Even though nursing has been scientifically (and repeatedly) proven the best way to feed a baby, there are legitimate reasons not to do it.
Maybe you have flat nipples and the baby couldn’t latch. You work, and your employer offers no maternity leave or pumping breaks (welcome to America: first world country with third world women’s rights). You adopted your baby, and getting donor breast milk is an enormous pain in the tuckus.
(There are more, but you get the point.)
On the flip side, there are also illegitimate reasons, such as “I didn’t want to,” “I tried for all of one minute but the baby wouldn’t latch so I gave up,” and my favorite, “I was afraid it would ruin my breasts.”
The most absurd reason I’ve heard not to nurse, however, is one that offended me as a father: “I didn’t want my husband to feel excluded.”
I read an article where a mother decided that nursing created too intimate a bond between her and the baby, one the father couldn’t compete with. To level the playing field, each would bottle feed.
It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, and the article wasn’t trolling—being outrageous just for the sake of getting people fired up—the woman actually believed it was unfair to her husband if she nursed and bonded more closely with her child than he could.
It would take a thesaurus to list the words describing how idiotic that line of reasoning is. I put it on par with “Iraq has WMDs” and “vaccinations cause autism.”
I’m a dad, and I’ve been through the whole second-banana scenario twice. You know what? I survived just fine.
It’s true: for the first year of their life, most babies want Mommy. During each infancy, my wife would be holding our baby. When I’d reach out they would look at me with suspicious eyes and nuzzle deeply into her shoulder. I was chopped liver. Unknown, and unwanted.
But over time, that shifted.
It started easily enough, with the “arms up” motion from the crib. Somewhere around nine months, the baby starts to learn that Dad is an OK substitute for Mommy if she’s not around. When confused and sad—a baby’s natural waking state—they just want held. I couldn’t give you a date, but I do remember the first time I leaned over to pick up each of my crying babies and they actually lifted their arms for me: “I want up, and I’m OK with you holding me.”
Yes, as soon as Mommy would walk into the room they would lunge for her, but until that moment I was a warm enough body to suffice.
After age one, even more growth occurs. Somewhere around that milestone, my wife was holding our son. I walked over and held out my hands, smiling at him.
“Want to come to Daddy?” I asked. It had never worked before, but that doesn’t mean I gave up.
As always, my son looked at me questioningly. But after a second or two, he leaned forward, extending his arms. He was actively giving up being held by Mommy, for me. A “cutting onions” moment if ever one existed.
It was the same for my daughter. For the first year of her life I did everything I could for her. She was a gassy little bugger, so when bubbles were upsetting her tummy I’d lay awake from 2am-6am with her on my chest. When she was in her crib, she’d cry and cry until the gas came out. When on my chest, the instant she started to squirm I’d ever-so-gently jiggle her. She would poot, sigh, and relax. All while staying asleep. I was her hero of the overnight.
The instant she woke up? MOMMY!
I earned nothing for my efforts.
Which is fine. I wasn’t supposed to. Parenting is a joy, but it’s also a sacrifice. You cannot pretend you’re putting effort in for the reward of being liked by an infant; you do what needs done because it needs done.
My daughter is three now, and officially a Daddy’s Girl. When she sneaks out of her room at 3am, she crawls into my side of the bed and curls up next to me. When she’s upset she wants held by Daddy. That isn’t to say she doesn’t love her Mother, but I have become her comfort zone.
Parenting isn’t a competition.
Yes, nursing creates one of the most delicate, intimate bonds that exists in life. That shouldn’t be denied because men “miss out” on it.
We’ll wait our turn dutifully. If the father is loving and kind and patient, the baby will eventually catch up.
And it’s worth it.