Holy Baptism, Batman

blue water waveWe finished baby class number 4 last night, which was All About Breastfeeding, and I saw more nipples on film than if I’d sat through ten hours of Girls Gone Wild. GGW doesn’t know anything about latching on, though, so at least my exposure to exposed breasts left me with a basic understanding of what to tell Susanne to do when she’s struggling to get into the nursing schtick. I’m sure she’ll want to hear advice from me at 4:20AM when the baby is crying and we haven’t slept in three weeks.

The baby classes have been good overall, but I’m a bit aghast at how low the expectations are for men (I’m not using the generic “partner” here because the content I’m talking about is specifically designed with men in mind). The whole breastfeeding situation, we were told, begins like this:

After 12-24 hours of being crushed inside a hollow container that is forcefully shrinking and getting expelled down a tiny tube, forced to swallow relatively freezing cold air, and having a dozen pairs of enormous hands placed all over it in judgment of its appearance, health, completeness, and sturdiness, the baby is slapped up against a bulbous protrusion and expected to suck droplets of fluid down into its throat for its first meal.

The father, meanwhile, doesn’t have to do anything.

Mom is exhausted, baby is alert from shock, and Dad is fooling around on his iPad. It’s an easy role for Dad, apparently!

I understand the advantages of breastfeeding, really I do. The immune system support, the way in which Mom’s milk helps the baby get used to different foods—because what the mother eats changes the flavor of the milk—the assistance in helping to prevent allergies, all of those things are terrific. But the insistence on no bottle feeding for several weeks, and the very frequent, round-the-clock feeding schedule can start an unbalanced pattern between parental partners.

Already a first baby kickstarts one’s stress levels and puts pressure on a relationship, so when we instruct couples that mothers need to breastfeed until the baby is settled in to it, which could be anywhere from 2–6 weeks, and that fathers shouldn’t bottlefeed until then, I worry about putting an emotional distance between dads and babies. Adding this message to the other cues about expected imbalances that have come out in our classes, like:

  • Dads, help Mom a little by doing the dishes one night
  • Tell your partner she doesn’t have to be superwoman
  • Fathers can contribute by changing some of the diapers! (said with a big smile)
  • Remember to encourage Mommy that she’s doing great

—Aren’t we setting up mothers to bear the vast majority of childrearing activities? In my personal life, I know many partners, male and female, who are way more engaged than this. Maybe it’s the model of a Catholic hospital, or perhaps the instructor is looking to find ways to communicate to traditional-minded men that won’t make them get resistant. Any help is better than no help, right?

For me, I’m hearing a range of approaches and advice from people that put these old-fashioned-sounding ideas in some context. My own mother has told me that I need to step it up for the rest of my life now. Mommy friends of mine want me to be “trained” and responsive to Susanne and the baby’s needs, and not think that I can sit around playing Angry Birds at all hours. Lots of folks have sent me links, books, organization ideas, stroller recommendations, and stories about what has and hasn’t worked for them and their families, and for all of this input, I am grateful, if not a little busy sorting through it. I know I can’t actually breastfeed our child, but I’m going to continue resisting the idea that I don’t have to put out at least as much energy as my partner does in the early going (and the later years, too).

Having babies is like baptism by fire. Which is, I guess, why we’ve tended to douse them in water. We’re just trying to stem the blaze.

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9 Comments on “Holy Baptism, Batman”

  1. Nicoline
    June 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Oh, puh-leeze. You guys haven’t really gone over to the breastfeeding Nazis, have you? Because I’m here to tell you that it is perfectly possible to have happy, healthy children without breastfeeding!
    Also, that whole feeding-on-demand-thing is ridiculous. Of course you don’t have to be a time-table Nazi, but you do have a life (I hope :-)) that sometimes (quite often?) demands that you do something other than act as your baby’s personal dairy factory.
    People will no doubt be all over me and say that you can’t spoil tiny babies and quite possibly I am the worst. mother. ever. But the problem isn’t that you may be spoiling the baby, it’s that you’re spoiling yourself! If you train yourself during the first weeks to pick the baby up a the slightest whimper, how will you ever learn to resist its incessant demands for attention? Just because the baby is crying, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hungry. To misquote Libby Purves again, sometimes the doctrine of demand feeding is expanded until it comes to include demand-feeding of great big hulking teenagers at 2 a.m. or demand lending of the car every Saturday night.

    • evmaroon
      June 30, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      I love you, Nicoline. You’re always there for a reality check.

  2. Brenda
    June 30, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    we were a breast/bottle/formula family. I had issues with production (dang hormonal issues) so I breast fed first, formula if baby needed more. the bottle was given by dad or me. I pumped at the proper times at work, used what little there was for bottles later since I worked and he was stay-at home-papa. we made a schedule that worked for us. with our first baby, I had the standard “what’s wrong with me? I can’t even feed my own baby” meltdown when 100% breast feeding went awry. I was lucky enough to have a breast feeding “coach” at the hospital that wasn’t militant about anything. do what works for you and baby. I loved the way breast/bottle/formula nourished baby, and marriage (we still got date nights!!)

