08/25/2014 12:39 EDT | Updated 10/25/2014 05:59 EDT

A New Generation of Dads Actually Cares About Breastfeeding

Eighteen years ago, fathers offered moral support with breastfeeding through fetching a glass of water for the wife. Now, things are different. This generation of dads is not leaving their partners' side to go home. Dads want to be involved in breastfeeding, and taking care of their partners and babies.

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As a mother to four children, I have few stories to share about my experiences in the postpartum period regarding how my husband handled the events following the labour and delivery. What stands out most predominantly in my mind is the moment my husband flattened the rose bushes and left tire tracks in the front lawn while reversing the minivan up to the door when my water broke. Although I'm extremely grateful for his quick thinking and proactivity, I really liked that rose bush.

Eighteen years ago, after the baby was safely delivered, and the new mother was tucked into her bed; newborn swaddled in her arms; husbands were sent home so moms could "get some rest."

In retrospect, and knowing what I know about today's dads, the very fact that my husband was sent away from my hospital room while I smiled and waved at him, with warm wishes for him to "sleep well" only tells me that the labour drugs hadn't worn off.

While he rested comfortably at home, I stayed up all night attempting to latch and relatch my baby. My sore, cracked nipples were a testament to the fact that eighteen years ago, postpartum nurses did not actually teach the fine art of breastfeeding (which, by the way, is not a natural instinct for baby, contrary to what all the books I had read on the subject had assured me). As I awkwardly balanced the newborn on my chest wondering how get part A to fit into part B, the postpartum nurse swooped in, took the baby, and expertly got him onto the breast; effortlessly maneuvering the little hoover into position. Sadly, at no point did she ask for a return demo of her actions. And I, exhausted and inexperienced, assumed I must be the dummy, since mothers had been doing this for thousands of years without lessons from Nurse Ratched.

Now, as a postpartum nurse, the best surprise about the changes and improvements that I've witnessed in the last decade is the hands -- on involvement from a great many new fathers. This generation of dads is not leaving their partners' side to go home, only to return when it's time for mommy to be discharged. Today's father is welcome to stay overnight, and is provided blankets and pillows. And if insurance doesn't allow for private rooms, I've seen mom and dad take turns holding and soothing baby in shifts until baby is ready for the next breastfeed.

The sensitivity and knowledge that this generation's father presents is at once heartwarming and encouraging. Fathers are educated about postpartum depression, and have presented to me entire binders filled with plans and backup plans should their partners present with signs and symptoms. They've pulled me aside and verbalized concerns about their wives surgical wounds; the c-section incision, and the episotomy. Their anxiety is palpable as they sprint to their partner's side as she tries to climb out of bed. But best of all, these dads are, themselves, well versed in the importance of breastfeeding.

I've been called into my patient's room because an enthusiastic father has the alarm set on his phone, and knows it's been three hours since the last feed. "Baby won't wake up though," the dad will insist cradling a sleeping baby. These fathers know that their child should breastfeed often to help establish mom's milk supply. If baby is not quite ready to breastfeed due to complications with the labour and delivery, fathers can be seen wheeling breast pumps and supplies back to their room so that their partner can begin stimulating her body into the realization that she will be breastfeeding soon by pumping.

Dads are getting in there; holding baby horizontally across their partner's bare chest, milking her breast in order to assure her that she does in fact, have colostrum, because mom herself is just too exhausted to notice or believe it. I've heard fathers repeating information to their wives or girlfriends -- information that I had relayed earlier, when these ladies might not have heard for the fatigue fogging their brains.

Of course and obviously mothers are also just as keen; soaking up any and all information, and asking for breastfeeding assistance; inquiring as to whether their technique is the right one. But for someone who had her babies in a time when breast feeding was definitely the mother's thing, and dad offered moral support by getting his wife a glass of water, and changing a diaper before rolling over, and going back to sleep, because what more could he do? This generation's father is, more often than not, actively participating in a process that is satisfying in the long run, but quite often, frustrating, exhausting, and overwhelming during those first few days. And as a nurse, quite honestly, I can't find fault with a man who will himself hold the baby to his wife or girlfriend's breast, because she, in her postpartum state is too tired to even lift her arms.

Keep it up dads. Your efforts are being applauded.


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