If you've read the rest of this website, you know just how important I feel breastfeeding is for both mother and child, but what about the father? Did you know fathers can breastfeed as well?
Women and men have exactly the same physical apparatus for making milk, it's just that the mother's milk glands might be slightly larger. Women often ask me, "Can I make enough milk for my baby if I have small breasts?" They think that size has something to do with production. But I am happy to be able to tell women that the amount of milk they produce has to do with how much the baby sucks at the breast, not with size. This goes for the man as well.
When a baby suckles at the breast, hormones are produced which cause milk production to increase. The more the baby sucks, the more milk is made. Your body responds to what the baby needs. If the baby steps up the amount of time it is spending at the breast, the body figures the baby is growing and needs more milk, so it makes more. As simple as that. All a man has to do to get his breasts to produce milk is to let the baby suck at them.
Pregnancy is not a pre-requisite for making milk. Many women who adopt babies have a desire to breastfeed them and are successful in creating milk by this simple method of letting the baby suck. If a woman who has not been pregnant can get her breasts to make milk, so can a man.
Why would he want to? many people ask. Well, the primary reason that men have desired this is because of expediency. In ancient times, before there was formula, a woman breastfed her baby, or if the woman died, a wet nurse was found to suckle the child until it was grown. But what if a man and his wife were on a journey and the wife died, out in the middle of no where - how would the child survive? There have been recorded historical accounts of the man simply picking up where the wife left off, and with great success.
On November 1, 2002 a news story was published about a man in Sri Lanka, Mr. B. Wijeratne, who began breastfeeding his daughter after the death of his wife. He tried to feed the baby powdered milk, but the baby would not accept it. In desperation he simply put his daughter to his own breast, and she began to nurse. Click Here to see the article.
David Livingstone, the traveler and explorer, notes an instance in Scotland of the male breast yielding milk. In this particular circumstance, a man's wife had been put to death, and in his extreme desperation the man put his son to his breast. To his surprise, the man found that his breast produced the needed milk (1).
See Laura Shanley's page Milkmen: Father's Who Breastfeed
Why do people feel this is so unusual? It has been done since ancient times. Even the Bible speaks of it:
Numbers 11:12 "Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?"
Obviously, a nursing father is a sight that must have been at least occasionally seen during those times or else there would have been no point to the metaphor Moses was trying to construct.
Isaiah 49:23 "And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me."
Sharing the breastfeeding of a child is a wonderful way for mother, father and child to nurture their shared relationship. According to the above passage, it was good enough for kings and queens. When a woman exclusively breastfeeds a child, often the father will feel left out, and begin to resent the close relationship of the mother and baby. Even when a father does not participate in the actual breastfeeding act, he is still very important to the breastfeeding relationship. A woman cannot properly enjoy and nurture her child if she feels the father is resentful of the time and attention she gives the baby.
Fathers, when you bring a child into this world, you agree to put that child's needs first above your own. That means one of two things. You can allow your wife to breastfeed and nurture the child without any reservations, recognizing that the meeting of your child's needs in a sensitive and timely manner is pivotal to his or her normal emotional development. Or, you can share the breastfeeding and nurturing responsibilities with your wife, and give your child the benefit of both a male and female attachment role model.
In either case, I hope men breastfeeding will catch on all over again. It has taken some time for breastfeeding to once again attain a favored status among mothers, and it seems our society is still a bit backward about the acceptance of women nursing in public. Even in their own homes, some women feel it necessary to cover up when nursing. Perhaps when courageous men and women begin to step out of the darkness and nurse in the light of day for all to see, it will finally, once and for all become the preferred infant feeding solution, and not something we need cover up by hiding behinds privacy drapes and in public restrooms.
Here's one more verse: "One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow" (Job 21:24). In this verse, breasts full of milk signify good health and full strength. Men, how is YOUR strength?
1. Livingstone, David. (1858). Travels and Researches in South Africa. New York: Harper Row, p. 141.
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