I am currently reading an excellent, well researched book called Sweet Sleep written about the internal controversy among breastfeeding experts, physicians, public health and all those with an interest in the safety and well-being of children regarding recommendations for bedsharing and the well publicized risks of SIDS. I will write in the future regarding this controversy, however it was something else written in this book that got me thinking about language missing. The word father doesn’t exist in this book.
I see a variety of language used regarding those who support the breastfeeding mother and baby. During my breastfeeding classes I always want to be a proponent of healthy families and promote breastfeeding within all kinds of diverse family units. I invite every mother I teach to bring a support person. Research states that babies with supportive grandmothers and fathers have greater breastfeeding success. A 2013 article in the highly regarded Journal of Human Lactation states informal sources of support, particularly the male partner, have more influence on breastfeeding behaviors than formal support from health care providers.
In my classes I use the word partner, but I use the word dad and father, too. I know also that some mothers-to-be have neither in a supportive role. A safe and stable family unit that is composed of responsible and loving adults is where children thrive. Yet using words like “champion” and even partner for those supporting the breastfeeding couple is almost an insult to many and to someone I highly esteem and give much credit for my breastfeeding success, my husband and my children’s father.
During my many years of work in public health for the WIC (Women, Infant and Children supplemental food program), I have had a handful of fathers who ask what about them. I am not sure they are asking for a food package, but for support, education, or maybe just acknowledgement that their place as fathers is not forgotten. Of course, I explained the purpose of the program and why the target population is women and children, but I too wonder where do fathers get support to be GREAT fathers.
Being a father is not the same as fathering a child. Any child who is adopted may have two or just one, but I want to encourage fatherhood in any form. I just don’t want to ignore the importance of that male role. Every new child is unique and so is every family and family situation. When I go into a home to help with breastfeeding, my job is to encourage success not just in feeding, but parenting. My language can make a impact, sometimes however being too careful can also have negative consequences.