Michael’s Story: How I Support My Breastfeeding Partner

Micheal and his daughter Michael Kaiser-Nyman, Chicago, Illinois

Before my girlfriend and I decided to have a baby, I had no idea what being the dad of an infant would be like. I didn’t have many close friends or family with children, and when I did see dads with babies, I was often disappointed at how hands-off they were, with the moms doing most of the childcare. Before my daughter was born, my cousin, a mother of two, told me something like “for the first two years, your baby will need your girlfriend, and your girlfriend will need you.” Having seen how damaging gender roles could be in other parts of my life, like how “boys don’t cry” turned me into a numb and depressed teenager, I was suspicious of the idea that babies need their moms more than their dads, and I hoped it was wrong.

Two hours after my daughter was born and finished nursing for the first time, I took my shirt off and held her so that she would get to know my smell right away. And for the next few days, I held her whenever I could, always skin-to-skin. But to my disappointment, if she was awake, she would cry until I gave her back to her mom. So, I only held her when she was asleep.

Before I became a dad, I held our culture’s predominant view of babies: that they’re basically blank slates, and that however they’re raised is how they’ll turn out. And so, I thought that if I did everything that my girlfriend did (short of breastfeeding), then my daughter would view me more or less just like her mom.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my baby was not a blank slate and in fact had innate needs, and that primary among them was to be held by her mom and nurse almost constantly. Our baby needed to nurse so much that it was almost impossible for my girlfriend to do anything else for the first few weeks—not to mention that she was still physically recovering from childbirth. I did the cooking, cleaning, and other chores, and made sure my girlfriend had everything she needed.

I also found small but important ways I could care for my daughter directly. I did almost all of the diaper changes for the first few months. Burping the baby became my specialty, and whenever she woke in the night unable to nurse, I would get up and walk her around until she belched. After the first couple weeks, she started staying awake more after nursing, and I found that she wouldn’t cry if I held her then. Sometimes, if she was fussy but didn’t want to nurse more, I would take her for walks outside to calm down. After a few months, she started to enjoy time with me more and more, especially walks outside in a carrier.

Michael holding his daughter while sitting in parkMy daughter just turned two, and being a highly involved dad of an infant has had a lot of ups and downs. There have been periods when she would spend an hour or even two at a time playing with me or taking walks with me in the carrier, and other periods when she would scream if my girlfriend tried to give her to me. While she always wants to be with her mom, her feelings about me fluctuate dramatically, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, even though the overall trend is toward my being more involved.

It’s hard to be a dad in our culture if you don’t want to take the standard role of hands-off breadwinner; there aren’t many role models or good information. I think the most important thing we can do is listen to our babies. My daughter told me that my hopes to be an equal to her mom were misplaced, but that I had another important role to play. She told me that she needed to stay close to her mom, and that she needed to breastfeed and to be held. And she told me when my role changed, when I could hold her more and spend more time with her, and when I could eventually take her farther away from her mom and we could begin to develop a relationship of our own.

Editor’s Note: Did you know that partners and support people are welcome to attend La Leche League meetings? Michael attended La Leche League Group meetings with his girlfriend after their daughter’s arrival. You can find a Group near you at https://lllusa.org/locator/. You can also find a list of online meetings at https://www.facebook.com/LaLecheLeagueUSA/events.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

Supporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always

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