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Breastfeeding From a Male Point of View

March 2, 2010

Men have few expectations put upon them during their partner’s pregnancy or in the first few months after the birth.

We’re there to help but out of the limelight. A phrase oft repeated to me was “you’ll be alright in the first few months because if your wife is breastfeeding, there is not much you need to do.” More extreme is being told, “you were there at the conception, so your role is over for a while!”

Additionally, people decide if a man is going to be a good father within five minutes, and based on nothing deeper than if you like children or if you’re a nice person.

Not so for women, it seems.

I felt that others judge mothers’ competence from the pregnancy, depending on a narrow definition of values, such as commenting on a mother’s weight gain, diet, preparations in the home, how many mood swings, what baby books purchased, or how much time taken off work.

After the birth people judge the mother by how long until she returns to work, general mental state, how soon they become social again, how many knives thrown at their husband, whether she had a caesarean or natural birth, or even the name chosen for the child.

These are the badges of responsible parenting, determined by individual subjective criteria.

Nothing causes greater external interest, or internal pressure, than breastfeeding, and the expectation that all mothers should succeed at this endeavour, for the good of both her and the baby.

Why the pressure? Here I feel unqualified to comment. But I do have observations.

Some mothers in the maternity ward shared by my wife cried relentlessly to themselves when their child didn’t take naturally to the breast. Through my years I have come across many similar stories and scares; without the breast, the baby’s health won’t be the best.

Even the World Health Organisation recommends mother’s breastfeed for a minimum of six months for the health of the baby. Tall order considering that few counties provides that length of maternity leave.

There is a recognised bonding as well associated with breastfeeding that can’t be quantified. Yet, for some reason in evolution, the rate of children not taking mother’s milk is high, or mothers who could breastfeed were in such pain they didn’t bond with their baby until they started using baby formula. Yet the feeling of failure is, naturally, high when these scenarios happen.

So what’s in this pressure cooker of a substance? Mother’s milk is a miracle of the human body. It’s alive, it changes composition depending on the needs and growth of the child, and impossible to replicate in a laboratory. As one chemist stated: “All the people I’ve dealt with in the industry are honest, hard-working and dedicated. In spite of that, we are still unable to make formula that comes very close to human milk.”

No need to apologize mate. Mother’s milk is actually a big mystery. We understand the basics – it contains carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white cells – but the actual chemical properties are unknown.

For example, if you add oxidant stressor i.e. something bad, in breast milk, it fights off the stressor better than formula milk. This is despite the fact that formula contains more antioxidants.

Interestingly, there is an old nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet, sitting on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. When breast milk is digested, it breaks down into two byproducts: curds and whey. The curd is white and rubbery, and the whey is liquid. Coincidence?

My favorite property of breastmilk is called hindmilk, which makes babies fall asleep.

The best formulas on the market are way behind in replicating such sophisticated substance. Formula is basically cow’s milk. Since we can’t digest cow’s milk, its stripped and pulled apart, redesigned – generally with more proteins and less fat – and some other goodies added.

Some of the more interesting ingredients include; Palm olein oil as a substitute to palmitics, which makes up 20 to 24 percent of the fat in human milk. The slightly different arrangement of triglycerides causes constipation in many formula-fed babies; Mortierella alpina oil, which is extracted from Mortierella fungus. This oil supplies arachidonic acid. Bodybuilders use this to bulk up their muscles. Infants use it to bulk up their neurons; Ferrous sulfate, which is among the best-absorbed iron compounds; and Inositol, an enzyme activator, a cell growth factor, and a component of cell membranes. Breast milk is loaded with the stuff, so it makes sense to put inositol in formula. Studies show, however, that the formula version doesn’t last as long in the bloodstream.

Cruise through baby websites, and the view is unequivocally breast is best, and if you can’t do this, there are milk banks available. Sites generally make such unarguable statements such as “It contains the perfect balance of nutrients that the baby can easily digest.”

So it is all fairly clear. Actually far from it.

Some “breast-is-best” critics argue that women are conditioned to view breastfeeding as such an important experience that they are spending more time and energy with a breast pump than they would with their baby (which is at least half the point of breastfeeding).

More interestingly, the scientific research doesn’t support the statements made in the popular literature. Firstly, researchers have difficulty quantifying the advantages of children who are breastfed because it is nearly impossible to separate out other factors such as the family’s economic status and educational background.

Secondly, much of the research, as the Journal of the American Medical Association states, “…do not demonstrate a universal phenomenon, in which one method is superior to another in all instances.” Another review, in the medical journal Pediatrics, said, “Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design.”

A 2005 paper from Health Services Research, focused on 523 sibling pairs who were fed differently, and its results put a big question mark over all the previous research. The authors compared “rates of diabetes, asthma, and allergies; childhood weight; various measures of mother-child bonding; and levels of intelligence. Almost all the differences turned out to be statistically insignificant. For the most part, the “long-term effects of breastfeeding have been overstated,” they wrote.”

Alika is currently on both, starting on breastmilk for a few hours, and if she’s still hungry for more, which invariably she is, we give her the bottle.

It was stressful at the beginning when she was not putting on weight. My wife, despite high education and a logical sound mind, was distraught – to put it mildly – that the calories in the breastmilk wasn’t enough for the baby to gain weight. Now Alika, however, has the best of both worlds, and we can be a bit more flexible how she feeds and hence when we go out while getting the benefits of natural milk. And the father gets involved.

And the male point of view. All my friends I asked about the subject said the same thing as I feel. We’re just happy the baby was born healthy, and however the mother wants to feed it works for us.

At the end of the day, you have to trust a mother’s intuition and needs, wherever this takes the family. After all, us blokes are just there to help and support with a few fingers on the tiller – for the short term.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. mandy permalink
    March 3, 2010 5:53 am

    It seems you have gotten into my shoes and walked around. I’m so – in awe of your perspicacity. And in that I suddenly think – am I demeaning this new father? Don’t mean to. I thnk you are fab. Couple of lucky girls there with their tits out and sucking on…

    xxx

  2. ella permalink
    March 3, 2010 8:02 am

    interesting!

  3. Maria permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:39 am

    Apparently I was breastfed for 3 months but, as I seemed to be hungry all the time, my mother complemented me from day 4. With yoghurt. There was not much formula around in socialist Bulgaria in the early 1970s and what did exist was heavily mistrusted. So my mother was getting milk from the neighbour’s cow and making yoghurt herself (or, rather, my grandmother was). “The real stuff”, said my mother, “not the pseudo-yoghurt they sell in Switzerland”. I have no allergies whatsoever, my IQ is pretty ok and in 10 years of professional life I have called sick only once.

    And the baby book we have says a baby should not be given yoghurt before they are 8 months old.

  4. March 18, 2010 5:03 am

    Don’t knock the mammaries man!

    Actually nothing wrong with cows milk for babies (cow babies that is to say).

    Wasn’t Cleopatra supposed to bathe in asses milk because it was the closest in consistency to human milk? There’s a new growth industry, instead of promoting ass milk beauty creams (google asses milk), how about ass baby formula?

    Actually I do believe that pigs have the closest body type to humans, but I never heard of anyone trying the milk a sow.

    In my experience and going through the 3rd one in the shape of a 15 month granddaughter living with us, some babies have a difficulty in getting the knack, but once they do, then as usual getting them off the tit at weaning time can be a problem. Fact is that poo from mothers milk smells whole lot better then formula poo (something else for the pharms to work on).

    Good blog, keep it up, but some photos please!

    Ciao Tim

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