I Shouldn’t Be the Only One To Comfort My Baby Just Because I Breastfeed
I sat bleary-eyed one morning at the kitchen table after being up with my two-month-old ten times the previous night. I was at the end of my rope and guzzling coffee in hopes that I might get a little burst of energy to survive the day caring for my hyper toddler and clingy baby. Just then the baby started crying and I watched as my husband, who was sitting right next to her, didn’t move a muscle to pick her up.
I asked (or maybe shouted) “can you do something please!?” And his reply sent me over the edge. “Well, there isn’t much I can do. I don’t have breasts. She’s probably just hungry. She always wants you anyway.”
As I scooped up the baby, who had just eaten thirty minutes ago and was not hungry, I gave him a dirty look and stomped away. I had heard this reasoning from him way too much in my years bringing up two little ones. From the get-go, I have been the one to calm our babies whenever they cry, most often by offering to breastfeed. As a result, I became their sole source of comfort and my husband didn’t develop a skill for comforting the baby in his way, breast free.
I chose to exclusively breastfeed, and I didn’t pump or use bottles. I know this put me on the hook for doing every single feed and a lot of the comforting, but I did not sign up to be an island, always having to soothe my baby all by myself.
To be clear, my husband is an incredible dad and very hands-on. In those first few months, I know he felt pretty lost because he didn’t have the initial bond I had with our babies and didn’t have the magical power of breastfeeding to calm a hysterical baby.
But still, the idea of me being the only person who can comfort my baby because I breastfeed annoys me. It can feel isolating when everyone just assumes that I am the only one with a solution. I don’t have all the answers and I am oftentimes trying much more than just the nipple to calm and reassure my baby.
What I really need is the “manary gland” Jack invents in Meet the Fockers, a breastlike device that allows a man to “breastfeed” the baby. But until someone makes that invention a reality, I wish I could find a little more equity with my husband in how we comfort a crying baby.
I encourage dads and partners not to sell themselves short and to just try.
You can do more to comfort a baby than you think you can. It might take trial and error, and it likely won’t rival the power of breastfeeding, but it is still valuable and needed.
Sometimes I have found that my baby is made fussier by being close to me. The smell of milk can put her into a frenzy, even when she isn’t hungry. In these moments, my husband may actually be more successful at calming her down.
There is an opportunity for partners to use tricks and methods that the breastfeeding parent never would have thought of. I believe our babies benefit from the different comforting methods each parent brings to the table. Please don’t throw your hands in the air and declare yourself useless. You aren’t.
I encourage the breastfeeding parent to make themselves a little less available in moments when the baby is crying and their partner is present.
I take responsibility for creating the situation where my husband feels like there isn’t much he can do. As soon as the baby cries, I usually jump up and grab her before he even has a chance to help. I tend to take over, which robs my husband of the chance to develop his confidence in comforting the baby and prevents my baby from learning to find comfort in my husband. I wish early on that I had made more room for him to help.
On the rare occasion that I have let my husband take over, I tend to chime in and tell him how I would do it. I micromanage. I have learned that for my husband to develop confidence, I need to avoid criticism, stay quiet, and simply let him do it his way and make mistakes.
When left to his own devices, my husband has come up with some creative ways to soothe our baby. It includes humming in a deep drawn-out voice, draping her over his forearm in some weird-looking circus move, and rubbing her forehead. And a lot of the time it works. But when it doesn’t, yes, I still breastfeed the baby to comfort her.