It looks like we just plain need to pay attention to new parents. Both new mothers and fathers need care and support. Here’s a link to an NPR story summarizing a study of new fathers and depression.
Pregnancy-related depression comes as a surprise to most men it hits. Psychologist Will Courtenay of Berkeley, Calif., has made a career of helping men with depression and maintains the website SadDaddy.com. He says there’s a myth in this country that men don’t get depressed, and that’s a danger.
“The cultural myth that men don’t get depressed also communicates to men that they shouldn’t get depressed — or at least, not express it. And so they don’t. They’re more likely than women to try to hide their depression or to talk themselves out of it,” he says.
Yes, of course everyone knows this. But it’s true for successful breastfeeding too. According to one study (Clinical Pediatrics, Vol. 33, No. 4, 214-219 (1994)):
Strong approval of breastfeeding by the father was associated with a high incidence of breastfeeding (98.1 %), compared to only 26.9% breastfeeding when the father was indifferent to feeding choice
Fathers’ strong approval tripled breastfeeding rates. Wow.
This picture can speak for itself! But I want to add some more ideas. Many fathers feel like they can’t take care of a breastfed baby unless they can feed the baby a bottle of milk. While that can be rewarding for many fathers it can both undermine successful breastfeeding and ignore the important and unique things that a father can do to take care of his breastfeeding baby.
Dads can do much much more than change diapers and feed bottles! Here are some ideas — please send me your ideas as well:
– Dads can learn about breastfeeding. Reading a book or taking a class can take just a few hours of time. If a father knows what to expect, he can offer support to his baby’s mother that promotes breastfeeding. Some good books are The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding from La Leche League International or The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Dr. Jack Newman.
– Dads can protect their new baby from over-eager visitors. Babies need lots of time and practice to establish breastfeeding. Most mothers need a lot of quiet and private time to focus on helping babies get good at breastfeeding. Since mothers are still recovering from birth it can be to much work for them to ask visitors to please leave.
– Dads can change diapers. So I know that I said that there was much more that fathers could do, but changing diapers is actually a really important part of making sure that breastfeeding is going well in the beginning. The number of wet and soiled diapers that a baby has is an excellent indicator of how much breastmilk he or she is getting. Dad can keep track of those diapers. If there aren’t as many diapers as would be expected then call for breastfeeding help.
– Dads can learn about signs of post-partum depression. Depression is one of those things that can be hard for the person experiencing it to recognize or seek help for. Fathers can help their partners get help. Breastfeeding protects babies from the problems that they can have when their mothers are depressed. Fathers can recognize this and help mothers keep breastfeeding through depression.
– Dads can comfort babies in their own ways: dancing, rocking, sh-sh-ing, bathing. Fathers may have more endurance than a mother that is recovering from birth — an important asset as they care for high-need babies. Anne Altshuler (a LLL leader in Madison) told me, “Fathers are the first person in a baby’s life who can teach that baby that love can come without food.”