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.
Having a baby brought responsibilities and a clearer distinction in roles for him. His...
Sure, I think, it I mean it just, it's more about time and I think it's whether it's, whether it's about breastfeeding, a breastfeeding wife or just, you know, a start of a young family, you know, obviously you can do things together when there's just the two of you, you have no other concerns, no other responsibilities, you know, you my parents are at the other end of the country so, you know, we want to go and see them at the weekend it was a case of Friday night you jump in the car and you drive up there with another person involved you've got to make other decisions, you know, will the child travel well? It's not quite such a drop of a hat sort of decision you have to think a lot more about what you do. And as far as the relationship is concerned, that, it again, you know, you kind of just accept and expect that things do change, we remained and are still very close and very loving, but there's somebody else there that has to be involved.
Don't answer this question if you don't want to, but in terms of breastfeeding what effect has that had on your marital relations?
The relationship generally or a sexual relationship?
I don't think the breastfeeding's had any effect on our sexual relationship, I think the children have, but again I guess that's to be expected, simply because there are other people around, you don't always feel like it 'cause you're much more tired, but it just becomes something that you have to perhaps think about a little more but certainly yes I mean children have, I don't think breastfeeding's had a direct effect.
So these lactating breasts were never a problem for you?
No, I mean occasionally you get yourself covered in milk but, you know, there you go it's that's the hazards of the job isn't it [laughs]? But no, it didn't, it didn't cause us a problem, didn't have a, I guess the only time would be if my wife's breasts were particularly sore if she, if she'd had any problems but that was so few and far between that it, that it wasn't really an issue.
Is there anything we haven't covered from your perspective, it's hard for me to know'
'what sort of things you would find important?
No, no I don't think so, I think we've covered most, most of the things, I mean I suppose really the whole thing about the way, the way we are, tends to be that we, we do have these, we do have clearly different roles in the family but I think that works well as a team, you know, we do different things and therefore bring different strengths to the whole to the whole situation, you know, we can't always all be star players sometimes we have to we have to just sort of stand in the background and let people, let other people do things and our turn will come but, certainly as far as the relationship with the children has been concerned I have noticed that as time goes on Dad's relationship becomes much stronger and that's worth waiting for.
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.
She expressed her breastmilk in the mornings so that her husband could be included in the feeding...
Well when I first had [daughter] I would, that's again why I used the breast pump, because in the morning I always, it's quite complicated this, in the morning I always did a, I always used the pump and one was for a night feed, and one was for an evening feed. So when he came from work he could feed her, so he'd have that experience of being able to feed her as well, so rather than, because I know, I remember one of the ladies at the, at one of the clinics, she said, 'Oh it's nice to breastfeed because you have the baby all to yourself, because when it's a newborn you have all these people who want to touch and hold her but breastfeeding is something that only I can do' and that's, that is definitely true, but I did want him to be included in the experience which is why I, did the breast pump as well so he'd be able to feed her, even if it's just a little bit of a bottle, so he'd usually feed her the first evening feed at around six thirty when he came from work.
How old was she when you started this routine?
How old was she? Oh we started it straight from hospital really, well no, probably two months, 'cause not straightaway 'cause I mean [sighs], it was difficult enough just to breastfeed her let alone use the pump so, probably three months in, three, four months in, I started using the pump, and I stopped using it around six, seven months 'cause I was just tired [laughs] and by then I had enough milk in the evenings, yeah, so that's how we worked it but, I think he appreciated feeding her in the evenings 'cause it was that, it was the kind of thing that he wouldn't normally do I mean.
What did he say about it?
He enjoyed it, he liked it, yeah he liked it he just sat there and she'd, she'd feed, but usually after she'd had her feed she wanted more so then she came onto my breast and I breastfed her as well, but yeah she liked, she liked that feed and it wasn't usually the feed that got her off to sleep though, it was more the entr'e before the main course [laughs].
So she would usually go to sleep on the breast in'
Becoming parents was a big learning curve. She thinks that a young baby develops a very strong...
I think if, for him it's been a big learning curve just like it has been for me, I mean I think he went into fatherhood not knowing anything about breastfeeding and not really having any, assumptions about it I think, but he was very supportive of what I wanted to do and I think he, obviously felt that breastfeeding was the best thing for the baby as well. But I think when, when we had this disastrous situation with our first baby it made us both feel that this was something really important and that we really wanted to make sure that when we had future babies that, that we were able to for them to be breastfed if we could.
