Breastfeeding

Changing family relationships with breastfed baby

The birth of a baby signalled changes in their close relationships for the men and women to whom we talked, especially if it was a first baby. Some talked about working together as a team and having another person to think about. Some said that having a child to care for had brought them even closer together as a couple while others had to work at it. Several women and the men talked about how having a baby had changed them and their lifestyle. They didn't want to 'go out in the evening' anymore but preferred to be at home with their baby.

Many of the women said that they thought it was harder for their husband/partner to bond with their baby because he was not so closely involved with the feeding in the beginning. They said that they thought their baby's father felt left out or didn't know their baby or didn't bond with their baby until later. Some tried to overcome or prevent this feeling by expressing breastmilk (or providing infant formula) for the father to feed their baby through a bottle so that he could share in the experience* (see 'Variations of the breastfeeding experience'). Some said that their husband/partner enjoyed giving their baby a bottle, especially the first-time fathers. For others it was not an issue.

When asked what they thought the father's role was with a breastfed baby most people said one of support, praise and encouragement. He provided stability and calmness, especially during difficult times. One woman said,

“His job is to tell me how well I'm doing … remind me at the low points 'you're doing a great job'”.

They suggested a long list of things that a father can do with a breastfed baby other than feeding, including checking the positioning of their baby at the breast, cuddling, winding, settling, changing, bathing and entertaining (with walks, music, singing, television and play) while the mother rested. The women said that they wanted him to just be there. Other helpful things that he could do included fending off negative comments, looking after older children, taking over some of the housework and cooking, and supporting his wife/partner if she needed to breastfeed in public. Some women said that the father may find it easier to settle a baby because he doesn't smell of breast milk.

Some fathers were very pro-breastfeeding while others took time to realise how important it was to their wives/partners. The experiences with regard to night time feeding covered the whole spectrum from those fathers who got up to support their wife/partner through to those who continued sleeping undisturbed. Some fathers were not present in their baby's life and in these situations the women relied more heavily on extended family members, usually their own mother, and friends. One woman said that her husband was working long hours when they had their first baby but was able to spend more time with their second and, as a consequence, has a closer relationship with that child.

When asked about the impact of breastfeeding on their sex life some people said that it made no difference while some women said that they noticed a decrease in their libido for several months after the birth of their baby. Most, including the fathers, said that they were tired and that the tiredness may have been a hormonal effect of breastfeeding or just due to the fact of having a baby in the house. One woman called the tiredness a natural contraceptive. Some women talked about milk leaking from their breasts during sex triggered by the release of hormones. Others said that their breasts were tender and they did not like them being touched. For some of the people we spoke to, the discussion about breastfeeding and sex led naturally onto a discussion about how they felt about their (or their wife/partner's) breasts now that they were breastfeeding. Several said that they and their husband/partner no longer thought of their breasts in sexual terms while breastfeeding. Some liked their new body image, others did not.

Several women talked about the impact of a new baby on older siblings. Some introduced their new baby straight after birth and thought that this helped their older children to bond with the baby. Some had arranged a gift from their new baby for his/her older sibling(s). Some were anxious to leave the hospital as soon as possible in order to lessen the impact of their absence on their older child(ren). A few women had breastfed during pregnancy. Some had weaned before the birth but others continued to tandem feed their older child and their new baby, saying that this could help the older child to accept the new baby more easily (see 'Breastfeeding an older baby'). Some women said that an older child was a great help in fetching things for the baby. Others, especially those with a small gap between children, spoke of struggling to meet the needs of both babies. One woman said that the night time, when her three-year-old was asleep, was precious time for her and her baby. Several said that their older child was clingy and cried a lot more after the arrival of a new baby.

Some women talked about how family relationships were affected when experiencing breastfeeding problems such as low milk supply or painful breastfeeding. Women who wanted to breastfeed did not give up easily and went to great efforts to try and breasfeed their babies. Sometimes couples’ relationships were affected by the emotional strain and physical exhaustion that characterised women’s efforts. The introduction of mixed feeding eased up the family pressures brought about by unresolved breastfeeding difficulties.

*Footnote: Bottles are not recommended before breastfeeding is well established because of the problems that they may cause. They may result in incorrect sucking, nipple confusion or breast refusal and early weaning,  Infant formula supplements in the newborn period expose a baby to the risk of developing an allergy to cow's milk and dairy products. They may also contribute to engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis; interference with the establishment and maintenance of milk supply; and a shortened duration of breastfeeding. There is though evidence that if a baby is not introduced to a bottle in the first 6 weeks he/she may refuse one that is offered later making it very difficult for a mother to ever be away from her baby, even for a few hours, until s/he is weaned.

Last reviewed September 2015
Last updated September 2015
 

Feedback

Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site.

Make a Donation to healthtalk.org





Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email