Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Wrong Way to Support Your Wife Breastfeeding

After breastfeeding
We only have one picture of Stevie breastfeeding, and we already used it. This one is immediately after and will have to do.

When Stevie was pregnant with our daughter, tucked in among all the typical friends and family pre-baby small talk, there was one question that continually came up. “Do you plan on breastfeeding?” In my pre-dad, super excited to be a part of all things parenting mode, there were a few times towards the beginning that I hopped in and said, “Yes. Totally!” In the context of this paragraph I realize how silly I must have sounded answering a very personal, and gender specific, question for my wife. I obviously was not going to be breastfeeding our child, and that question was not really mine to answer. What I will say is that the breastfeeding question was generally asked within a series of “Are you” questions that did involve me. “Are you planning on putting her in daycare? Are you set on a name yet? Are you excited to have a little girl?” Even though Stevie was the one with the kid in her womb, we got used to answering these questions as a team. 

Stevie is a non-confrontational person. Instead of talking with me about my, let’s call it what it was, rude and presumptive third-party committal of her mammary glands – she did what a non-confrontational person does when confronted with something. She internalized it and she worried. It wasn't until months later when, in the midst of me spouting off about how glad I was that “we” decided that she was going to breastfeed, because breast is best, and mom is the bomb, and boobs are for newbs, and… OK only one of those is an actual thing people say. Regardless, mid-way through my bloviating about our decision to breastfeed Stevie quietly said, “I don’t know if I want to breastfeed.”

I. Was. Shocked. I was flabbergasted. “But, we decided…”

“Actually, we didn't.”

“But when we talked about…” And then reality came pouring in. We hadn't talked about it. We hadn't even kind-of talked about it. I had assumed. What else had I assumed?

I think the worst part of the whole situation was that even though I was the one who had overstepped, she was the one who was feeling guilty. 

Next came a strange mix of emotions. I felt bad for assuming and I was disappointed that she might not breastfeed. Then I felt guilty that I was disappointed because I knew my disappointment was going to make Stevie feel guilty. Then I was hungry, but not because of any of the other emotions; I’m just usually hungry in any situation. 

I think the next thing I said went something like this: “I messed up. I assumed we were on the same page about this. I think you should breastfeed.” Here is what thought I should have said: “I messed up. I’m not sure why, but I assumed we were on the same page about the topic of breastfeeding, which then lead me to believe that we were on the same page about you breastfeeding. What I didn't take into account is that breastfeeding is more than just a pamphlet I read while I was bored at your last OB appointment. I can imagine that there is a lot of anxiety around it.” But see the problem with either one of those replies? I assumed again. Here’s what I REALLY should have said, “I messed up, and I made assumptions. I’m ready to listen.”

We got there eventually (to me listening). It took a while of me explaining the benefits of breast milk (she already knew them), praising the other women in my life who had successfully breastfed (she had heard it before), and quoting every time in our relationship that she had mentioned the benefits of nursing (she remembered those too) before she was able to communicate to me, mostly with her eyes, that I was not the one whose input was missing from this conversation. My wife is a very patient woman. Eventually I just shut up and listened. Here’s what I heard.

She was nervous, but she was also a little grossed out by the idea – which made her feel guilty. She was worried she couldn't do it, and she was feeling a ton of pressure that she had to or she would permanently hurt the baby. And she didn't want to disappoint me, because she really wanted to be a good mom… and then she started crying, and I started crying, and we both looked very silly. 

I apologized and she apologized and then I apologized that she felt like she needed to apologize and we went back and forth like that for a while. I said if she didn't want to breastfeed I would be totally OK with it. She said she knew that wasn't totally true, but appreciated me saying it. We danced like that for a bit and she suggested that we take a breastfeeding class together. The plan: She would consider my, the class, her body, and the baby’s input and then make a decision as we got closer to having a mouth to feed. I would support her and love her no matter which decision she made. 

The plan worked - not in swaying her one way or the other, but by empowering her to feel comfortable and happy with whatever decision she came to. The class was wonderful and informative. I kept my mouth shut and listened (not an easy task for me). She read a couple books, and when Duchess arrived she decided she wanted to breastfeed. It was really hard and frustrating at first. My first instinct was to cheer for her the way you would a tired athlete. “GO STEVIE! YOU BREASTFEED THAT KID! WOOHOO!” But we had gotten better at communicating by then, and she told me what she needed. Whether it was a hug or small words of encouragement, a shoulder to cry on or some of those gel nipple pads, when she asked for it – she got it. 

