MYTH BUSTED: The useless nipple

Men feel left out of the breastfeeding process, but they need not be.

There is a myth of the exhausted mother who looks over to her partner, who is sleeping soundly, while she is breastfeeding and thinks he is a useless nipple. Although this is funny and there is some truth in it, I don’t think that it is fair.

I believe that a breastfeeding mother’s partner is vital. He may not be able to use his nipple to feed the baby but his support is worth so much more! As a lactation consultant, I have seen how important fathers are in supporting and helping with breastfeeding.

The dad is often the one to say: “We need help”.  I get many phone calls from worried dads asking for help. Moms have been taught to bite through the pain and self-doubt while the father realises that more support or help is needed. They often insist on help and make sure that their partner gets it. I believe that this is because he cares and can see how much his partner is struggling.

In my consults, I have seen how the fathers may feel unwelcome. They usually hang around on the periphery and listen to what is being said. They want to be a part of the conversation but are not sure how to be. I have also been part of the opposite. I have had fathers that have so many questions that my head starts to spin. I love to include the fathers as much as possible because I do believe that they are genuinely interested and want to know more.

When I think about what a wonderful help a father can be, I remember a specific consult. The mother was in a lot of pain due to her caesarean section. She was not very mobile and moving (even a little) would result in shooting pain. Her husband phoned me and asked for an immediate consultation. He met me at the gate and started with a million questions. By the time I got to the mom and baby, I had a good understanding of the difficulties that the mom had had. When it was time to latch the baby, the father naturally helped. He held the baby in a good position for latching and kept checking that his wife was comfortable. He got pillows and blankets to make it easier, he stayed holding his baby to help her. It was so special to see and to be a part of such a caring moment.

Other stories that my clients have told me are: How their partner has placed snacks all around the baby’s room so that she will never be hungry. How he has made sure that she always has something to drink while she was feeding. How he insists on bathing the baby so mom can take a bath or have a rest. How he sterilises the breast pump parts or how he helps out with the night feed of expressed breast milk so that she can get a few extra hours of sleep.

Traditionally fathers have been excluded. It was not so long ago that fathers were made to wait in a cold corridor while their wives laboured and gave birth. I think that the truth is that dads do want to be involved and we need to let them. research has found that women are more likely to succeed in breastfeeding if they have a supportive and knowledgeable partner. By including fathers in antenatal programs and making them feel welcome and comfortable with breastfeeding we may very well change our breastfeeding experiences and duration how long mothers breastfeed for.

Dads are true support for a breastfeeding mom. They are helping more and more with their babies. Dads are our strongest ally. We need to make sure that they are included in breastfeeding. A suggestion to help men learn more is to have a work-based parent support program that includes fathers in breastfeeding education, recognising that a father plays an important role in parenting and allowing space for fathers to learn and become more involved without shaming and using discriminatory language.


buying a breast pump

  • Registered Dietitian
  • M(Msc)
  • Certified Lactation consultant
  • I became a dietitian because of my interest in breastfeeding and nutrition. However, only when I had my two children both prematurely did, I realise how much help and support mother’s needs. No textbook can prepare you for NICU. My breastfeeding experience with my children is why I became a lactation consultant. I now help mothers in their homes with breastfeeding issues. Another of my dreams was to establish My Breastpump. My Breastpump was created to supply mothers with affordable, quality, hygienic and comfortable breast pumps. This desire came from my struggles in finding a breast pump that worked for me. While overseas I learnt about the Ameda brand of breast pumps which is internationally recognised as a leading breast pump in technology and focus on mothers. My Breastpump hires out closed system hospital-grade pumps and supplies personal pumps and accessories. To learn more about My Breastpump go to www.mybreastpump.co.za

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