Fatherhood The First Few Weeks, Part 2

It turns out that breast-feeding, while unquestionably natural, is not quite as simple as I had thought. Part of our problem was that Helen’s milk took a while to come in completely. Immediately following birth, the mother produces just a trickle of sugary milk called colostrum, which satisfies the baby for two or three days. After that, the baby needs a larger quantity of more nutritious milk, which Helen’s body was initially unable to supply.

However, a lot of Henry’s feeding troubles had to do with technique — he was unable to get much benefit from the milk that Helen did produce. There are several mechanical aspects to breast-feeding that influence how much nutrition the infant gets, from the presentation of the breast to how securely the baby latches on to the nipple and areola. Also, mothers must learn to recognize when their babies are sucking productively and when they are merely using the nipple as a pacifier. This was Henry’s favorite way of falling asleep; unfortunately, it often meant going to bed without his supper.

I think the most reassuring aspect of our consultation was the ability to measure how much nourishment Henry actually received when he fed properly. The lactation consultant weighed Henry twice on a digital scale — once before feeding and again at the end of the session. In this way, she determined that he had consumed 14 grams (or roughly half an ounce) of milk during the feeding.

This came as a great relief to us. One of the hardest things about breast-feeding, as opposed to bottle-feeding, is not knowing exactly how much milk your baby is getting.

I think this is a major reason why so many women give up on breast-feeding — it’s difficult enough without having to worry about unintentionally “starving” your baby.

If Helen and I could offer one bit of advice to new mothers who wish to breast-feed their babies, it is simply to ask for help if you need it. Lactation consultants and breast-feeding support groups, like La Leche League, are widely available — use them if you run into problems. The first few weeks are difficult, but it gets easier as time passes. Today, Helen has no trouble producing enough milk to satisfy baby Henry’s voracious appetite, and supplemental formula is no longer necessary. And it shouldn’t be long before the two of them can join me in a good night’s sleep.

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