    • evmaroon
      June 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

      What a lovely way to give me hope! Thanks, Brenda!

  3. July 1, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    Ev, I have an almost 8 month old who’s exclusively formula bottle fed now. He doesn’t hate me, as far as I can tell. We had trouble breastfeeding from the beginning since he was in the NICU for week or so and I never really got any instructions/help from a lactation consultant before taking him home. Cue hours later, me on bed, Oli in my lap, screaming for upwards of an hour and a half. I would pump and he would take that easily. After paying for a lactation consultant to come to the house and show me and take herbal medicines and this and that and weeks of both him and me crying for hours a day, I stopped trying. I pumped and we gave him the bottles. In my mind, this did two things. 1. It made me a less stressed out mom and Jeff was able to help with midnight feedings. 2. It made Oli’s feedings less stressful. I can’t imagine being hungry and trying to eat for and hour and a half and not making progress but the people feeding me won’t give me anything else.

    Even when I was trying to breastfeed, Jeff was very helpful. I would try to feed Oli and then Jeff would do the soothing/changing diaper routine. So, even if you go the breastfeeding, on or not on demand, there’s loads you can do to take some stress off of Susanne. If the breastfeeding works out GREAT! It’s cheaper, hell it’s free – trust me, we feed Oli formula and and it gets expensive. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine too. I bond with my child when I give him the bottle. I don’t throw him in the corner of the crib and duct tape the bottle to his hands, you know? He’s in my arms, looking at me, playing with my face, my arms, my hair, smiling at me. Either way, happy and relaxed parents make for happy and relaxed children. And, everything is a trial and error. Nobody elses experience will tell you what yours will be like. All I can tell you from my limited experience is you can get advice on what worked for other parents as far as sleep, feed, playtime, calm, gas, food, teething, whatever else that comes with birthing a child – you’ll have to try them all to find what works for you and your child.

    • evmaroon
      July 1, 2011 at 11:24 am #

      I knew families like yours existed! Thanks for telling us your story, Sylvie! He’s getting so big so fast…

  4. July 1, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    whoa, that turned out to be really long, sorry!

  5. Nadine W
    August 3, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    The low bar for the male partners burns me up! It’s outrageous and harmful to the woman and baby. Super-stress the mother, and you harm both her and the baby –and I’ll admit, new babies can be demanding enough without the mother having to do all the housework and cooking too!

    Sylvie’s advice is awesome! You two (actually, three) will have to try things out and see what works for you!

    I breastfed my child, and got really good advice and hands-on help within the first two days from a midwife who’d also breastfed 3 of her own children. Getting help with breastfeeding, if that’s what you’re choosing, within a day or two is important to avoid excessive exhaustion and frustration.

    I couldn’t have done it without the support of my partner. One of the many things he did to help me was take the baby every day for 2-4 hours expressly so I could go have a nap. Seeing as he still had to work, and I was up multiple times in the night for feedings, I’d let him sleep most nights. But the assumption was he would help me get some more sleep during the day. We had been told that an exclusively breastfeeding mother needs to sleep when the baby does, whenever possible/tolerable, but that she might even need more sleep! (I this is for the first 2-4 months). This worked for us, but you’ll have to see what works for you…

    Back to more unsolicited breastfeeding advice –Sorry, can’t help it! 😉
    It can also be a good idea to check in with knowledgeable people after 4 days or a week for breastfeeding advice/reassurance. I went to visit my cousin and his wife when their baby was about 5 or 6 days old, to help out around the house and because the poor baby was demanding food every hour (not what my baby did), and she was starting to lose it from lack of sleep! Extreme lack of sleep is the enemy! The problem: she had been trying to feed a little from each breast during each feeding, not knowing she should usually feed the baby from one breast per feeding. Feeding from one breast for 20 minutes or more helps the baby get not only foremilk, but hindmilk –which is fattier and more nutritious, and necessary for health and to satisfy hunger! Baby had been getting “full” on foremilk and coming off the breast, only to get ravenous an hour later! So what I’m saying is, arrange to have contact info for various kinds of help within easy reach, and don’t hesitate to call them.

    “But the problem isn’t that you may be spoiling the baby, it’s that you’re spoiling yourself! If you train yourself during the first weeks to pick the baby up a the slightest whimper, how will you ever learn to resist its incessant demands for attention?”

    You just have to train yourself. Tiny babies are one thing, though, and older babies are another. Tiny babies (like, under 3 months) do need special treatment! Read, observe, experiment, and adapt accordingly!

    “Just because the baby is crying, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hungry.”
    Very true.

    • evmaroon
      August 3, 2011 at 8:23 am #

      Great advice, thanks Nadine! And Sylvie herself is pretty awesome, as it happens. I do plan to spoil the baby while it’s younger than 3 months, and then it’s off to a rock quarry with the little one!

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