As I left them today with plans to see them next week, I knew absolutely that the dad was holding them all together. I am not doubting the determination or commitment of that brand new mother recovering from her difficult birth and finding life was tough but that father - of only a few days - had precisely the strength that his new family needed.
He sat quietly while she described her experiences and her perception of what was going wrong, he gently prompted and corrected when it was appropriate to do so and all the time he gave off this force that said, "I know we can do this. I know this is the best thing. We are going to make this work." He actually said out loud, "We believe in this."
At one point mum was concerned she might not be able to go on and he said softly, "the low point was two nights ago. You've come really far since then. Things are getting better" and he explained how. And she said, "Yeah, you're right" and calmed immediately.
He praised her without being sappy. He took the baby to calm him at just the right moments. He listened carefully to what was discussed because he knew he was part of this breastfeeding thing too.
He knew that in the middle of the night, when she felt she just couldn't cope, it mattered that he'd paid attention to the right positioning and latching. Not least because sometimes it really helps to have that second pair of eyes looking from a different angle and observing whole body position.
Let's just assume for practical purposes that this bloke must be a prat in other ways as no one could be that perfect - however he absolutely knew how to be a breastfeeding dad.
And I see a lot of dads like that.
It's surprisingly often that it's dad who calls the National Breastfeeding Helpline. It's clear something wasn't going right and for whatever reason mum couldn't face making that call. So dad does and almost always manages to get mum on the phone in the end.
And it's dads who research where the breastfeeding groups are, phone the lactation consultants, get the troops lined up when things aren't going well. They give mum the space she needs and over and over again manage to manouver the support just when it's needed. Yes, sure, some of that is because men like to try and solve problems. They see a difficulty and want to fix it in the face of feeling somewhat helpless. But these same 'helpless men' come to consultations and express their worries while empowering and supporting their wives at the same time. It's a subtle and impressive skill. Especially when you're sleep-deprived.
Dads use some of that diplomacy even when things are going well with breastfeeding. Most new parents today weren't breastfed themselves as infants in the 1970s and 1980s. We are the generation of the formula-feeding grannies. Some of those older women become awesome champions of breastfeeding and some struggle to witness something they don't understand. The dads are the knights at the gatehouse - letting through only the right support. They act as the barrier between new mum and mother-in-law who might not know when to step back. They make sure that the new mum and baby can make the nest they need to.
My own husband, who is a chump in about half a dozen different ways, was one of these champions of breastfeeding. It was something he knew nothing about it. But he trusted me. Not for a moment did he doubt my instincts or my drive to try and get this right. When things weren't always straight-forward, he was able to help me find solutions without ever leaving me feeling disempowered. He knew nothing of breastfeeding through pregnancy or feeding older children but he trusted me. He never questioned me or doubted me. He knew exactly when to step in and step back. And it's something I can never thank him enough for. I know it was largely down to his support that I felt able to train as a breastfeeding counsellor and then qualify eventually as a lactation consultant.
And I know that in a few years time, the mother I supported today will feel the same way about her husband.
Most mums won't end their breastfeeding careers as lactation consultants but that same feeling of support will get them through their own challenges.
Breastfeeding dads might be good at nappies and burping and baths and making sandwiches and passing the remote control but that's a tiny slice of what they can do. They can provide a bedrock where a new mother learns how she wants to be a new mother and where breastfeeding can flourish.
"You may be worried about breastfeeding and worried that it might ‘not work’. This is a common feeling when you live in a society where breastfeeding is often sabotaged by incorrect information, patchy support from a stretched health service and powerful messages from formula companies. But it’s not a feeling that is entirely logical. We are mammals. We get our name from the dangly milk-producing bits. It defines us.
This book aims to make you as well-prepared as possible. I would like you to breastfeed for as long as you want to and as happily as possible. I want you to feel supported.
Some of this new life with baby will be about flexibility, responsiveness and acceptance. If you are used to a world of schedules and decisions and goals, it may be a bit of a shock. Learn about human biology before you think it sounds a bit too scary! Babies are the products of millions of years of evolution, and we are too; if we can just tap into our instincts and trust them a little bit.
Success comes when we tap into those instincts and when we know when to get help when our instincts aren’t answering all of our questions.
Can everyone who wants to breastfeed make it work? No. Not everyone may be able to exclusively breastfeed due to medical issues. Most of these people can give their baby breastmilk, though, which the book also covers. (And let’s not start this journey by imagining you’ll be someone who won’t make it...!)"