I've had other people say to me that they're quite keen to introduce a bottle early on so that the father can feed the baby as well, do you want to comment on that?
Well we haven't used a bottle, I mean we did actually try with the first baby once we knew the breastfeeding was okay and it wasn't going to be a problem any more and she just wouldn't take it and we, so we just gave up and, and I, I actually, no I must have tried it on each baby occasionally and it's never managed, I've never, they've never taken it, so, but they've never really needed to either. And I don't think a father feeding a baby from a bottle is the only way that a dad can bond with, with the baby they can cuddle them, they can talk to them, they can sing with, to them, they can take them for a walk in the pushchair, there's so many different ways, I don't think feeding is the only way, plus I've always found that once they do become about one year old suddenly they're talking, they're, they become so interactive it's like a whole new world opens up and they really start to notice dad in a big way then as well and, so, I think when they're very little there is a really strong bond with the mother and they, the bond with the father gradually develops over time and gets stronger and stronger and stronger until, you know, at the age of five or something there's not much difference between the parents. But I don't think my partner feels that he's missed out at all.
He supported his wife in her breastfeeding and says that he can experience feeding with a bottle...
I was chuffed actually I thought it, 'Good on ya' it would be good for her to, I knew it was good for baby I, and by this point I was a bit old and so it wasn't kind of the, I mean, I thought it was good for baby, I was concerned about her get, at that time, you know, breastfeeding in public, not so much of me being embarrassed or anything but more public reaction to her. But she was, I was really, basically more impressed with her determination she had that she wanted to do it and the focus that she had, that she wanted to do it, and I just thought, 'Yeah well, you know, if that's what you want to do, that's what you want to do, you know, we'll go, you know, go for it and I'll support you any way I can'.
So what did you see your role would be in all of that?
Well [laughs], briefly I thought that (a) she's breastfeeding the child that means I don't get up at night, excellent, that changed. You know, basically my role would always be supportive and that's how I always saw myself to be as the support, support mechanism for her, and we do work very much as a team anyway. But we do but so like basically if the night feeds, I'll get up with her, you know, change baby's bum, do bits and pieces, so, 'cause obviously breastfeeding takes a lot more energy out of, out of the lady than, you know, than the feeding does. So I basically took up the role of doing the extra bits so like mum would get up and, you know, she'd get up and do the feeding and then I'd get up and like burp him, change him, do all the bits and pieces, give him another feed give her back and then he can have a feed, that's how the roles set it. To be honest that's how it stayed for both my younger children I mean even with my youngest one now I get up, I mean, for example last night I was up every two hours with him, in fact, no last night I was up from eleven, from eleven till three and then four till six with him because he was having a bit of a bad time, he's not very well at the moment.
I have heard people say that they want to put the baby onto a bottle early for two reasons and I want to ask about each of these.
Firstly, so that they can go out with their partner and leave the baby with someone else. And secondly, so that the father can feed the baby. Talk to me about the father feeding the baby, do you ever feel resentful that you can't feed the baby?
No, because I can, you see, you can express milk, there is no reason why, as long as the breastfeeding is at, I mean this is a personal opinion but, with breast, fathers feeding the breastfed child, you can do that because you can express milk. I mean at the moment I've got two lots of breastmilk in the freezer, my other half's going out tonight, she's going to have a couple of drinks 'cause she deserves it, fair enough, so tonight for the first few feeds, if he does wake up tonight, he's not going to be able to feed off her, I've got some milk ready to go, so I can just say alright fine I'll just take over breastfeeding. Blokes that feel resentful, in my personal opinion, I understand why blokes feel resentful for their wives breastfeeding, and feeling left out, but mostly it is a jealousy issue or it's an issue where they just feel that they're being left out of the loop altogether. But there's ways around it, you just find a way, seriously you just find a way, you know, it's expressing milk, and also not being funny and to any bloke that may be listening to this in the future to get yourself major brownie points offering to feed a child while your ma, partner's absolute
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.
Becoming a parent was a reality check for him. He saw his role as one of support which was not...
