Like handbags, bikini waxes, and romantic comedies, breastfeeding is one of those things dads have always been happy not knowing much about.
We might appreciate how breastfeeding boosts our kids' immunity
(and our wives' physiques), but on the whole we've remained blissfully
ignorant about exactly what happens under the blouse or blanket at
But no more.
Increasingly, dads are taking an active and involved role in
all aspects of parenting. We change diapers. We learn Lamaze. We hold
forth on the pros and cons of cord bank registries. I once heard a guy
boast about his newborn's Apgar Score like he'd won the World Cup.
I'm as hyper-involved as any new dad, but I never thought I'd
have much role in breastfeeding, which is, I figured, pretty much
entirely a mother-child transaction.
Then I had my first kid.
In the delivery room, I was there to witness the moment my son
latched on for the first time. I studied La Leche League literature and
kept a close watch on the nursery to guard against unapproved formula
feedings. I stood by as the hospital lactation consultant performed a
hands-on demonstration of proper positioning.
All of which was fine, really. Unlike my own dad and
countless previous generations of fathers, I was determined to be a
full and equal partner in childrearing. If that meant I had to learn
first-hand about the laxative properties of colostrum or stand by as a
gigantic Russian nurse groped my wife's woman-parts, so be it.
But then came our visit with the groovy paediatrician.
Soon after bringing our son home from the hospital, my wife and
I went to see our neighbourhood family doctor, a local legend known for
his celebrity daughter and affinity for holistic, alternative care.
Much to our dismay, nursing was not going well. We couldn't be sure the
source of the problem: Blocked ducts? Nipple confusion? But the result
was that our baby wasn't eating. We hadn't slept in two days.
Holding our weeping, starving son in the doctor's shabby-chic
waiting room, surrounded by fashionable couples and those
thousand-dollar strollers that look like lunar landing modules, we
looked like victims of a violent crime.
After a quick exam and quiz on nutrition, the doctor got down
to business. He had my wife unbutton her shirt and instructed her how
to use her forefinger and thumb to "express" a dollop of milk onto his
And then he licked it. "Sweet," he said. Whereupon he extended a finger to me. I declined.
It's been eight years since that encounter and it still
disturbs me in a way I find hard to explain. It wasn't lascivious –
both my wife and I got the distinct sense the doctor had all the best
intentions and was simply taking the most direct, least prudish route
possible to diagnose our problem. He was simply doing what groovy
But still. To my surprise, my horror at the event wasn't shared by my Baby Bjorn-wearing, Diaper Genie-packing brothers.
One friend, an altogether sane and well-adjusted father of two,
casually mentioned that he sometimes squirted a bit of banked breast
milk into his morning coffee (a habit his wife didn't exactly support,
"That's our night out!" she cried.)
I've heard about groups of mothers who have no qualms nursing
each other's kids. Go online and you can find adult testimonials on the
cancer-fighting properties of breast milk along with recipes for a
beverage known as a "lactuccino."
Another couple recently relayed a story that demonstrates how
comfortable some dads have become in the finer points of breastfeeding.
A month after the birth of their first child, they hired a sitter and
headed out for their first date as parents. But upon pulling into a
multiplex parking lot, mom found that the time away from home had left
her engorged, leaking and highly uncomfortable. No way would she be
able to sit still for two hours, she said. After some tense
negotiation, the husband agreed to duck into the back seat of the car
and relieve her distress himself.
Not only did he get to see the movie, he said, his hair had a silky sheen for weeks afterward.
Far be it from me to judge, but I think this qualifies as going
too far in being an equal-partner dad. I'm ready to nurture my kids and
assist my wife in ways previous generations would have found
ridiculous. I will sterilize parts of the breast pump and warm up
bottles for late-night feedings.
But sampling the merchandise? That's just gross.