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Fathers and Breastfeeding - The Importance of Seconds

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Welcome to the June Carnival of breastfeeding! This month, we're focusing on dads and their impact on breastfeeding. While I'd hoped to have Greg write today's post about what it's like to be married to The Lactivist, things just didn't work out for him to get it written in time. (I'll have him do it somewhere down the road though.)

As I sit down to write this at the last second (It's 3:51pm and I need to have it posted by 5pm) I realize that "second" is an important number in the life of a breastfeeding dad. Especially in the life of my kid's breastfeeding dad.

For example...

1.) Dads often have to come "second" to babies during those first few months.
2.) Dads serve as an essential "second" pair of hands when dealing with nurslings.

and perhaps most importantly (at least in my family)...

3.) Dads are the secret weapon that can you get through the dreaded "second night" of breastfeeding.

It's that third point that I really want to hit on, but first I need to pay a little homage to dads on the first few points.

Coming Second to Baby

Any new mother will tell you that a new baby, especially a breastfeeding baby, takes up every single second of her spare time. A breastfeeding baby can't wait to eat, especially in those early days. Since mom's the only one that can do the feeding, a dad has to be understanding and supportive while playing the waiting game.

Of course there's also the obvious issue of your baby seeing your breasts more times in a day than your husband does in a week. ;)

Greg did an amazing job of playing the patience game after the birth of each of our children. With Elnora, that meant not only coming second after Elnora's needs, but also coming after the needs of that darn pump. My schedule required me to pump at 10:30pm for more than six months. Since Greg heads to bed early, that meant going to bed without me for months on end. It was his support that allowed me to get my milk into Elnora for 14 months, despite not breastfeeding.

Second Pair of Hands

In terms of a second pair of hands, I have no idea how I would have survived life with Emmitt without Greg around to help out. Sure, I manage with two kids during the day, but what would I do at 8:30 when it's time for both of them to go to bed? How would I keep Elnora from running off in a restaurant while I'm nursing Emmitt? (Good grief, how do you single parents do it?!)

Greg has stepped up to the plate big time to become Elnora's best buddy while I nurse Emmitt. He puts her to bed each night while I put Emmitt to bed. He sits with her and helps her if we go out to eat so that I can tend to Emmitt. He brings me a drink or something to eat if I'm nursing. He does what I can't do and generally makes life much easier.

The Second Night of Nursing

This one gets filed in the "oh I wish I'd known" files. When Emmitt was a few months old, I heard a lactation consultant mention "the dreaded second night." I asked around a bit and found out that most every breastfeeding mom I spoke with ran into some type of awful problem on that second night. In fact, it was the "make it or break it" night for many moms...myself included.

To those in the "know," the second night is a night where dad's support (or the support of SOMEONE) can be an absolute lifesaver in terms of the nursing relationship.

For example, let's look back on my own "second night" experiences.

Elnora was born in the hospital at 1:30am. Greg stayed with us in our room that night and woke up with me every couple of hours to change Elnora and bring her to me to nurse. The first nice went pretty smoothly and I sailed confidently into the second day thinking this nursing stuff was pretty easy.

Until Greg decided to go home to let the dog out and check on some things and ended up staying there the second night to get caught up on sleep. I was still tender enough that I couldn't get in and out of bed while holding Elnora, so the nurses took her to the nursery. The problem was, it took me four hours to get her back. I finally had to threaten to go get her myself. By the time they brought her in, she was going nuts and wouldn't settle down to nurse.

Hours and hours of screaming and crying (by both of us) and intervention by an incompetent nurse threw us into a downward spiral. Before long, Elnora would begin screaming whenever she came near the breast. We worked with an LC and got nowhere. Jaundice and weight loss followed and not knowing much, we found ourselves "forced" to supplement. (Thankfully, I at least did it with my milk which led to my exclusive pumping.)

Fast forward 22 months later to the birth of Emmitt.

Emmitt was born on the futon on our back porch. I nursed him an hour later (in the recliner I'm sitting in as I type this) and again, the first two days went beautifully. Then we hit the second night.

Suddenly, my wonderful nursling became a screaming maniac that wouldn't settle down, couldn't organize and refused to nurse. I tried everything. Swaddling, unswaddling, singing, swaying, skin to skin, laying down, standing up...the kid would not nurse. I was still sleeping in the recliner out here on the porch because I was getting up once an hour. Greg was in our bedroom on the first floor and he heard Emmitt crying.

