Practical Dad

Breastfeeding:  A PracticalDad Primer

Although I was delighted to find that I would be a new father, the early months of the pregnancy seemed unreal and it didn't sink in until I noticed the pre-"bump" changes in my wife's body.  Like many pregnant women, her bust increased.  And that's when the realization of impending fatherhood hit.
 
Changes in Your Mate's Breasts
 
Your mate's body chemistry is brewing quite a hormone cocktail and the increased estrogen levels are activating the long-dormant milk glands that will feed your new baby.  The first breast changes that your mate might notice would be increased sensitivity at about 4 weeks into the pregnancy.  This sensitivity will last throughout the first trimester before it diminishes and it's during the first trimester that the breasts start getting bigger.  The increase will stop at a point and remain that size through pregnancy and nursing.  This growth is caused by additional fatty tissue within the breasts, not by suddenly appearing bags of milk awaiting the first sup.
 
Sorry, dude, but you can't keep them.  After she's finished nursing, it's entirely possible that her breasts will revert to their pre-pregnancy size unless she's maintained the pregnancy weight gain.
 
Several months into the pregnancy, her breasts may begin to leak small amounts of ayellowish fluid called colostrum.  Colostrum is loaded with vitamins and antibodies to bolster your child's health and immune system and it's this fluid, almost like a pre-milk, which she'll drink for the first several days before it's replaced by the standard mother's milk.  Don't worry, that's all your child will need until the milk arrives naturally.  The value of colostrum is such that health professionals refer to it as "liquid gold".  Please note that this leakage might even increase in volume such that your mate will take to wearing small circular pads inside the bra to absorb the flow.  So that's what you're seeing in the washing machine, not undersized yamulkes.
 
Breastfeeding Benefits
There's a reason that the US Government and the World Health Organization are strongly encouraging women to breastfeed.  The immediate and long-term benefits to the child and mother are striking.  Amongst children, statisticians note that breastfed children are less prone to diarrhea, ear/respiratory infections, obesity and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).  The long-term maternal benefits are decreased risks of ovarianand breast cancer and also diabetes.  New mothers will also suffer less soreness in the breasts - a result of the naturally increase supply of milk having someplace to go.  Emotionally, new Moms feel closer to their infants.  The other - physical - aspect of nursing mothers is that some mothers' bodies produce a pleasureable chemical effect when they are breastfeeding.  And if these reasons don't convince you, let me sound like a GE hack:  think Green.   Breastmilk is free and the savings from not having to buy formula can amount to hundreds of
dollars annually.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - yeah, it's Prevention as well - has made it a specific goal to encourage breastfeeding, both in terms of the number of nursing women and the age at which nursing stops.  The CDC goal is to have 75% of all mothers nurse with 50% nursing through the baby's sixth month of age and 25% nursing through one year of age.
 
Breastfeeding Basics
 
The process is straightforward, even though it can be nerve-wracking for the new Mom.  Your baby won't just have the good stuff flow as though she were hooked up to a gas pump.  The infant will have to learn to form a tight seal around Mom's nipple and by suckling, draw the milk out via a vacuum.
 
Almost all first-time Moms are nervous, even if it might appear to guys - me included, at first - to be as simple as filling a car at a pump.  Stick the nozzle in and away you go.  Within hours of birth, a new Mom will make her first effort at nursing.  There are specialists at the hospital - lactation consultants - to help; typically, there are no difficulties but it might not work properly at first attempt.  Junior might not be able to make a decent seal around the nipple, or the size/shape of the nipple might require Mom to hold the baby in a different position.  Yes, guys, there are multiple holds and each one has it own name.  Whodathunk?
 
So How Long Can Mom Nurse?
 
Nursing should start within hours, and for the first several weeks of life, will occur about every two to three hours with Mom.  After several weeks, you can figure out how to work in a bottle since Mom will be crawling the walls looking for a break.  For maximum health benefits, nursing should continue for six months, at which time you can start to provide solid foods; if your wife chooses to stop nursing, you can still supplement with formula in lieu of the breastmilk.  Remember, the CDC goal is to have one quarter of mothers nursing at the baby's first birthday so she could be nursing even after the first birthday;  a few mothers will opt for nursing until the children are toddlers.  If this is the case, the number of daily nursings will probably decrease as hunger is sated by solid foods.  In many cases, the children wean themselves off because they are meeting their needs with a regular solid diet.
 
So how can some mothers nurse for so long?  The woman's nursing physiology is a great example of market forces at work, i.e. supply and demand.  So long as nursing creates a demand for the milk, Mom's body will continue to produce the milk.  As the baby's demand wanes, the supply will likewise diminish.
 
A primary reason that the CDC might have difficulty reaching its six month goal is because of job requirements.  About 60% of American mothers work and most employers do not offer the time and privacy to permit expressing breastmilk via a pump.  Also, some women simply do not wish to continue nursing for an extended period.  At a couples' gathering we attended years ago, a mother descended the steps buttoning her blouse.  As she entered the kitchen, she exclaimed "he's six months old now - I want a glass of wine!"
 
So What Can I Do?
 
First, understand that nursing isn't a speedy process.  Give Mom and child a chance to nurse without her feeling pressed and take more of the load.  Laundry, picking up, washing dishes, anything to ease the feeling of I have to hurry...  You can take up the gatekeeper/entertainer role; some new Moms feel as though they have to entertain the guests yet aren't comfortable nursing in front of the company.  Entertain them instead and if necessary, feel free to suggest another time to visit.  I would suggest holding off on the vacuuming until later.
 
Second, check on Mom periodically.  Nursing mothers get thirsty and once they start the process, they can't just stop and get a drink.  Frankly, a new nursing mother is going to be pretty scattered from the physical demands and the screwed-up sleep schedule.  Sorry, I forgot that new parents frequently don't have a sleep schedule.
 
Third, make sure that what you give her to drink has no alcohol or caffeine.  What goes into Mom will then go into baby, even if in much smaller amounts.  But even a small amount of caffeine in your kid will ruin your night and probably your next day, too.
 
Fourth, make sure that when you start to feed the baby yourself, you don't wait until the day that Mom has to return to work or is utterly unavailable.  There are some babies who want only Mom and will refuse the bottle from Dad or anyone else.  Don't take it personally, but you're just "not the Mama!"  Start the process early enough that you have time before Mom returns to work and is completely unavailable.  Screaming babies make for life's longer days.
 
Fifth, offer to spell Mom and give a night-time bottle if possible.  A good night's sleep is a wonderful gift.
 
And What Can Moms Do?
 
Be Patient.  You're not a helicopter so stop hovering like Dad's going to shove the bottle in your kid's ear.  He has to learn too, and even if he's not equipped like you are, it's still a neat experience for him.
 
You have all kinds of books, instructional videos, friends and lactation consultants available.
 
He's only got me.
 
For further information, try the following links
 
www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/breastfeeding.html
www.babycenter.com/breastfeeding-basics
 
Special Thanks to Ms. Elaine Tobias RN, BSN, IBCLC for her review and suggestions to the article.
 

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