A Letter to the Dads Who are Supporting Exclusively Pumping Moms
January 23, 2014
Normally I write for moms—for your wives, your partners, your spouses, the mother of your children—but today I am writing to you, those most important people who support the women who are exclusively pumping in order to provide breast milk to your children.
Pregnancy is an amazing thing. With only a small initial “donation” from you, your partner has grown and nurtured your child inside her womb for nine months, and the incredible thing is that her ability to continue nourishing and nurturing your child continues even now that your baby has been born. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work out as planned (and if you’ve ever looked at the breastfeeding rates in your country, you’ll see just how rare it is for babies to receive breast milk much past the first couple months of life), and it’s pretty awesome that your wife is doing everything she can to ensure your child gets such wonderful nourishment—milk created especially for your baby and milk that will ensure your baby grows optimally. And if you think about it, that means a lot of benefits for you.
Obviously there are many pluses for your baby, and even some for your wife, when it comes to breast milk, but if you look a little further, many of these things will have a direct affect on you, too! Breast milk now means better outcomes later in terms of health and possibly even mental ability. Maybe what your wife is doing right now will help your baby ultimately stay out of jail or ensure they move out of the house before they are 35 years of age. Those are benefits I bet you can get behind!
Now sometimes I do hear some grumbling from exclusively pumping moms suggesting that the men in their lives are not as supportive as they could be. While I’m sure this isn’t the case with you, it is the case with some men. And you know what? I get it. After nine months of pregnancy you just wanted—nay, expected—things to now be back to normal. But I’ve got a newsflash for you! You’ve just had a child. Life as you know it will forever be different. There’s a new normal in town!
And your wife is experiencing this too. I know that we women often seem as though we’ve got this motherhood thing down, but the honest truth is that we don’t. I’ve even heard the suggestion that it just comes more naturally to mothers, but it doesn’t. We’re feeling our way through this just like you, but perhaps the difference is that mothers are usually the de facto caregiver, soother, nurturer, nourisher, nose wiper, and butt cleaner. The secret to looking like you know what you’re doing is just jumping in and doing it. (Now that the secrets out I expect more dads will become baby “experts” too!)
Now when it comes to a woman’s efforts to exclusively pump breast milk, and the related struggles that can sometimes come with it, there can be a lot of stress and a lot of tears, and from your perspective you may not feel as though it’s worth the effort. You are likely concerned for your partner—she’s the love of your life after all—and watching those we love suffer is never easy for us. And for a woman who’s experiencing breastfeeding difficulties, the concerns can come fast and fierce.
There are, of course, the hormonal elements of new motherhood as well. You dads are lucky not to experience the wild controlling ride that hormones can take you on. As soon as our babies are born, our hormones kick in. Oxytocin floods our brains and passes to our babies through our breast milk. Oxytocin is known as the “hormone of love”. It facilitates bonding and affection. It is powerful. Prolactin is also coursing through our veins. It allows milk production, but it also creates mothering responses, and in combination with oxytocin it creates a powerful one-two punch! Nourishing and nurturing your child is a fierce, powerful force for a mother. It is bigger than you, bigger than her. It is the continuum of life. It is love manifested. And it means something to her—and that should mean something to you.
Your concern for your wife is touching, but please remember that concern doesn’t equate to the need to fix. Fixing things, I think, is in a man’s DNA. And that’s okay! In fact, it is one of the things we love about you—sometimes. But sometimes women don’t want to be fixed, they want to be heard and understood. So the question is: How can a man understand a woman— a weepy, hormonal, emotional woman no less?
Here’s a very brief primer:
When your baby’s mother says she’s exhausted, it likely means that she is exhausted, not that she wants to throw in the towel, pack up the pump, and switch to formula.
When your baby’s mother says she wants to quit pumping, it likely means she is exhausted. Refer to the above point.
When your baby’s mother says she has to go pump, it means she has to go pump and express the food that your child eats. It doesn’t mean that she’s enjoying “alone time”, putting her feet up, or ignoring you. In fact, there are probably a hundred other things she’d rather be doing.
When your baby’s mother asks if you could get the baby, she means it would be really helpful if you could get the baby.
And when your baby’s mother seems down, blue, unhappy, or overwhelmed, recognize just how much of a loss it is when breastfeeding doesn’t go as expected. Those hormones I mentioned above, they drive a mother’s emotions and her desire to nourish her baby. The loss of breastfeeding is no less real than any other loss. Sometimes it just takes time to work through everything; and sometimes it takes some extra love and understanding from those around her. It will always take some time. Remember that she is still the same woman you married, now just the 2.0 mommy version! Support her, be there for her, listen to her, but don’t try to fix her.
And whatever you do, don’t suggest she quit pumping or that she should “just feed formula” unless she first brings it up! Ever seen a momma bear protect her cubs? There is no doubt that your wife will respond in the same way if she feels threatened.
Okay, so I know you’re now asking: So what can I do and say that won’t incur the wrath of the momma bear? There’s really nothing special. Go on being your loving, supporting, understanding self, but just also be aware that all the experiences and changes you are going through are also being felt by your spouse—and then some. Being a moral support will mean a lot.
But since you asked (you did ask, right?), here are a few ideas for how you can support your exclusively pumping wife, and ultimately help to create a home filled with peace, love, and support:
Try babywearing. Grab a baby carrier and head out for a walk with your baby. This will give your wife a few minutes to focus only on herself and what she needs to do. And you do know that women find a man wearing a baby irresistibly attractive, don’t you? Here’s an example, and another, and yet one more.
Definitely jump into the “dirty” work and change your baby’s diaper, bathe them, and dress them. These one-on-one moments are a great opportunity to get to know your child and start making memories.
Play with your baby. Even very young babies enjoy having close interaction with you. Playing peek-a-boo, singing songs, getting down on the floor together: dads are great at making up crazy, fun games. And dads are really important in a baby’s life. They are the people who show babies that someone other than mom is okay, safe, and fun. Time spent with your baby helps set up a lifetime of trust.
Wash feeding bottles and pump parts. As you’re probably well aware, bottle feeding creates a lot of dishes! At the end of a long day, the sight of a sink full of dirty bottles can be overwhelming. A few minutes of your time washing bottles can mean more positive “karma”!
Make dinner at least occasionally, or if you don’t cook and can afford it, bring dinner home once in a while. Food you don’t have to cook, always tastes better, so I’m sure your wife will appreciate anything you provide.
And most importantly, ask what she wants and needs—and then listen. Truly listening can alone be an incredible healing balm. Don’t fix, just listen and try to understand the awe-inspiring changes your spouse is experiencing and the importance she places on nourishing your baby.
Thanks for being there, dads! Parenthood can be a rocky ride, but as a woman, I can tell you that the love and support from our spouses goes a long way. We know you’re trying. Know that we’re trying as well. We’re all working towards the same goal and we’ve created some pretty awesome kids!
Al l the best,
(Image By Jenrose Jennifer Rosenberg (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) , via Wikimedia Commons)