Breastfeeding Basics for Dads | WIC Breastfeeding Support
There's a lot to learn with breastfeeding! Here are some breastfeeding basics to get you started, plus ways you can support and encourage mom at every step.
Why Choose Breastfeeding?
As you and your partner welcome your baby home, you will have many new experiences as a dad. Taking care of your family is a big responsibility. You want to protect them and make healthy choices. That is why making the decision to breastfeed is important.
Breastfeeding has many benefits. Breast milk is rich in nutrients, enzymes, growth factors, and antibodies to protect your baby. It helps digestion. It may lower baby's risk of ear infections, asthma, diarrhea, vomiting, childhood obesity, and more.
Breastfeeding also saves time and money. Breastfed babies may be sick less often, which may keep your family's health costs low. In addition, moms who are exclusively or partially breastfeeding can get more food for longer in their WIC food packages. And with breastfeeding, the milk is ready to go whenever your baby is hungry. That means no formula to measure and mix.
How Does Breastfeeding Start?
A woman's body gets ready to breastfeed before she gives birth. During pregnancy, her breasts change so that they can make milk. Once your baby is born, their suckling triggers the hormones that cause mom's breasts to make and release milk.
What Should I Expect in the Hospital?
After your partner gives birth, encourage her to hold your baby skin to skin. During this time, your baby will probably find their way to your partner's breast to start breastfeeding. At first, your baby will eat about every 2-3 hours. In between those feedings, make sure you get some skin-to-skin togetherness, too. This can help you bond with baby.
If your partner is having trouble breastfeeding, be her advocate. Ask the hospital staff for help. Talk with a lactation consultant who can look at how your baby is positioned and latching. This can help make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable.
While your partner and baby get used to breastfeeding, give as much encouragement and help as you can. Tell your partner you're proud of her. Pick up her favorite meal, and limit visitors so that she can rest and focus on breastfeeding. You can also change your baby's diapers and get in lots of snuggles when your partner isn't breastfeeding.
Why Is Skin-to-Skin Important?
Keep your baby skin to skin as much as possible. Even though you aren't the one breastfeeding, it's one of the best things you can do to feel connected to your baby. It also helps your baby adjust to the outside world and makes baby feel calm and comforted.
What Happens When You Get Home?
In the first few days at home, your baby will need to be fed 8-12 times within 24 hours. There is no set time or length for feedings. Some babies will eat 15-20 minutes per breast. Others eat for a shorter or longer amount of time. Your baby will let you know when they are finished feeding, and your baby's eating patterns will change from day to day. Just follow baby's lead.
How Much Milk Does My Baby Need?
It doesn't take much to fill up your baby. At birth, your baby's tummy is no bigger than a toy marble (about 1-2 teaspoons). By day 10, your baby's stomach grows to the size of a ping-pong ball (about 2 ounces).
How much milk your baby needs will go up and down as baby grows, and your partner's body will adjust to those changes. During a growth spurt, your baby might want to nurse more often or for longer. Your partner may need a little extra encouragement during this time.
How Do I Know If Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?
Watching your baby's diapers is one of the ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk. The color, texture, and frequency of poops and wet diapers will tell you a lot. Changing diapers is also a great way to support your partner.
Other signs that your baby is getting enough milk:
You can hear or see your baby swallowing.
Your baby seems happy after feedings, with relaxed hands and feet.
Your baby is growing and gaining weight. Your health care provider or WIC breastfeeding staff can check your baby's weight gain.
Custody and Breastfeeding - Breastfeeding Support
When parents separate, a decision has to be made about access and custody of the children. If the child is still breastfeeding with a strong attachment to his mother, she may be very worried how her baby will handle any lengthy separation from her. If the parents are not on speaking terms, or if the father hasn’t witnessed this special bond, he may think breastfeeding is being used as a ploy to keep him away from his baby. This is rarely the case. But, however difficult, it is better for the parents to come to an arrangement of access themselves that takes the best interests of their child into account, without involving the courts. The best interests for the child include both breastfeeding and a close relationship with both parents.