It was something at that stage as my wife was pregnant we'd started to discuss and consider and it was something that she'd said she would really give a good go to, always with the, the idea in the background that there'd be some sort of a, a dual feeding with perhaps the odd bottle here and there to, some degree to allow me to be part of the whole process and also perhaps to make that being away from the child much, much easier 'cause at the time she had intended to go back to work but it was only really as baby arrived that that became real, you know, but it was all just, just a topic for discussion but I think when a baby arrives, the, you know, the reality dawns and I guess instincts take over as well, largely.
So that idea of giving the odd bottle so you could experience feeding the baby?
Where do you think that came from?
It, don't know I think it's just one of those things that people like to think that a father can be part of the whole process, and sometimes I think breastfeeding can be thought of as leaving dad out of the whole process so I think we'd, the idea was that we would actually involve a bottle of formula in order to sort of augment that.
Had you been to the antenatal clinic?
We did, we went to antenatal classes right up until, well we missed the last one but also we missed the one about how to look after the baby, we did all the rest of it but we missed the last one because baby was a week early.
Was breastfeeding discussed at those?
I must say I can't remember particularly although I do believe it was on breastfeeding was something that was discussed and, again I'm pretty sure it was either the last one that we went to or the one that we missed that was involved.
So you don't remember a great deal?
Don't remember a great deal about it no, no, it was all a bit of a blur really at the time.
That's interesting because I've heard other people talk about their lives and introducing a bottle'
'so that father can feed.
And it's not something that I'm greatly familiar with'
'you know, I'm trying to get to the bottom of exactly why it happens in this country.
I think I know I guess there are a couple of reasons that I can see, yes it's one that does involve one reason that it does involve dad that perhaps otherwise wouldn't be directly involved with the whole process and to some degree I suppose it gives mum a bit of a break at that time as well, that's the idea, to be honest we never did it, our first, my daughter wouldn't touch anything out of a bottle, she just wouldn't, some my wife tried to express and then give the breastmilk in a bottle, she wasn't interested in that either, so we just, it just fell by the wayside, we never pursued it and that was the end of it really.
So you were okay about that?
Yes, I was fine with that we, not consciously I don't think, but we got round my involvement with the baby mainly by a part of the whole pro
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.
She developed a strong emotional bond with her daughter and had to work hard at allowing other...
What did you say?
Actually, I think I got quite angry 'cause I think I was wound up at the time anyway because the baby was crying and, you know, distressed, and it wasn't down to breastfeeding, it was just down to, we're both over tired, we're not, you know, it is, only being back from hospital a couple of days, that kind of thing, just she wanted to be awake and I wanted to be asleep and I think I got quite snappy and basically said, 'Breastfeeding is the only way [laughs] [daughter] you know this is the only thing I'm going to do, she is only so young, you know', I mean I don't think I'd have ever been pushed into anything else but, you never know [laughs] so, yeah, but from there, I mean it wasn't plain sailing, I don't think either breast or bottle feeding ever is plain sailing 'cause babies have problems and it's not necessarily related to their feeding but they have problems.
Introducing a bottle was never an issue for us, it was never ever going to be an option, it wasn't something that I ever considered and I know that my, the things that my husband missed out on when she was very, very young was not the feeding, I could feed and he could do everything else and had I let him I think he quite willingly would have done everything else but, no [laughs] we never really communicated enough right at first I mean up to about six months after that, we kind of worked our way around everything but, he never missed out on feeding her, and especially once she started solids, he realised that actually it was a chore for him and he really could have done without it and we started solids, just finger foods we never spoon fed [daughter] so obviously for the first couple of months, may be months, may be weeks, the food that had started on the table ended up on the floor and he used to say things like, 'Well, I'll just cut the middle man out and throw it straight on the floor' you know so, he realised actually how much he didn't miss out on her on the feeding thing and then, and after a couple of months he took advantage of the fact that I was breastfeeding and that I, it was a huge comfort for [daughter] and it wasn't just food and if she fell over or she cried and he felt difficult in that situation then he would hand her back, you know, 'She needs, she needs food' and it, and it would calm her down straight away and she, you know and she was never a kind of crying baby, never, it wasn't ever something that you would say she was, 'cause.
So apart from that one time, he was totally supportive of the feeding, right behind you by the sound of it?
