When I had my first child, it was really important to me to breastfeed her. I thought all this was going out the window when I discovered at 35 weeks we would have to deliver her early and she would spend a few weeks in the Special Nursery. I discovered that actually, the hospital had wonderful staff to encourage me to express milk until my bub was able to come off the tube-feeding, and we learned together how to get this milk party started!
Then, we took our tiny 2kg baby home and the job of fattening her up began (she was so tiny she had no bum-cheeks, let alone face cheeks!). It was my job for the foreseeable future to feed her as much as possible. With her tiny mouth, breastfeeds lasted an hour to an hour and a half, followed by expressing milk to boost my supply and store in the freezer so we could give her a breastmilk-bottle chaser, which could take half an hour. Then it was sterilising time and let’s start all over again.
Yes it was hard work, yes I felt like I had morphed into a cow and yes there were times I felt like giving up (especially when I kept getting nipple thrush from the nipple shields I had to wear because her mouth was too small, and having her feed from me was excruciatingly painful). And I daresay I would have given up if it wasn’t for a very special man – my husband.
Before she arrived he had already planned to take 3 months off to get to know her and to make the transition for our little family better. He took a mix of his holiday leave and unpaid leave. Just to clarify, we are not financially well off, far from it, yet we decided this was a good use of our resources.
He knew that he could play an essential role in our family’s wellbeing by being there. He was the one who fed me, reminded me to drink water, would take bub from me if I needed to sleep, would be there to talk to and learn how to do this thing called ‘parenting’ with, and would simply be there with me during those early and very foggy weeks. He loved getting to know his little girl and generally getting our family dynamics started in the most positive way that we could.
He had decided all of this before our birth plans went awry (we had planned a calmbirth, not a Caesar; we had planned skin-to-skin contact immediately, not 3.5 weeks in the NICU), because he knew it would be good for me and because he was willing to offer help – and I was willing to accept it. Without his help I doubt I would have breastfed her for so long (18 months) and would still be breastfeeding her little sister now (at over two years old).
Many times we discussed how much harder it was learning how to parent than going back to paid work, and we thought that maybe men rush back to work as quickly as possible because of this. Also, many women say “I’ll be fine” when really they need help they’re not even aware of yet. I know it’s not possible for everyone to take 3 months off, but I do think it’s possible for many couples to re-work their work and financial responsibilities so that the man feels it’s OK to take more than a week off. Our culture also needs to promote this as a good idea – if we really adopt the attitude of ‘teamwork’ when it comes to parenting, I believe the rates of PND would drop and the rates of breastfeeding would increase, and the transition from two to three would generally be easier.
Jacqui Manning is a Sydney based Mum of two and is known as ‘The friendly psychologist’ by the media – she’s a consultant psychologist for a number of publications and a regular TV guest.
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