He came out to check on us and found me rocking back and forth on the futon saying "I will not get the pump, I will not get the pump, I will not get the pump." All I could think of was how much easier it would be to pump some milk and give him a bottle, but I was terrified of heading down the same road we'd walked the first time around.

That's when Greg became my hero.

He got me calmed down and settled Emmitt and I both into the recliner. Then as I, quite literally, passed out from lack of sleep, HE got Emmitt calmed down, latched on and nursing. It took him about 45 minutes, but soon both Emmitt and I were sound asleep in the recliner as Emmitt nursed away.

If Greg hadn't come out to check on us, I'm not sure I wouldn't have broken down and gotten that pump out. If I had, who knows where we'd be. But thanks to Greg's willingness to be patient when I couldn't, we survived that night and things picked right back up the next day.

Still Number One

Greg may play "seconds" in a lot of areas right now, but he's still the love of my life and my best friend. In fact, it's his willingness to be second, and his understanding about our children's needs that make him number one in my book.

What Does Everyone Else Have to Say?

For more perspective on fathers and breastfeeding, check out the plethora of entries into this month's carnival:

The Motherwear Blog shares the thoughts of a dad on breastfeeding.
Down with the Kids on Mother's Milk - a Dad's Perspective
Breastfeeding 1-2-3 shares A Father's Take on Breastfeeding Perception verses Reality
Nursing Your Kids talks about Partnership
Hepatitis-Epi offers up Fathers and Breastfeeding
Musings of a Crunchy Domestic Goddess pens My Hubby, the Lactivist
Breastfeeding Mums explains how her husband became her "Best Breastfeeding Buddy."
Mama Knows Breast points out that her husband is her co-author. (She's just finished a book on breastfeeding.
Fine Whine asks "Where are all the Boobs?

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  1. Blogger Steph | 1:49 PM |  

    That literally made me cry. I remember my own husband's support while I struggled with nursing, and then his encouragement that I was still a good mom even tho I just couldn't make it work (not because of a problem with me, but with what I had been told "working" was supposed to be like). He never slept through her waking in the middle of the night and would always do anything he could to help us both stay calm and get some sleep.

  2. Blogger Cagey | 1:54 PM |  

    Beautiful post. I, too, appreciate that my husband has never complained about being "second". It was such a relief to not have to worry about that and we BOTH were able to focus on our son those first few months without worrying about the other's feeings getting hurt.

    You make some very good points about there being other things a husband can help with - just because he isn't breastfeeding, doesn't mean he can't have "his special thing". In our case, our son loved to be walked around the house (hindsight IS always 20/20 - I wish we had one of those pedometers because it would been really cool to see how many miles we've walked in our OWN HOUSE these past 19 months). My husband walked many, many paths throughout our house. And it paid off because he was able to bond with my son in a different, yet still special way than I was. As a result, to this day, my son has never really preferred one of us to the other - either one of us can comfort him equally.

    Second Pair Of Hands? In the next few weeks I am going to be SO grateful that my husband is so comfortable with our son because as you put it - I will need my husband to take over when I am working out all the "details" of nursing our newborn daughter.

    Kelli
    www.nursingyourkids.com

  3. Blogger Sarahbear | 2:01 PM |  

    This is a wonderful blog. Sometimes it's nice to sit down and think about all of the times our husbands are so supportive and really wind up being a crutch when we need them the most.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of the blogs for this breastfeeding carnival.

  4. Blogger tanya@motherwearblog | 2:06 PM |  

    What a beautiful second night story!

    I think that fathers/partners can be like a "reset" button sometimes. You and the baby are locked in mortal combat over nursing, and then along comes the partner and somehow everything changes.

    Thanks for the story.

    Tanya
    http://breastfeeding.blog.motherwear.com

  5. Blogger amygeekgrl | 2:17 PM |  

    what a great dad and husband. :) i love that he was/is so understanding and willing to help out to the point of latching emmitt on for you. way to go, greg!

  6. Blogger jenny mae. | 2:29 PM |  

    your story with elnora sounds precisely like ours with augustine (now 2). i also wound up exclusively pumping for 14 months. just as you said, a husband is invaluable during EPing. i was going utterly bonkers with sleep deprivation pumping every two hours around the clock. my husband david really stepped up and would feed him while i pumped every single night. the only real plus side was that we got a lot of night time together laughing and sometimes crying at the whole situation. i see him step up in different but equally important ways now that im nursing olive instead of a machine. i wrote an entry about it sort of.

    http://softletters.blogspot.com/2007/04/to-be-known.html

    jenny.