Yeah, I mean he, I think he was, he was a hundred per cent behind me doing what I wanted to do and if at any point I had felt uncomfortable about it, then I'm sure he would have, you know, weighed up the options with me but he, from an outsider point of view, because since then we've looked back and we've talked about you know what situations we were in and things and, I think the thing that he found hard was the fact that I didn't let him in enough, not anything to do with the feeding, you know just not enough playing with her, a lot of people don't realise that little n
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.
At first, she and her husband did not know how to relate to her breasts which she saw as sensual...
Well, that's very interesting the breast and sexuality in a way, before I breastfed I think my breasts were very, a sexual sort of part of my, you know, life, and when I started breastfeeding then both myself and my husband didn't know how to relate to this [laughs] to this object, you know, this thing and in fact still noticed we're really quite timid about it, and very much for the time where I'm breastfeeding, so for [son] almost a year and for [second son] is now eight weeks, the breast is essentially belonging to the baby really and for me as on my personal, you know, experience of it is like I'm quite proud of the beautiful ballooning, beautiful pink warm things, but they're not sexual any more in a way, I find them beautiful but it's beautiful in a different sense, it's sensual, sensual, but not sexual, that's what I would say. So it's a, you know, my reflection, my relationship to my breasts have changed and it, they probably change again when I stop breastfeeding, because when, I knew when I stop breastfeeding with [son] they would, they would at, I was wishing for another child and I was granted that wish so I am doing it again and perhaps, I'm really glad that I'm doing it and I think, I might miss it, you know, I might one, if I stopped breastfeeding this time if I have friends breastfeeding I'll probably feel like, 'Oh that was so nice', that was such a nice time to spend with my child, it's a wonderful time when, yeah well actually when my toddler is away and I can really have a feed quietly and just have to look, you know, looking into my baby's eyes and he's looking into my eyes, there is nothing else that matters, you're really in the moment, and it's very special.
What do you think your husband would say if I asked him that question, if his attitude towards the breasts has changed?
Oh, he's very open about it he says, 'I'm, you know, I'm not sure whether I can touch them or whether', you know, we're not bothered about the milk leaking out but in a way they, they have another function and we're quite happy, you know, kissing differently and having another sort of routine of loving, but, and I think we're quite happy both of us just giving it to the child for the time being, so I'm not sure [laughs] it would be a good question, you know, perhaps he would say something totally different, I have no idea, but, it seems that we both happy having that, you know, have, giving that gift to our baby, it's part of being parents I think and that's probably what he would say to that, I cannot be sure [laughs].
Her attitudes towards her breasts have changed since she has breastfed three children. She is...
I think my sex life has been the same and I don't think he's felt, you know, deprived or, I think the only other thing was in the early days when we first had a baby, firstly your very tired anyway and that sort of thing puts a bit of a dampener on things but I think that there's some kind of hormonal thing that goes on and it means you're slightly less interested in sex, your libido goes down anyway, but that does recover. I found round about the seven, eight month mark that I've felt more or less back to normal again.
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.
Her five year old son was supportive of her breastfeeding his younger sister and fascinated to...
You've got a five year gap'
'did you notice, can you talk about that, what was the impact of a new baby in his life at that stage? What you said it's like starting all over again'
'for yourself can you comment on all of that a bit more?
Well he was very supportive about breastfeeding.
Your son was?
My son was and.
Did he remember it from his own times do you think?
No, he didn't remember about breastfeeding, the first night he came into the hospital I did feed in front of him, but we had a little gift for her, from her to him to try and he was more taken with that, he didn't actually notice feeding and, the next night he came in he said, 'How do, how do you feed Mum?' and before that whenever we had been going and getting things for the baby he was looking at bottles and I said, 'No son, hopefully we won't need bottles' and he just took it that was alright. So I showed him in the hospital how, how I fed her, and it was like, '[gasps] Oh my' you know, and with being on a dairy farm, you know, and you kind of, you [laughs], you relate it yourself to a cow, you know [laughs], type of thing, and he knew how that worked, and it was, 'Mummy, did I?' and I said, 'You were fed with these son too', you know, and, 'Was I really Mummy?', I went, 'Yes', and I can remember in the hospital going down then and my husband was looking after my daughter and, and he was about to, I mean I just wanted to nip down to get yourself freshened up for five minutes and she started to cry and he came down, knocked on the door, 'Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, you have to feed her she's looking for a feed come on hurry up' [laughs] so you talk about feeding on demand [laughs]. She wasn't the only one that was demanding. But he took to it, you know, it was whenever you come home it was like, oh he, he would go, 'Get your belly out Mummy, Mummy's got two big belly's', and I found it actually strange because, my cousin, his wife had a second one and their first child actually talked about mummy's big belly's as well, you know, and I can remember my son drawing a picture for me over the Christmas holidays just after she was born and there was Mummy with her two big belly's feeding and I went, 'Okay' [laughs]. But no, he was very supportive and.
