This is one in a series of breastfeeding posts. Really, I’m no expert – I’m not a doctor, I’m not a doula, I’m not a lactation consultant. I am simply a breastfeeding mom who has nursed one child to three years old, and am currently nursing another who is nearly a year old.
If you’re looking for specific answers, I recommend giving a visit to http://www.kellymom.com, a breastfeeding site written by a lactation consultant. These will simply be me blabbering about my experiences and is not medical advice.
Maybe she isn’t your wife… maybe she’s your fiance or girlfriend or partner, and she’s pregnant with your child. Or maybe it’s not even “your” child. But her belly’s getting bigger, she’s having difficulty tying her shoes, and the baby’s arrival is imminent. Or, maybe the little dude or dudette arrived not so long ago. But regardless, maybe you’re looking at your wife’s boobs and are feeling a little territorial. You’ve had unfettered access for awhile. What’s this going to be like?
Some men have a hard time getting over the sexualness of a woman’s breasts. Breasts are for fun! Breasts are for you to play with and touch and lube up and do unholy things with! Breasts are fun to look at! Well, all this is true. And it will continue to be true. But breasts, primarily, are for the nourishment of a baby. I took an evolutionary psychology class in college, and the basis of evolutionary psychology is that most normal behaviors, emotions, desires, etc. are tied to some sort of furtherance of the human species — what you think, how you feel, what you do, all serve in some way to ensure you’ll spread your proverbial seed. From this standpoint, it would be the argument that the sexualization of a woman’s breasts has occurred because round, voluptuous breasts indicate that this woman would be a good mating partner; were she to birth your offspring, she could adequately feed that baby and help ensure its survival, to further spread your seed.
(Let me just note here that it really isn’t necessary for a woman’s breasts to be round or voluptuous to successfully breastfeed. If your partner’s sporting a perky set of A’s they should not be a hindrance to her breastfeeding success.)
First understand, breastfeeding is the best way to feed a baby. (Even formula companies will tell you this.) It’s also way cheaper than formula. Breastmilk is nutritionally optimal, and contains chemicals and enzymes and immunity boosting stuff that formula cannot and will never be able to duplicate. Your child is very lucky to be breastfed. That isn’t to say that formula is “bad”. Formula is great. Formula has been lifesaving for so many babies who couldn’t be breastfed, for the zillion reasons there are for not breastfeeding. Formula is wonderful. Breastmilk is even better.
It’s sort of like the difference between a Mercedes and a Bentley. A Mercedes is a great car. It’s safe and beautiful and really has just about everything could ever need from a car. The Bentley, however, is a Bentley.
My big piece of advice is, get over it. Having a kid changes everything; this is no different. Some women are cool about their breasts’ continued involvement in your lovemaking or general day-to-day getting-felt-upedness, but some aren’t. For me personally, I’m OK with my breasts being touched, but not within like 15 minutes of a feeding. And DEFINITELY not WHILE I’m nursing. (My husband made that mistake once. Once.) So please respect your partner’s wishes here. She’s not asking you to leave the girls out to punish you. The boundaries of comfort just have shifted. There may need to be other adjustments, too. The hormone that surges through her body when she nurses her baby happens to be the same one that surges through her body when she has an orgasm. So for a while, you may need to deal with getting wet, or she may need to wear a bra with nursing pads during lovemaking. Or maybe you’re a big pervert and you’ll like it; I don’t know you. (Just kidding about that pervert thing. Well, sort of.)
For most women, the breastfeeding relationship they have with their kids is extremely cherished and valuable to them. As a breastfeeding mom, it’s not something I would trade for the world. Expect that this bond between your partner and the baby will be strong and special, and for a long time only Mommy will do. And yes, you will not be able to help much with the feeding itself, but there are many other things you can do to share in the parenting workload, and bond and hang out and get to know the baby. Change diapers. Give baths. Wear the baby to sleep in a sling. Cuddle with her on your bare chest (babies often love this). Watch hockey games with him.
Now, amuse me for a moment while I go through some other thoughts I wish someone would have told my husband!
– Remember to “mother the mother”. Especially during those first few weeks, when the breastfeeding relationship is being established and your partner is still recovering from childbirth, you have to take care of her. Make sure she always has a drink within reach. (Not a DRINK drink… if she always has a martini in reach, perhaps she shouldn’t be breastfeeding!) Offer to rub her feet while she’s breastfeeding. Take over some of the chores she usually does for a few weeks, and don’t slack on the stuff you’re supposed to do, either. E.g., don’t make her nag you to take out the trash like she has every week for the last three years. And if you want to be your partner’s hero, a couple times a week take the baby somewhere and leave mom at home. Take him for a drive, or a walk, or on an errand with you, and give your partner 30 minutes of alone time where she’s guaranteed to not have to respond to or hear a baby cry. If you make sure you go right after a feeding, you don’t have to worry about having milk with you. Moms have very little opportunity to be truly alone, especially in the early baby weeks, and especially in their own home. This is different than letting her get out of the house without the baby, which will also be appreciated.
– Consider co-sleeping. I’m not sure I could have had a successful breastfeeding relationship with my babies if I didn’t bring them to bed with me. Be open to this idea, and even suggest it if your wife’s up a dozen times a night feeding a baby. With a bit of practice, it’s so easy to nurse lying down, and it is really nice to cuddle with your baby at night. Some of my favorite pictures of my husband with our kids are ones where I’ve caught them cuddling in the morning when I woke up and they were still snoozing away, nuzzling. If you do co-sleep, be sure to do it safely.
– Nursing in public: Your wife wants to breastfeed in public and it makes you feel a little weird? See above: Get over it. Remember, they aren’t your breasts. If she feels comfortable, that’s what matters. No one’s paying attention anyway. And chances are, 75% of anyone who pays enough attention to your partner won’t even realize she’s breastfeeding. I’ve had minutes-long conversation with my brother’s early-20s friends (who I know are all sorts of perverted), baby on boob, and they never even realized we were breastfeeding; they thought the baby was sleeping. Most of the people who will realize there’s nursing going on are other women who have breastfed babies. In other words, you don’t really have to worry about the pervs flocking around your partner, because they simply won’t know better. And in any event, breastfeeding doesn’t generally show any more boobage than your everyday bikini, and most guys that I know really enjoy their partners to wear bikinis.
– Remember, it will get better. Eventually, your partner won’t be as tired. She’ll get more sleep. The baby will start to sleep better, too. (Maybe not “great”, but definitely better.)
– I won’t even talk about extended breastfeeding. I think that’s probably a post in itself. Just remember like all good things, breastfeeding will come to an end, sooner or later. Your child will not celebrate getting his driver’s license by taking a guzzle off mom’s boobs.