If the parents can’t agree on custody arrangements, the courts will have to be involved. And if the court feels breastfeeding is being used as an obstacle to a father’s access they may see weaning or pumping as the solution. A court probably won’t value breastfeeding above a father’s time with his child. However, forcing a child into long separations from his mother before he is ready is not as straightforward as it may sound—with or without breastfeeding. It can result in a very miserable baby or toddler instead of one who is emotionally secure. It is in both parents’ interests to have a happy child. With a little give and take, breastfeeding—and all its health benefits—need not be sacrificed prematurely.
Ideally parents will work out a visiting plan or formal parenting agreement that respects the child’s need to be with his mother and to continue breastfeeding while still seeing the other parent. Dr Jack Newman, a Canadian paediatrician explains:
Breastfeeding is very closely linked with secure attachment, emotional regulation and mothering.1 It is a way of settling a baby to sleep (often repeatedly during a single day or night), calming them down, pain relief for teething or colic, meeting suckling needs, it is their security blanket and their food. However, focusing just on a child’s reliance on breastfeeding is not taking into account the bigger picture of healthy attachment.2 It is very desirable for a baby to have a primary attachment figure as this affects a child’s emotional health throughout their life. Attachment Parenting International explains:
API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, Attachment Parenting International, [accessed 24 January 2022]
infants are born “hardwired” with strong needs to be nurtured and to remain physically close to the primary caregiver, usually the mother, during the first few years of life. The child’s emotional, physical, and neurological development is greatly enhanced when these basic needs are met consistently and appropriately.
Separation is traumatic
Separation from their primary care giver (usually the mother) is traumatic for a young baby or toddler, particularly in the first four years. They are unable to process where their mother has gone and even though they may seem “happy” when separated they are still suffering trauma. Psychiatrist Peter Cook writes:
Attachment And Separation: What Everyone Should Know, Dr Peter Cook, 2000 [accessed 24 January 2022]
It may be thought that the child has “settled”, and he or she may appear happy. He may be friendly to almost anyone, except to his mother if she re-appears. Children in this state will often turn away from their mothers or appear not to recognize them. It seems that they cannot bear to have the feelings of hurt and longing brought up again. These reactions are more likely when the child is away from home and in a strange environment. They may be less, or absent, if the child has good substitute mothering, preferably from a known member of his or her own family, throughout the period of separation.
Effects of trauma
When children have been prevented from developing a secure attachment this is felt as early life stress or trauma. This could lead to developing a stutter, learning problems 3 or developing trauma induced epigenetic changes affecting the child’s mental health 4:
Effects of Separation on Young Children: Implications for Family Court Decision Making, Peter Haiman, 2016 [accessed 24 January 2022]
Research has shown that children who do not develop secure attachments with a primary caregiver during the first years of life later are unable to calm themselves down; they are more likely than are secure children to overreact to stimuli. Insecure children have less impulse control, less ability to tolerate stress, and less ability to tolerate frustration than do individuals who have experienced a more secure childhood (Toth & Cicchetti, 1998). They also are more at risk for anxiety, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, and substance abuse.
Time away from the primary carer (usually the mother) can be built up slowly at the child’s pace
A child’s bond with both parents is very important
Breastfeeding does not prevent a father or other co-parent from forming their own loving and secure relationship with their child. The following article discusses the importance of the father’s bond with their child and the importance of parents trying to resolve arguments about access for the sake of their child:
E. N. Baldwin and K. A. Friedman, The Breastfeeding Relationship and Visitation Plans, New Beginnings, LLLI, 1996
The father’s bond with the child is just as important as the mother’s. However, it should rarely, if ever, be necessary to interfere with the child’s attachment to the mother in order for the father’s relationship to be promoted and encouraged. In the ideal relationship, the bond with the father and siblings flows out of the strong bond with the mother. But in any case, the child should not be torn from one parent, or forced to choose. The child should feel that both parents will protect and encourage the other parent’s relationship with the child, and both will help the child to feel safe.
