Things are changing. I'm coming to the end of my tenure as a 'stay-at-home-dad.' Along the way, I have learned much, grown in maturity (now having the grey hairs to prove it!) and changed my world-view to encompass my role as a father. Before I regress and potentially forget all the important life-lessons and various child-rearing wisdom learned along the way, I realized that I should probably write down what I have gleaned from this whirl-wind tour called 'fatherhood.' Hopefully, what I share might bail some poor unsuspecting sap from the dog-box, or actually prevent them from ever having to step foot inside said dog-box. So without further ado, here is the first article in a series I am writing called '#DadHacks.' This article is plainly titled (pretty self-explanatory really) 'Investing in Breastfeeding - a brief guide for new dads.'
For those of you who have just become dads, welcome to the club. Most new fathers will notice fairly soon how ‘new’ everything is! Suddenly you have a new baby, a new wife/partner, and a new life. To the bewildered father, whose misconceptions about the whole experience are now all apparent, everything is a learning curve.
Before the birth, most men believe that they are the focus of their partner’s attention. The new father might also have naively believed that parenthood would be fairly straightforward, a fundamental natural event that has occurred without too much encouragement since the conception of the human race! For first-time dads, all this is new. Probably the most disconcerting and misunderstood event for the father, in this whole life-changing process, is breast-feeding.
The mother, of course, as part of her new role takes breast-feeding in her stride (most of the time) and accepts it for what it is. Basically, feeding the baby. The father however, may feel like he is in the middle of a small-scale corporate takeover. An underdeveloped CEO, intent on transferring assets to the Primary Production sector, has now successfully annexed a previously secure share dividend in the ‘entertainment industry.’ Fonterra will soon be knocking on the door looking for investment opportunities in this thriving milk-factory (that’s what my wife calls it!). Apologies for the analogies, but you get the drift, right?
Meanwhile, back to reality. We knew deep down this would happen and it’s not so much the feelings of exclusion or the ‘what about me’ factor, it’s more the growing feeling of helplessness that inevitably pervades the new father’s thoughts. Once all selfish feelings have been swept aside and we can actually see that what our partner does is for the good of our child, then most fathers will start to ask how they can help. Of all the duties associated with parenthood, apart from the actual act of giving birth, breastfeeding is obviously the exclusive domain of the mother. Bottle-feeding will come later but in the meantime the father will just have to accept that it’s one thing he can’t do.
There are other things new dad’s can do instead, half of which will be expected (warning: without actually being directly communicated) and the other half which might help to eventually retain a few of those highly prized share dividends in the ‘entertainment industry!’
One of the things I wasn’t prepared for, as a new dad, was how long it actually takes to breastfeed a little baby. My wife and I added up the time spent over a 24-hour period and it averaged between 10-12 hours, with a typical breastfeed taking between 40-60 minutes given at 4 hour intervals or when needed. Obviously these kinds of statistics will differ with every mother/baby combination but one thing that is certain is that it is definitely time consuming.
With all these aspects in mind, here are a few hacks/tips for those new fathers looking for alternative ‘breastfeeding’ duties:
- Bring your partner a nice drink (non-alcoholic) while she is breastfeeding. Something nutritious and tasty will actually give her a boost as well as provide necessary fluid. Try Complan or Calci-yum.
- Try not to fuss over them both while she is breastfeeding. Use the time to make the bed or fold some washing. If you are awake at night while she is up breastfeeding, bringing a drink in to her is apparently quite ‘nice.’ Most important: do not interfere unless asked.
- Breastfeeding usually happens bang on dinner time so if you can’t cook, pick up a recipe book and learn how. Simple dishes are not hard to make and are usually well received by exhausted mothers. Save the gourmet meal for the weekend when you have a bit more time to prepare. Tip #1: have lots of fresh fruit on hand as a banana will stave off hunger (for you and her) while you are cooking the vegetables to go with the main course. Tip #2: Cook a large meal and divide it up into smaller meal sizes and freeze them. Good comfort food like Lasagne, Stews, Casseroles etc are great for this purpose. Saves you heaps of time later if you need a quick meal – just defrost and heat.
- Ask what you can do to help as a last resort. Look first, there’s always washing (remember to avoid that cardinal sin of mixing whites with colors), ironing, CLEANING, and cooking to be done at any hour of the day.
- Whenever possible, encourage and provide the opportunity for your partner (subtly) to take naps, as this will benefit you both in the long run. Tiredness is perhaps the biggest cause of stress with a new-born for all concerned, especially so for the mother, who will spend long and irregular hours nurturing your child.
- While your partner is breastfeeding, accept that you will need to take over some duties you might not have done all the time previously, e.g. I do ALL the cooking now. Step up and make it ‘your thing’. Once you’ve done these chores a few times, you will realize that it gives you something to do as much as it also serves to help out around the house while your other –half is filling up bubs.
My experience as a 'stay-at-home-dad' gets a mention in this Newswire article: http://www.newswire.co.nz/2009/03/stay-at-home-dads-tackle-stigma/
For other weirdness, why not try breastfeeding the dad way: http://www.thingamababy.com/baby/2007/04/malelactation.html