Breastfeeding is, primarily, a relationship between two people – the mother and her nursing child. Even when a mother nurses more than one child at a time, she still has a unique breastfeeding relationship with each nursling, with its own individual quirks. Since breastfeeding is about a mother and child when problems arise the focus is on the breastfeeding dyad, how they are interacting and what issues they are encountering. And that is as it should be.
While a mother and child are the principal players in breastfeeding, other people often do play an important role. The support, or lack of support, from friends and family can help or harm the nursing relationship. Fathers, especially, impact the way that breastfeeding unfolds in a new family. A supportive partner is correlated with higher breastfeeding rates, which is really not surprising if you think about it. Mothers are often very vulnerable as they work through nursing difficulties, and so having someone who can help you through that time is priceless.
Jon holding newborn baby Hannah
I credit my own husband, Jon, for getting me through the early days of breastfeeding with my daughter Hannah. She was born at 34 weeks gestation and following her birth I suffered a major hemorrhage. I spent 4 days in the hospital, and during that time I was very weak and tired. Hannah struggled with breastfeeding, and didn’t latch once in the week she spent in the NICU. I pumped, but never got enough milk. I felt extremely discouraged and was beginning to believe that breastfeeding wouldn’t work out for us.
I don’t think that Jon had very strong feelings about breastfeeding one way or the other before the birth of our daughter, or even after it. However, he knew that breast milk was the best food for our baby, and he knew that I wanted to breastfeed. He also knew that, being physically weak myself, I needed a lot of help with basic tasks. He stepped up to the plate and helped me out. He found a breast pump for me to rent when I came home from the hospital. He went shopping for anything that we needed, he did all of the diaper changing once Hannah came home and he supported me in my efforts to work through our breastfeeding struggles.
Feeding Hannah pumped breast milk in the hospital
If I hadn’t had someone holding my hand and helping me through I don’t think that I could have succeeded at breastfeeding. I had some very low points in those early days. A lot of well-meaning people suggested that maybe my struggles were a sign that breastfeeding wasn’t going to work for us. There were many moments where I wanted to quit myself, just so that I wouldn’t have to struggle any more. But I didn’t, and I credit a big portion of that to my husband.
I don’t know if Jon and I always share the same parenting philosophy. Probably not, although I would say that we have more or less reached a consensus on the essentials. And that’s all fine, because we’re different people with different personalities and experiences. What really matters, though, is that we can work together and communicate and support each other. Jon has done that for me, and as I breastfeed my second child and look back on the years I spent breastfeeding my first, I am tremendously grateful to him.
Jon with Jacob and Hannah