Yes, I am proud of my wife’s decision to breastfeed. It wasn't an easy task, especially when she went back to work and had to pump. But, if I am being honest, I am more proud of what we learned before her milk ever came in. I learned that being an active and involved father doesn't necessarily mean that I have a 50% share of every single decision – especially ones that involve her body. She learned that if she looks at me long enough and slowly raises her left eyebrow I will eventually realize that I am rambling on and on and on. Joking aside – she learned to talk more, I learned to listen more, and we met in the middle. Breast milk may be healthy for our kids, but I hope seeing us communicate like that will be pretty damn healthy too. 

Like this post? Be sure to like Ask Your Dad on Facebook. I pretend to know what I am talking about and desperately try to be funny. I don't mind if you laugh with or at me - as long as you're laughing. 


  1. This is an awesome post. As a husband and a father who experienced breastfeeding woes and successes first hand, it's refreshing to see other families also went through some of the same things my wife and I did. Really great post in time for World Breastfeeding Week!

  2. I loved hearing a dad's perspective and how much it all comes down to listening and communicating. Glad you guys found what was best for your family!

  3. yay for communication! and yay for breastfeeding!

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    1. Hate mail for me of hate mail for you? If you mean for you, I certainly hope nobody hates you for presenting an opinion contrary to mine. I'm sure there is much more we agree with than not.

      I think the place where we may have parted ways in the understanding of what I was trying to convey in the piece is best reflected by this part of your comment. "Fathers should ABSOLUTELY have a say in the nutrition of his child. This should be discussed and agreed upon before conceiving."

      I agree that dads should have a say. I don't think I wrote to the contrary. What I regretted doing was assuming, and committing to something we had yet to actually discuss. Of course I wanted her to breast feed, but the decision is ultimately hers. I couldn't make her do it, nor would I want to. The logistics of forcing someone to breastfeed are at once horrifying and confounding to even contemplate. So I won't.

      Regarding the second part of the quoted portion of your comment: "This should be discussed and agreed upon before conceiving." Oh Lindsey... even with my affinity and love of writing lists, I could not fathom writing a list that could contain the multitudes of things I wish we had talked through before having children. I'll go ahead and add your suggestion to it if I ever do. Along with making lactation distribution decisions I would also like to add "who has to clean the tub after the kid poops in it?" and "what is the protocol for establishing who gets to sleep in on which days?" and "how many times in a row do I have to pretend to like Yo Gabba Gabba before I finally go insane and start throwing things?" See, the list could go on and on. The fact of the matter is this, Lindsey. 95% of parenting is done on the fly. Sure, we can foresee some things, and try and plan for them, but even at our best how often do those plans come to fruition. So I stay adaptable.

      One last point. I, like Matt, who I assume is your husband, was and am involved in all decisions regarding our kids. They don't all end up being a 50-50 split. On some I have more sway than my wife and in others, especially ones involving her body, she does. That means if she wants to breast feed, she has a majority share in that decision. Or if she wants (or doesn't want) to get pregnant again, she controls more than 50%. That doesn't mean she doesn't consider, welcome, and appreciate my input. But it is a women's rights issue - because I don't own her or her body. No ring on her finger or license with the state gives me the right to tell her what to do with it. Sure, I can make suggestions - as she can with me, but at the end of the day (and at the beginning of the day and in the middle of the day) her body belongs to her. And that is all I have to say about that.

      Anyway... I am rambling. I really appreciate you reading my blog, and I appreciate you having the courage to attach your name to a comment where you call me irresponsible and weak. I mean that. Usually comments like that are anonymous. So bravo for your bravado.

      Please keep reading. You're always welcome here.

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  5. Love reading your blog so far. Well done for responding to what sounded like a troll just there so peacefully. Having just had our second baby, who I'm breastfeeding as I type!, your blog is very relevant to me. You and your wife both write in a very amusing way! Thanks (from a British breastfeeding mum awake in the early hours!)