Dads Optimize Breastfeeding With Love

Center for Research About Paternal Issues (CRAPI)
A father centric journal in a mother centric world to help new families soar.  Our observational study consists of three decades of helping new moms and dads build their families. 

While new moms are consumed with caring for their baby, new fathers are searching for ways to get off the sidelines. The challenges moms face with breastfeeding present dads with a unique opportunity to get into the game from the outset and score big with the new mom in his life, his child and his family.

Breastfeeding is natural and easy for only about one-third of new mothers; another third experience hurdles they can get through with help, and the final third experience major problems and are most likely to quit. Odds are Mom can seriously use Dad’s help and, if so, it’s right when she is also getting to know this new dad in her life.

Dad’s support starts within an hour after birth when Mom first attempts to get a good “latch” with her baby. Next to birth, breastfeeding is the ultimate act of motherhood, and new moms judge themselves on their success. With her hungry, crying baby in her arms, initial failure can quickly lead to frustration and feelings of shame, guilt and even panic. She will likely tense up, which inhibits her letdown reflex and milk flow, adding yet another challenge. 

“Today, my daughter wasn’t taking the nipple shield, and she shrieked for 30 plus minutes before we finally got her fed and it reduced my wife to a sobbing mess.”  d, one day in

– New Dad, one day in

Next to birth, this is when moms need Dad most. Simple things like taking notes of what the lactation consultant says shows her she can count on him to make it work. If he knows to do this, he will.

While she still loves him, a new dad is biologically dumped by Mom after birth. Dad delivering for her during her vulnerable early days as a mother will anchor her new perspective of him as dad and partner and put him on a solid track to recapture her heart. It both shows his love for her and her baby and reflects teamwork of the one-third of new parents whose relationships are strengthened. Nothing is better for their child. The alternative for Dad is to feel left out, frustrated, excluded and jealous of Mom’s bond with “her” baby.


Initial Observational Study

After watching my mother breastfeed nine brothers and sisters (total of 12), I knew what to do when my wife had problems with our first child in 1981: Do not let her struggle alone and help her figure it out.

I helped her position our son for a good latch (my mom’s babies had a lot of her breast in their mouth), took and calmed him when he cried, and used my thumb as a pacifier (our OB showed me how and took this picture). I also told my wife she was the most wonderful mother in the world, and she was – the look on her face as she struggled displayed how being a mom was already baked into her. Her immediate and absolute commitment to our baby was striking.

My wife breastfed our four children for a year each and showed the great value in breastfeeding—her deep, satisfying feeling of being a mom who takes great care of her baby. She remembers her early days of breastfeeding like yesterday and has a visceral reaction of appreciation when she does – for me.

Findings: The impact of Dad knowing what to do regarding breastfeeding—in terms of his baby, Mom, and family—and the correlated lifelong points a new dad can score are immeasurable. 


30 Year Observational Study

Breastfeeding has been a core issue at Boot Camp for New Dads since 1990. The first workshop included “don’t let her struggle alone” and our “veteran” new dads for sharing their insights with “rookie” dads-to-be. Our Boot Camp for New Moms indicated many moms suffer from problems with breastfeeding, which enhanced its priority for our dads. The exchange between our dads at Boot Camp has been consistent over three decades; when our veterans describe their experience, all talk in terms of we—as in “we are in this together.” We extended fathers’ birth coach role to breastfeeding so Dad nails it from the outset, and Mom gets what she needs (we call it cornerman as he has a fighter in the ring).

Once Dad helps her and she shows any appreciation, he feels needed and becomes passionate on supporting her, and it’s an upward spiral. Like other big challenges a man takes on, once he does something right and starts feeling competent, he’s all in. Doing it for the new mom and baby in his life, at the beginning of his formative months as Dad, deeply embeds a new and very rewarding feeling in his new daddy brain.

Latching is a perfect initial issue because it’s like a simple plumbing problem; you need to properly seat the portable pump (i.e., baby), so your baby’s lips and gums squeeze the milk ducts in her breast to get the milk (versus trying to suck it out of her nipple). Helping Mom gets him invested for the long term.

Moving to the bottle is a momentous event for dad. Mom gets 2 hours of sleep versus 2, which is way better than 2+2, and she can go out without the baby and start getting some of her life back. Dad gets to take care of his baby on his own and the two of them can get out in world together where they develop their special relationship. He can get what dads report as the mystical experience of holding and feeding their babies when totally alone together in the middle of the night. He does not feel left out. 

“When I was falling apart due to utter exhaustion, he would take the baby and tell me to get a nap. He always had a bottle of breastmilk on hand.”

      -New mom, one month in

Findings: For a new mom to feel Dad has her back, nothing tops teamwork in breastfeeding. This can occur just as her formative months as a mom start, and profoundly impact her new perspective of him as Dad. Short of having lots of younger siblings, a dad-to-be can learn what to do from other dads who did it and getting educated on breastfeeding. Once he does, he will do it.


Cornerman’s Guide To Breastfeeding

We curated our information on breastfeeding, collaborated with one Boot Camp sponsoring hospital’s breastfeeding leadership and created an online resource for new dads. Our objective was to inform Dad on what to do to support Mom in breastfeeding, reduce Mom’s stress and enhance their relationship as best practices for their baby and family. The site is optimized for dad’s phone, free, has no advertising, and will continually be upgraded. 

Future Research: Assess the impact of the new site on breastfeeding rates at partner hospitals.


Best Practices for Fathers on Breastfeeding

An assessment of research across the world for ideas indicated strong interest among researchers and a common theme of informing men becoming fathers, but no consensus on how. Three papers stuck out:

  • This review of impactful dad factors in breastfeeding included a committed relationship between mom and dad as a factor along with his knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, attendance at classes, sense of control, and sociodemographic status. Except for the later, we suggest the others are driven by their relationship along with dad knowing what to do. The relationship is routinely ignored in research on new parents despite being the key factor in their success.
  • A 2008 intervention telling dads to do more housework to increase breastfeeding backfired; moms reduced their breastfeeding. The authors suggested it was a cultural issue; dads work just as hard as moms for their families and this would not work for new parents in any culture. A respectful approach would be to equip dads to help moms handle breastfeeding problems from the beginning.

To refine our Cornerman’s Guide to Breastfeeding, we will request ideas for enhancing the content from our experts, the new moms and dads who participate in our Boot Camps. An initial question – What did you appreciate most about dad regarding breastfeeding? – will be posed to moms. A next step may be working with our partner hospital’s OB nurses and lactation consultants on best practices for assisting new dads in supporting moms with breastfeeding.

By Greg Bishop
Founder, Boot Camp for New Dads

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