WHAT ABOUT DAD?

Fathers are different from mothers. Babies learn that very early. Fathers have fuzzy chests, deep voices, big hands, flat shoulders. "Pa-pa!" and "Da-da!" are cheerful, playful sounds made by babies around the world. Mothers are softer and smell of the milk that soothes away hunger and fretfulness. "Ma-ma." "Na-na." Those are quiet, needy sounds. "Mama" was Latin baby-talk for breast. Fathers are different from mothers, and no father in the history of the world has ever breastfed. For a father to mimic female biology, either Mom has to express milk and someone has to wash the pump, store the milk, fix the bottle, wash the bottle, and put everything away, or the baby has to drink a commercial substitute that causes internal changes. And studies link the early use of bottles to early weaning.

So what can Dad do with a breastfed baby? Everything but breastfeed! A man's shoulder is built differently from a woman's, and babies seem to appreciate the difference. After the first few weeks, most babies love getting in the bathtub with Daddy. At the end of the day, when Mama and Baby are frazzled, Daddy may be just the different smell and feel and voice and style that perks everyone up.

Wear your baby in a sling and go for a walk. Babies are social people, and usually love to be "moving and grooving" in public with Dad. Wear your baby while you walk the dog or trim the hedge or set the table. Read the newspaper to your baby, or talk to him about things around the house; the low pitch of your voice is intriguing. Take a nap with your baby on your bare chest. As he learns that he can always touch base with Mom for a snack, he'll be more and more relaxed with you. Tuck your baby in bed with both of you for cozy, easy nights and a strong sense of family.

The "colic dance" is a father specialty. Hold your fussy baby by putting your hand in his crotch and his front along your forearm, so that his head rests near your elbow with his arms on either side of your arm. You can hold him this way upright and facing out, or horizontal and facing the floor. Almost all babies relax in this hold, especially if you move around. Or sway with your baby "in the direction of his ears". Babies tend to prefer ear-to-ear motion over front-to-back motion.

Make diaper time your special time. After the first few weeks, diaper changes are usually one of a baby's favorite times for games and conversation. And breastmilk diapers smell fine!

Nursing and Mama are the center of a new baby's world. But that world keeps getting bigger. The first person your baby will add to his world is you. You are The Safe Person Who Is Not Mama, and your very different style will teach your baby that different can be nice, too. You'll find that your role in your child's life grows with every month.

A father's first job is to support the uniquely female process that is breastfeeding, not to compete with it, and how long your partner nurses depends more on you than on any other person. Be her bulwark against criticism. Help her find informed help if she has questions. Care for her so that she can care for your child. Your two separate jobs will link to form a strong, secure safety net for the World's Best Baby.

©1996 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC 136 Ellis Hollow Creek Road Ithaca, NY


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