Breast-feeding – not just for ladies anymore

A top-down guide for bros with babies

June 19, 2013
This little guy is hungry. Time to get started! {Image credit: Nick Stockton}

Listen up, modern dads: There’s more to feeding your baby than shaking a bottle and watching the kid suck it down. It’s about good technique, knowing what’s in the breast milk, and decoding the formula label. Besides, by becoming a master man-nurse, you don’t have to wait to toss the ball around the backyard to start bonding with your child.

“Feeding is part of overall nurturing parenting behavior,” says Dr. Susan Vierczhalek, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Medical Center. Even if the kid isn’t latched directly onto your nipple, regular physical contact at an early age has been shown to help its long-term development. In 2011 the Journal of Human Lactation said dads who become part of the “breastfeeding team” increase their nurturing role in the child’s life early on. The point is, breast-feeding — or, for a man, cribbing it as closely as possible — is a great skill to learn, so here’s some essentials so you can do it right.

Laces out, Dan”

In nursing, form is important. There is no single, ideal breast-feeding pose — all emphasize good body alignment, maximum support, comfort, and a clear airway. Vierchzalek says it’s important look into your baby’s eyes if you want to maximize your bond. Depending on your circumstances, there are four main ways to hold your baby –illustrated here at My personal favorite is the “football” grip.

If you really want to recreate the breast-feeding experience, there’s at least one new technology that can help. That’s right, fake boobs. Mr. Milker is a vest that uses cutting-edge khaki technology to hide sacs of milk or formula and trick your baby into believing that your man-boobs can provide sustenance. Most of all, remember that when you wear Mr. Milker you should avoid being seen in public.

Junior’s body should rest along your forearm, with his head in your palm and his bellybutton aimed at your armpit. Make sure his head, shoulders, and hips are aligned, and you can control the bottle with your free hand. “Have the arms free, and don’t compress the neck,” says Vierchzalek. Also, try to resist the urge to channel surf; this is supposed to be about bonding, so stroke the kid’s hair and meditate on the thousands of generations that carried your DNA to you and your child.

For whom the dinner bell tolls

Feeding your child isn’t like being a volunteer firefighter: You shouldn’t wait for the alarms to go off before you douse the flame. If your baby is consistently crying each time before you feed her, then you are waiting too long between meals.

After the first few weeks, babies drinking breast milk will need to feed every 1 ½ to 3 hours, and formula babies at slightly longer intervals, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

I’ve got nipples Greg, can you milk me?”

If you are anything like me, you are probably thinking that having a baby is the perfect opportunity to see if you can make milk yourself. Technically, the answer is yes. With some medication, different hormones, and enough stimulation, it’s theoretically possible for a man to lactate, according to Dr. Vierzchalek.

Wait. Did she say stimulation? That’s right, you’d probably have to spend two to three uncomfortable weeks regularly tweaking your nipples, which would signal your body to make prolactin, the milk-producing hormone.

Don’t start tweaking those nipples yet, Focker. Even though Dr. Vierczhalek suspects that man-milk would have the same balance of calories and nutrients as a woman’s, there’s never been any serious research to back this up.

For those turbulent early days, the AAP recommends feeding the baby soon after it wakes up. Eventually, its feeding schedule will become more predictable and slow down. And even before they start talking, babies will communicate their hunger. “They may make little smacking motions with their lips,” or cooing noises, says Dr. Vierchzalek. If you are paying attention, she says, you’ll become attuned to your baby’s signals long before the kid starts whining about Happy Meals.

Pump out the jams

Most experts agree that breast milk is the best milk. If your baby’s mama is able to produce milk on her own, you should fill up your bottles with breast milk she has pumped and stored. Bags of breast milk will last around three to five days in the fridge, or up to six months in the freezer (my sister keeps hers between the fish sticks and the popsicles). Dr. Vierczhalek emphatically warns against using the microwave to warm bottles, as that could create scalding pockets within the milk. The APP recommends putting the bag of milk in a bowl of cool water to thaw it, then running it under warm water to bring the temperature up around 98 degrees. Finally, to keep the bad bacteria out, don’t leave the warmed milk out for longer than two hours before feeding the baby.

A formula for success

Breast milk is the best milk, but sometimes getting the natural stuff just isn’t in the cards. You may be tempted to whip up your own recipe for your kid, but Marianna Naum with the Food and Drug Administration advises against it. “Errors in selecting and combining ingredients for homemade formula can have serious consequences affecting the nutrition and overall well-being of the infant.” Rely instead on the manufactured stuff, she says.

Ever since 1838, when a German scientist first compared human milk to cow’s milk, researchers have been trying to develop a suitable alternative to breast milk. No matter how much research they do, food scientists are unlikely to ever create a formula that replaces breast milk. “Every mammalian species produces a milk that’s uniquely tailored to the needs of its species, says Dr. Vierchzalek. Human breast milk is notoriously complex and its precise combinations of hormones, nutrients, antibodies, enzymes and cell types are impossible to duplicate. Therefore, formula developers have historically focused on growth and developmental outcomes, rather than trying to outdo or match all the subtle ways human milk helps babies.

Yes we can!

Whether it’s mother’s milk or a substitution smoothie, knowing what’s in the bottle is a good way to become more engaged with your kid’s long-term health. Being a new parent is full of unknowns, and can be stressful, but Dr. Vierzchalek recommends you relax and enjoy the experience of parenting. “As doctors, we try not to make too many rules.” She says it’s most important to pay attention to your baby, look for cues, and let your child’s development guide the transitions from breast to bottle to baby food. Society is starting to accept the notion of dads as primary caretakers, and with a little patience, care and persistence you can show the world that breast-feeding is a man’s job, too.

About the Author

Nick Stockton

Nick Stockton decided at the age of six that he wanted to be a paleontologist. Like many heartfelt decisions made at that age, he did not follow through. Instead, he filled the dinosaur-sized hole in his life with submarine rides, bicycle trips, and many fine days in the woods. He earned his degree in geography from Portland State University, and until recently has been a lifelong resident of various locales in the great Western states.


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