So there's been no jealousy?
No, he was fine, good. We didn't realise but he maybe was a bit more insecure at, at school, you know, a bit tearful, but at home I suppose whenever I was home, whenever he come home and seen I was at home, you know, still here, he was fine, we hadn't noticed it at home, and he was very good with her and would run off to get the stuff to change the nappie's, and cream and everything he could do that way.
So he was a big help to you?
He was a great help and he was very good with her and, and, was getting his toys to share with her, you know, he thought he had asked for a baby [laughs].
With only a fourteen month gap, her older child was very distressed by the arrival of his baby...
It all started, I stayed one night in hospital but the well no two nights second time round and, he arrived and on the Tuesday night, and I asked my husband to bring Shivam our older baby in on the Wednesday, so 'cause I knew we'd have lots of friends and family around afterwards, I wanted just to be us four and just enjoy that moment an, up until that point apparently Shivam had been quite happy at home without me not missing me at all, my husband brought him in, and I think it actually hit him that mummy hadn't been about when he actually saw me in the hospital bed and bless him he became really quiet, just came and laid in bed with me for about ten minutes, he didn't say a word, sucked his thumb then he seemed ok, showed him new baby, got him to hold new baby and all those nice little things, and we got some fantastic snaps out of if, and then the next day I came home, my mother-in-law went to pick Shivam up from nursery and she was, she went and picked him up and he was sitting in a corner by himself crying and, for a child who's never, he never cried, even as a baby, he just wasn't, he was very content very happy and she was, it broke her heart she said she saw him in the corner and you could tell he was thinking, and he was there crying and he came over to her and she was just, I've never seen him like that, and he must, it must have hit him that something had changed, a) that mummy wasn't there, he saw mummy yesterday with a diff, another baby and he was only fourteen months old as well you don't think they have that much understanding but he certainly did, came home and at first he was really excited because there's lots of balloons about and he was going wow, wow looking at everything and I think baby was asleep at this point really happy to see mum and then baby woke up, this was the first day we were home and he didn't want any of us to pick him up he was crying absolutely distraught, why is his grand-dad looking at him picking him up, why is mummy picking him up, why is mummy disappearing for an hour and a half at a time don't understand very upset very distraught it was very hard for the first ten days he took it very hard.
What could you do to ease it for him?
What we tried doing was at first I'd have Shivam sitting next to me whilst I was breastfeeding but then he'd want to sit with me and wouldn't let baby feed and then would end up crying and then baby would cry as well so that became distressing for me and I didn't feel as if I could give my all to breastfeeding baby at that point either and I'd find at that point actually I was clock watching I'd be thinking, 'I need to get this over and done with' and it was horrible because I knew my other baby Shivam 'cause at fourteen months he's still a baby, to me he is he was crying downstairs and it was very distressing but the easiest option then for us was that I would go into a separate room where he couldn't see me feed, and couldn't see me holding baby and somebody else could play and give him attention and then, as soon as I'd finished breastfeeding, I'd hand baby over to somebody else either grandma or husband or grand-dad and then I would look after Shivam and give him his attention and his time and I think that kind of worked eventually.
Did you feel incredibly stretched?
Yes I remember one particular evening when I thought of, I thought he was over it, and the reason why he seemed better was that I eventually started breastfeeding in the same room. Once he'd calmed down and was happy, I would breastfeed in the same room, I wouldn't disappear and he was ok and then we had some friends and family ov
Lizzie says that she and her husband were exhausted and struggled to be a parenting team. After three months of unchanged low milk supply she decided to start mixed feeding.
*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 November 2018.
Last updated September 2015