at the University of Washington.)  However, a father may feel inadequate because he cannot provide his own nutrition and does not know how to even assist with feedings.  The baby’s nutritional needs can begin to physically interfere with a father’s intimate desire with the mother.  What fathers need to learn is how to support breastfeeding and to develop their special bond with the child.  As Anne Altshuler (RN,MS,IBCLC, LLL Leader) states “a father is the first person to teach his baby that love doesn’t have to come with food.”

Ways to be there for mother and baby:

  • Love and nourish your baby’s mother.  Mother’s physical wellbeing will help her milk production and longevity of breastfeeding.  Listen intently and offer encouragement when necessary.  Be patient if the mother is less interested in intimacy after the baby is born.  Hormones, tiredness, anxiety can lessen their physical desires.
  • Take over mother’s chores and responsibilities when she cannot perform them and be there to help out whenever you can.
  • Help the mother with breastfeeding – your eyes can make sure the infant is latching appropriately at the breast (I tell dads to look for the fish lips of the infant) and you can help position the baby for the mother.  Often times, you can get an extra pillow to make it just right.
  • Talk and sing to your baby.  A baby can recognize your voice at birth and hearing is one of their most precious senses in infancy.  Take the opportunity to read or tell stories.
  • Hold your baby any moment you can and providing skin-to-skin contact will enhance other senses – touch and smell.  Baby carriers or slings can free up your hands to do other things and allow the baby to experience what dad is doing.  Holding the baby to sleep/nap allows them to feel your heartbeat and the rhythm can be mesmerizing/soothing.
  • Bathe your baby and get a little wet yourself.
  • Change diapers.  Diaper duty begins in the hospital with the first meconium poops the baby makes.  Make it a fun experience – opportunity to talk and laugh face to face with the baby, challenge/perfect your techniques and efficiency with changing a diaper, learn about/appreciate smells (sometimes challenging how long you can hold your breath to avoid the smell).
  • Become the go-to-person for the other children in the family – they need time to adjust to a new baby and its distractions for the mother.  Your relationship with your other children can become stronger and deeper with this opportunity.

Enjoy being a father and embrace the new roles with it.  The more supportive you are of mother and baby the longer breastfeeding will be and the more confident the mother will feel about their ability to do so.

Dr. Lucas Godinez

Dr. Lucas Godinez graduated from the University of Dallas and went on to complete his medical degree at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his Pediatric residency at the Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh and immediately joined Kids Plus Pediatrics in July 2004. He is board certified in Pediatrics and is also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. He is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Osteopathic Association. His special interests in medicine include breastfeeding medicine, preventative pediatric medicine, sports related injury including concussions, and osteopathic manipulative treatments. When not at work, he enjoys fishing, gardening, biking, and carpentry, but most of all he enjoys “being a kid” with his three children.


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13 Responses to Fathers, Breastfeeding & Bonding

  1. sande mcclurg 17 August 2013 at 14:22 #

    what about pump and let mom have a break

    • DragonMama (@DragonMama) 17 August 2013 at 22:34 #

      Pumping is not “letting mom have a break” particularly if mom is struggling to establish or maintain her milk supply. She still needs to remove the milk from her breasts that the baby would otherwise be drinking at that time, so pumping “to let mom have a break” is actually really tripling the workload – she has to pump the 1st bottle, clean the pump and store the milk, then pump go through the process again while getting a “break” from direct feeding. Directly breastfeeding in the supported manner explained here is a LOT more efficient, and (from my experience breastfeeding my 4th child and listening to a lot of other breastfeeding families) not something that most moms want a break from nearly as much as they want a break from, say, washing dishes. The author lists PLENTY of other ways to give mom a break that do not involve a pump, and a little bit of compassionate listening to any new mother will reveal several more opportunities to REALLY “give her a break” (one of our favorites is generally “hold the recently fed baby upright so it doesn’t spit up half its feed while I get in a shower”).

      • Crystal 19 August 2013 at 10:36 #

        Yes!! The 10 minute shower alone that feels like Heaven-on-Earth to a new mom!!

    • Indie 18 August 2013 at 22:10 #

      Pumping is a big pain in the ass. Only do so when truly necessary. It would have been the worst kind of break to spend the time pumping and then find myself full of milk with no baby.

    • Moira 5 November 2013 at 10:26 #

      Pumping isn’t a break. It is a huge pain in the rear! Dad can take baby before or after feeding if he wants to “help”, not make a whole separate task for mom that takes longer than just nursing baby and leaves cleanup, to boot!

  2. Helen Scott RN/IBCLC/RLC 18 August 2013 at 07:02 #

    Dad’s support is so important and I commend Dr Lucas Godinez, with his credentials incuding IBCLC! This really shows a committed Pediatrician and Dad, congratulations!!
    I encourage Dad’s support, by helping Mom with pillow support, positioning and latch (ensuring that baby gets more of the lower areola, that is hard for Mom tp see) so that Dad can coach Mom. Dad can help Mom get more rest, after breastfeeding (while her oxytocin has her relaxed), by holding baby and doing skin to skin. From experience I have seen how some Dad’s love doing this and others choose not to do this and I believe this is related to their learning style.
    Dad has the extra pair of hands that Mom needs to support a newborn, so it is important to involve Dad’s, so he understands how he can help Mom and baby.
    A good tip to help with the let down, especially if Mom is tired or stressed is to massage Mom’s shoulders or palm of the hand at the base of the thumb (the latter is not always possible with a newborn, because both Mom’s hands are needed to support her newborn).
    Thank you for your contribution to breastfeeding!!

  3. Supporting Breastfeeding 19 August 2013 at 10:39 #

    What a wonderful post – full of tips from an experience Father. Thanks!

  4. Michelle H. 19 August 2013 at 11:52 #

    This is excellent advice for fathers, especially first timers!

    I would like to add one thing: Be supportive of however long mom decides to breastfeed, ESPECIALLY if she wants to let baby self-wean. While the minimum recommendation is 6 months, many moms choose to nurse well into toddler-hood. This is normal, healthy, and beneficial for both mother and child. There will be rough spots along the way. Show her extra compassion when those times come.

    • Elisa 5 November 2013 at 20:10 #

      The minimum recommendation is 1 year by the AAP, and two years by most other respected organizations (WHO, LLL, etc). Six months is the recommended minimum for EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding, not any breastfeeding, meaning that anything other than breast milk should not be offered before 6 months


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