I had always expected to breastfeed my babies. I was breastfed until I was two (or four, depending on which parent you ask) and it just seemed normal. But I had never considered how important it was to have a partner who supported me in breastfeeding. Like a dreamy adolescent girl who has already chosen the colours for her wedding, I knew what I wanted and figured it really had nothing to do with the man in question. He would just have to like it or lump it.
And when I did meet the man, and we did decide to have a baby, and we met with our midwives, I found that they were pretty much in agreement. It’s the mother’s decision, they said, and the father just has to ‘be supportive’. They suggested that the father (all the couples in our prenatal class were hetero) could do this by bringing the baby to its mother in the middle of the night and offering her a glass of water. That was it.
But there is so much more to supporting a mother in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a personal decision, but the actions, ideas, and social cues of people around the mother are major factors in making that decision. The mother-infant dyad cannot be taken out of its socio-cultural context. Even for the newborn, eating is a family affair.
I was right that my partner would be supportive of my breastfeeding and I was right that it would come easily to me. But I was wrong about it having nothing to do with him. My husband supported – and continues to support – me in breastfeeding, 100%. And it has made all the difference in the world.
There are the practical aspects of his support, such as doing all the cooking, feeding bottles of pumped milk, and working outside the house so I can stay home with the little ones. But when I think back to our journey over the last two years, it’s the intangible things that come to mind…
He never said it was gross. He never said it was beautiful, either – he just treated it like it was normal.
He never told me to be discreet. When I had milk spraying out of me in seven distinct four-foot jets all over the sidewalk (oversupply, anyone?), he just laughed and said that he liked how I “don’t do things by halves.”
He encouraged me to feel comfortable nursing in front of his parents, reminding me that his mother had breastfed her two kids and that, frankly, it would take more than that to scandalize his dad.
Despite the fact that our baby was humungous and nursed every hour, he never suggested a switch to formula. Instead, he read the research about the short half-lives of breastfeeding hormones (indicating that the infant body ‘expects’ to be fed at least every few hours), and we agreed to feed our son on demand.
In the bedroom, lactation became quotidian, an entirely healthy part of my body. He considered ‘The Spray’ yet another womanly indication of arousal – and what could be more arousing than that?
I don’t think he was ever jealous of the time and attention I put into breastfeeding our son. If he was, he dealt with it himself – because he saw that it was his own issue, not mine. Maybe he wished that he himself had a secret milky weapon to calm our little one.
He never called me a cow, a human pacifier, or an exhibitionist. He called me ‘badass’ instead.
Our son wasn’t night-weaned until 15 months and he never told me to do it so that we could get our bed back, go on vacation, or have more sex. When we weaned it was my decision – it was I who wanted “my body” (and my sleep!) back.
He didn’t complain about the cost of nursing pads. He acknowledged that my bras smelled rancid after sitting in the bottom of the pile for a week – but he did the laundry anyway.
He never made pervy comments about how our son, “Doesn’t know how good he has it!” or that, “He’ll really be a ladies’ man!” He never expressed discomfort about the fact that all of his friends had now seen my boobs.
Because that’s what it’s all about for my husband and for us as a family. To us, breastfeeding is mostly about nourishment.
It can be an emotional thing, all sweetness and comfort. Maybe even beautiful and romantic…
But sometimes, it’s just dinner.
How did your partner support you in breastfeeding? Leave a comment and share your experience.