No father wants to come for his child and have him clutching his mother’s legs screaming not to make him go! Both mother and father will benefit if their child gleefully leaps into his arms, so excited to see him and go off with him!
A group of physicians with a special interest in breastfeeding, Breastfeeding for Doctors (Facebook), express concern that attempts from a father or co-parent to sabotage breastfeeding could be considered a form of abusive control:
Position Statement on the Shared Caregiving of the Breastfed Child.
Breastfeeding for Doctors (Facebook) January 2022. [Accessed 24 Jan 2022]
In our professional experience, seeking to control or undermine the breastfeeding relationship may be an example of coercive control. Certainly, any attempt to pursue sabotaging the breastfeeding relationship is a direct example of failure to prioritise the best interests of the child, and to undermine their primary caregiver’s bodily autonomy.
Mediation for parental conflict
The anger between parents can negatively affect children as well as the divorce or separation itself. If parents are unable to put their child’s needs first without arguments, mediation may be helpful. In mediation an independent third party helps both sides come to an agreement. For mediation help in the UK contact the Family Mediation Council.
Infants and Overnight Care–Post Separation and Divorce, Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc, reviewed 2015 [accessed 24 January 2022]
Children are at a greater risk of developing emotional, social, cognitive and behavioural problems in families where there is a high level of conflict and animosity between parents
Work up to longer separations gradually
When a child is securely attached to one parent, whether breastfed or not, separation from that parent can be built up gradually taking into account their developmental needs. Psychotherapist Isabelle Fox and lawyer Elizabeth Baldwin explain how this can be achieved in the following two excerpts:
Children of Divorce: Divorce and Attachment, AttachmentParenting.org, Isabelle Fox [accessed 24 January 2022]
Typically, dad might play with the child in the mom’s home or take the child for a walk to a local park or to the father’s own residence. Such visitations are to be encouraged since a relationship with both parents is not only desirable, but essential. But it should take place regularly and frequently. First, one or two hours visitation several days a week may be appropriate. When the infant becomes a toddler, the time may be extended to three or four hours. If the child seems disturbed – continues to cry, etc., consideration should be given to a prompt return to the mother or other primary attachment figure. Eventually, the child begins to trust that both parents are responding to its needs. The child should not be made to feel that one parent is abandoning him nor that the other is punitively keeping him away from the parent who provides comfort and protection.
In the Best Interest of Breastfed Babies (custody issues), Baldwin et al, LLLI, 1997
a six-month-old child who has been separated from the mother for two hours at a time on occasion but is otherwise glued to her could easily begin two-hour visits with Daddy several times a week or every day. But if the mother works and is apart from her baby eight hours a day five days a week, visitation could begin with eight-hour weekend visits, or with the father caring for the baby while the mother works. If a mother of a four month old leaves the child with a nanny on weekends, the baby could similarly begin weekend visitation with the father.
The difference between night and day
Days and nights are not the same to a small child. Most babies and toddlers will not be ready to be parted from their primary attachment figure over night for quite some time. Many breastfeeding children continue to wake at night for several years for the security of connecting with their mother for a night-time feed. This is quite normal baby/child behaviour. By understanding this, parents, lawyers and the legal system could put the needs of the child first and avoid causing unnecessary anxiety and distress by demanding something for which the child is not developmentally ready.
Overnights: The Difference Between Night and Day, Attachment Parenting, Isabelle Fox, PhD [accessed 24 January 2022]
Infants, toddlers and preschoolers up to the age of 5 often show extreme distress, anger, and fear when sleep routines are abruptly changed and they are separated from their primary caregiver with little or no preparation. The child feels enraged at both parents. Anger is expressed at the one who has taken him or her to a new situation and to the other parent for allowing it to happen. A nighttime with screaming is an ordeal for all, and often results in emotional consequences for the child.
In many cases it is the father who wants equal time and presses the court for overnights. But it is in the waking hours that children will experience, explore, feel safe with and enjoy their father. More time with this parent should be scheduled during daytime, but the child should be returned to his or her familiar secure environment during the night.