  7. Anonymous Crystal | 3:10 PM |  

    Your post made me cry. That second night was the worst night of my life. My son ended up getting formula that night. I got up to go to the bathroom after 3 hours straight of nursing him to try to get him to calm down, and a nurse came in to "help" and told us that our son was crying because he was hungry and the only thing we could do was give him formula. I didn't know any better, had not seen a lactation consultant yet, and my husband was completely clueless and exhausted, as well. I really wish the nurse had stayed out of the room, and that my husband or I had declined the formula.

    In all of the reading I have done on this subject, the only other place I have ever seen this mentioned was kellymom.com. Every new mom should be told about the second night!

  8. Blogger Darlene | 3:33 PM |  

    Jennifer,
    What a beautiful and honest blog. Your description of Greg's support literally brought me to tears. It's refreshing to be able to say 'you're a lucky woman' and know that you already know that.

    Dads are such a huge factor in success in so many areas of a family but never as much as in those first few weeks. I will never forget the look on my hubby's face the first time he saw me nursing my daughter. He was so in awe and wonder that it showed on his normally unemotional face. He really was a wonderful support in those first weeks of cracked and sore nipples, engorgement, baby's diaper explosions, long nights, and endless nursing.

    That sense of wonder at how he could become so gentle and understanding and the joy of sharing those moments togehter hasn't been forgotten 32 years later. It's the main reason I am still so passionate about breastfeeding.

  9. Blogger JK | 4:37 PM |  

    I comment when posts make me laugh really hard or almost cry. Yours did the latter, but in a good way.

    I'm a mommy to 3 little ones (all were my nurslings and one still is).

    Thanks for a great post.

  10. Blogger Elizabeth F. | 6:04 PM |  

    Awesome post! Supportive dads are a breastfeeding mother's backbone! His support or lack thereof can make it or break it when it comes to breastfeeding. My hubby was awesome each and every time I had a baby. He did have to learn to empathize without always having the answers.

    Not only in those first few days, but when your baby is 21 mos. old daddy still has to come 2nds alot. Hooray for those patient, supportive, loving daddies...

  11. Blogger Angela | 8:23 PM |  

    What a wonderful post!! I am a first time Mom and am so grateful for my wonderful husband. I work full time and my 9 month old daughter is still BFing. It is hard work pumping at work and trying to keep my supply up. The support of my husband has made it all possible. Thanks for sharing your wonderful stories!! Way to go Dads!!!

    Angela

  12. Blogger Becky Miller | 9:48 PM |  

    Such a great tribute. Makes me think about how thankful I am for my supportive husband - thanks!

  13. Blogger J P | 10:48 PM |  

    Wonderful narration. I am a pediatrician and a trained lactation expert. Your experience has provided me with a rare insight to the problems faced by the family in first few days and also a workable solution.

    JP

  14. Blogger leisa | 4:44 AM |  

    I hadn't heard about the second night before, although I have heard and experienced the third day blues. Maybe they are related, that is, the way you feel after the dreaded second night!

  15. Anonymous katie | 9:58 AM |  

    ok, so, you owe me a pack tissues!!

  16. Blogger DebbyG | 1:19 PM |  

    If it wasn't for my husband, I would have never made it through the first 6 weeks of nursing my firstborn. He was the one who told me, "you can do it, just one more day". I couldn't imagine, in those early weeks, getting to six weeks. Let alone 6 months or a year. But I could do "just one more day".

    With his support, I ended up nursing Natalie for 21 months, my second, Ethan, for over a year, and now my little crowning glory, Ella, going strong at almost 7 months. And I'm a much different mom than I would have been had I given up BFing those early weeks. Nursing my babies has literally redefined my style of mothering and our family.

    As a side note, the dad gets extra hero status once you have more than 2 kids and you are outnumbered. There's no more such "divide and conquer" for bed or baths. :)

  17. Blogger Awesome Mom | 11:26 PM |  

    I pumped for my first born too. He had medical issues that made nursing a non option. My husband was so amazingly supportive of my pumping and the time it took. Great post!

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