When will a child be ready for overnight separation from their main caregiver?
The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc (AAIMHI) recognises that shared overnight parenting can be very disruptive for young children and offers guidelines on handling overnight care in Infants and Overnight Care–Post Separation and Divorce. AAIMHI recommendations include:
Promote a safe, healthy attachment with the main caregiver while building a warm relationship wth the other parent.
Day time separation should be gradually increased at the child’s pace.
Attention should always be paid to a child’s emotional security and developmental readiness for separation.
Overnight separation from the primary care giver is not recommended under two years of age and most children won’t be developmentally ready until at least three years of age.
AAIMHI lists several developmental traits to guide a child’s readiness for overnight separation (see excerpt). It also stresses the importance of parents being able to avoid conflict, speak positively about each other and be cooperative for the sake of the child.
Infants and Overnight Care–Post Separation and Divorce, Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Inc, 2015 [accessed 24 January 2022]
4.1 The young child should be able to:
a) at least in part, calm him/herself when stressed and/or upset, and to use the other parent or caregiver to become soothed;
b) imagine the main caregiver even when that person is not present;
c) understand what is being said to him/her;
d) anticipate events beyond the here and now, that is, to understand what ‘tomorrow’ means;
e) communicate about past and future events, and verbally express his/her basic needs and feelings;
f) receive an understanding response if a trial sleepover does not turn out to be as expected and future sleepovers to be postponed for a period of time.
(Note: two-year-olds do not generally have the ability to foresee how they will feel in a new situation that they think they will enjoy).
See the full document for guidance when child protection is a concern.
Most babies and toddlers will not be ready to be parted from their primary attachment figure over night for quite some time
It won’t last forever
Children grow and adapt quickly, and the need to stay close to their primary attachment figure does not last forever. Similarly breastfeeding is naturally outgrown in the early years. By respecting developmental needs and by the other parent returning the child to his mother when the little one needs it; parent-child relationships will be built on trust and security.
A mother’s story
Here is a story of how one mother negotiated shorter more frequent visits between father and son as a starting point;
A Journey through Breastfeeding and Visitation, TheLeakyBoob.
com, 2011 [accessed 24 January 2022]
At first he said no and then my tongue moved faster then it ever had. I was quoting the pages I had highlighted. I really didn’t even know I had them memorized. And he got it. He understood that Keegan would only be little for a short time. That soon he wouldn’t be breastfeeding and needing mommy all day. He understood that he needed short frequent visits. He understood that breastfeeding until Keegan self-weaned and the attachment parenting I was doing was what was best for Keegan.
Breastfeeding is very closely linked with secure attachment, emotional regulation and mothering
Breastfeeding a toddler or older child
It may be better not to raise breastfeeding as an obstacle to sharing custody past one or two years of age however biologically normal this is. Many “experts” are unsupportive and uneducated about breastfeeding past infancy and the courts may not favour breastfeeding if it seems to interfere with a bond with the father/other parent such as preventing overnight stays. Focusing on breastfeeding is ignoring the bigger issue of separation and attachment. Securely attached children who are not used to being away from their mother would be upset by long separations whether or not they were breastfeeding.
Extended Breastfeeding and the Law, Breastfeeding Abstracts, LLLI, Baldwin, February 2001 [accessed 24 January 2022]
Misinformation about breastfeeding affects everyone in our society, including lawyers, judges, psychologists, and social workers. While there is no harm in breastfeeding past infancy and allowing a child to wean naturally, many professionals in social service agencies and family law courts are quite shocked to learn just how long a child may breastfeed. Lacking accurate information, these officials may overreact and conclude that breastfeeding a child of two, three, or four is somehow improper.
Letter to the court template
If breastfeeding past the tiny baby stage is scrutinised in a custody battle, Katherine A Dettwyler has provided a template for a letter that defends natural term breastfeeding and co-sleeping for use in a court situation.
Letter for Court Cases in support of extended breastfeeding by Katherine A Dettwyler, Ph.D. updated 2015 [accessed 24 January 2022]
Breastfeeding and Family Break Up in the UK (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers) lists places where families can find legal information relating to custody issues, discusses international law that may be relevant and shares examples of how courts in UK have applied the law.
Human rights and breastfeeding?
With regard to human rights legislation, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights may be affected by a disproportionate contact order from the court. Article 8 is: “The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence” and includes the right to physical and moral integrity. The baby also has his own rights under Article 8. This could be discussed with your legal representative.
Peter Haiman believes the child needs their own legal representation and advocates in court:
Effects of Separation on Young Children: Implications for Family Court Decision Making, Peter Haiman, 2016 [accessed 24 January 2022]
Every child should have the right to have his or her developmental needs fully described in court. That child’s unique life history must be understood if informed decisions are to be made on his or her behalf, and appropriate parenting plans created. This requires an understanding of the research as well as of the individual child. It cannot be accomplished by lawyers alone. Children also need advocates who understand developmental theory and research, and who are able competently to represent the child’s particular needs.
Young children need the stability and consistency of strong attachment to a single primary care-giver in their early years for their long term emotional health. Long separations of a child from their mother before they are ready can be traumatic, irrespective of whether they are breastfeeding. This does not mean a father or co-parent shouldn’t see his child frequently. Whenever possible, parents should put the needs of their child first and come to an access arrangement where separations from the mother are built up gradually, at the child’s pace. Relying on the legal system to come to a satisfactory arrangement ought to be a last resort because courts may not appreciate the developmental need of a particular child for his mother or for breastfeeding.
a young father came to the aid of a newborn daughter
Wisconsin resident Maxamillian Neubauer showed a device that allowed the baby to retain craving for the mother's breast.
Maxamallian and April Neubauer are the proud parents of little Rosalia. The couple did not immediately find out that they were expecting a child: “I did not have children. I have polycystic ovary syndrome and an irregular cycle, so I didn’t know that I was pregnant until 8 weeks, ”says the young mother.
In preparation for the birth of her first child, April developed a detailed plan: “Immediate skin-to-skin application and mandatory breastfeeding,” she says.
However, as often happens in life, things did not go according to plan. When the water broke and the doctors waited for a sufficient dilation of the cervix, April had a seizure. Sybil Martin-Dennehy, Nurse at County Medical Center in Wisconsin recalls: “The doctor arrived immediately and decided that the best way out would be a caesarean section.”
Shortly after Rosalia was born, April was transferred to the intensive care unit. However, nurse Sybil decided to fulfill the desire of the young mother and keep the possibility of breastfeeding for the baby. After bottle feeding, newborns often refuse to breastfeed, which is more difficult to suckle. All Sybil needed was April's husband's help.
“Dad agreed without any problems,” recalls the nurse. Maxamillian agreed to "breastfeed" his newborn daughter using Sybil's complementary nursing system.
The nurse took a silicone pad on the chest, which many nursing mothers protect the nipples in the first days of breastfeeding. The narrow opening in the pad forces the baby to make efforts, so the children do not then refuse the mother's breast. The mixture was fed by a nurse into this overlay from a syringe through a thin tube.
“I was just shocked, this is the greatest night of my life. I couldn't believe this was happening,” recalls Sybil. “Many times I tried to offer fathers this way, but I received a distrust in response: why am I asking about such madness. But Max understood right away and said: "Damn it, let's do it!"
The young father recalls his feelings: "I put it on my skin, I took off my shirt to give Rosalia full contact, we were all very worried, but we decided to do it."
Photographs taken at the clinic showed Maxamillian's newborn daughter grabbing a "fake nipple" while snuggling up to her father just below the "Mom" tattoo on his chest. “He turned out to be a more perfect mom than anyone could have imagined. You might even think that the pictures are staged,” Sybil laughs.
The photo of the "nursing dad" quickly became popular - tens of thousands of people reposted and "liked" it. “They even wrote to me from Romania, and I had to use Google Translate,” Maxamillian smiles. Readers admire the determination of the father to make up for the temporary absence of the mother and support the newborn daughter.
Rosalia's grandmother did not immediately guess what was the matter: “I was shocked when I entered the room and saw that my granddaughter was hanging on his nipple. At first I did not notice the overlay, so I was amazed, ”recalls Yolanda Edwards with a laugh.
The photo has amused many people, but Sybil is counting on a resonance among future parents and medical staff: “Never be afraid to ask. The worst that will happen is that you will be rejected, but you can help willing fathers to be part of a special moment of intimacy with a baby, ”she says. “If you find yourself in a situation like me, when the mother does not have the opportunity to feed, go for it, it is definitely worth it,” Max says to future fathers.
Related: 15 things every father of a girl should know
Photo: Facebook (The social network is recognized as extremist and banned on the territory of the Russian Federation) of the hero of the publication - Maxamillian Kendall Neubauer
How dad breastfeeds - Alina Markova - Children - Site materials - Snob
Three kilos of ripe cherries, a newborn daughter on her chest and a happily smiling husband - this was my world for the first time after giving birth. “Our daughter doesn’t need anything but your breasts!” the husband said, and this helped a lot morally. And the fresh cherries that he brought every day - physically. In the UK, the government, together with the Institute of Paternity, decided to involve fathers in the process of breastfeeding by adding an information booklet to the starter package for pregnant women and promoting exactly this scheme - nothing but breastfeeding for newborns.
Instructions for fathers provide information on the mechanisms of breastfeeding and how to support a new mother. A campaign to educate fathers about breastfeeding is not an attempt to educate anyone. This is a completely pragmatic struggle for the health of the nation - the same as the fight against alcoholism, drug addiction and smoking.
Formula-fed babies are twice as likely to suffer from so-called sudden infant death than breast-fed babies.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of infections and sepsis, key causes of early childhood death. In addition to reducing immediate threats to life, breastfeeding (for more than six months) affects mental development - such children are less likely to develop autism, 20% more likely to receive higher education and perform better in school.
Mother's milk continues to influence a person's life after school. It's hard to believe, but if you were breastfed as an infant, you're less likely to be overweight as an adult. The whole world is struggling with high cholesterol in adults, and if mothers breastfed them as children, their cholesterol levels would be 10% lower without any pills. Cancers, such as leukemia, are also less likely to occur in breastfed women.
Breastfeeding also affects a mother's life. Each year of breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by 4.3%. If a woman breastfed her children, then without special exercises and diets, she is more likely to be in better physical shape, and her waist will be thinner - simply because lactation is an expenditure of 500 calories per day. Women who have breastfed their children for more than two years are a quarter less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, and this is the main cause of death in developed countries.
The trouble is that the mother herself often cannot defend her right to breastfeed (after all, this takes her away from both her career and family life), she cannot cope with this hard work. For many decades, breastfeeding was neglected, as it was believed that a woman has more important things to do than motherhood. Promotion of feeding according to the regime - for the convenience of the nurse's work schedule - led to insufficient stimulation of milk production. The pacifier satisfies the sucking reflex of the baby and at the same time accustomed to the wrong grip on the breast. The baby sucked incorrectly or refused the breast altogether. Feeding failed. The child was given to nannies and fed artificially. Formula manufacturers claimed that their product was no worse than mother's milk - which is absolutely not true: the mixture is as similar to breast milk as a plastic prosthesis is to a real limb. The mixture will help to survive in the absence of breast milk, nothing more.
Today, when there are official recommendations from WHO and UNICEF in this regard, in a house where there is a baby, you can see the following scene: a nursing woman, comfortably sitting in a chair with a baby, “does nothing” - watches movies, reads books, chats on the phone, and a tired husband is spinning, fulfilling her wishes - he brings food, a blanket or a cup of fresh tea. And if a man knows how important breastfeeding is for his family, then he is not offended by such “inequality”.