I’m a woman, a mom, and I breastfed my baby. It was one of the most precious experiences of parenthood, one you might think you’re doomed to miss out on.
Surprise: Men can breastfeed, too!
Skip the milk for a minute. There are more than a few anthropologists out there who will tell you about populations where men “give nipple” to help their babies relax. Suckling is one of the most comforting actions a child can perform. It’s what makes the pacifier ubiquitous and the bottle a success. Babies instinctively look for comfort by suckling.
Being a two-dad family doesn’t mean you can’t let your little one suckle. If that’s what keeps him calm, give it a shot. Some dads aren’t comfortable with the idea of offering a nipple to a baby, or are afraid of the public reaction. You can still help them get that sensation of suckling by trimming your fingernails carefully and keeping your hands very clean, so that when little one looks to suckle, you can offer your finger as an option. But don’t try this after the first few months: When those little teeth come in, they hurt!
Any human can suckle a child. What the vast majority of men can’t do is make milk. Some transgendered fathers can and do breastfeed, and have even carried their own babies to term. Trevor MacDonald is a transdad who was able to breastfeed, but most gay fathers aren’t so lucky.
If you’d like to suckle-feed your child, look into supplemental nursing systems. They don’t look pretty, but they do allow you to provide your child with sustenance and suckling directly from you. Many of the dads I know aren’t comfortable with that idea, but babies suckling from their dads is something that happens in many cultures around the world. The Aka tribe in Africa is a good example; often hailed as the best parenting culture, one of the factors that sets them apart is that the men take young infants with them on hunts, offer them the chance to suckle when they are fussy or tired, and do the bulk of child-rearing tasks.
Western Breastfeeding Options for Dads
A few weeks ago, Dr. Tafadzwa Kasambira published an article here on Gays With Kids that explored the options for fathers who want to breastfeed their children. Breastfeeding is often the healthiest option, and breast milk is less of a controversial topic than it was a few years ago. In some European countries, breast milk ice cream is on the menu (for the kids, of course). So why can’t two gay fathers get good milk for their child?
As Dr. Kasambira mentioned, breast milk from donors is an expensive option. It’s regulated carefully, needs to be stored with extreme care, and women have to pass rigorous tests to donate. When my son was born, I wasn’t making milk at first, despite being female – it took almost a week before my milk came in and the lactation consultants at the hospital where I delivered were pushing me to stop trying. I knew breast milk was best, so I forked over $40 an ounce for my son’s milk for the first few days. A small fortune that helped him to grow into a strong, rambunctious, and largely healthy little boy. And luckily, an expense my insurance helped to cover.
Breastfeeding isn’t just about suckling, providing better nutrition, or “keeping it natural.” Breast milk is fully customizable. It’s the only liquid on the planet that adjusts automatically to meet your child’s needs and optimize their health, through chemical communication between the child’s saliva and the milk-producing breast. That was what kept me breastfeeding, even in the toughest moments. If you can arrange a wet nurse agreement with someone on Milkshare, Human Milk 4 Human Babies, or a similar network, with a mother who is in great health, doesn’t smoke, drink, or guzzle coffee, and has current lab work in hand that proves her health, you’ve found a unicorn, especially if she agrees to nurse your child exclusively and pumps when not physically present.
In recent years, many women have offered their wet nursing services for a price. That’s illegal, and if someone approaches you with that option, don’t accept it. Breast milk cannot be legally sold on private markets in most countries, the United States included.
And yet, wet nursing is the healthiest option for your child. As a concerned parent (or dad-to-be), chances are that you’re aware of breast milk’s benefits, want your baby breastfed, and would love to find a wet nurse. If you can, that’s excellent, and congrats. If you can’t, relax. Finding the right match can be almost impossible.
Exploring Other Breastfeeding Options
Don’t get upset if wet nursing isn’t an option in your area, or if donor milk banks are out of budget. There are other choices. Think outside the box, and you might be surprised by the possibilities that arise.
If your baby was born with the help of a surrogate, you might be able to arrange a breastfeeding agreement with her. In some adoption cases, this happens, too.
There are ways to overcome the high cost of purchasing milk from nonprofit milk banks at prices ranging from $4 to $40 or more per ounce. Not every solution will work for every family, but the effort itself is worthwhile.
What About Formula?
Breast is best, as any La Leche League International rep will gladly tell you. When you can’t breastfeed, the reality can be crushing. You might feel like you’ve failed your child from the start.
Formula isn’t evil, and for a large number of families, it’s the norm. You aren’t failing anyone if you formula-feed; especially if you’ve tried your hardest to create a breastfeeding arrangement for your child.
I’ve seen too many parents try to do everything perfectly, from choosing the best seats, play mats, cribs, toys, clothes, and milk donors to teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown when an emergency supplementation with formula milk is necessary because the last pouch of donor milk was left out for a few hours.
Give yourself a break. You’re a dad, and that’s a tough job. You love your baby, and you’re doing the best you can to provide for the needs of your tiny bundle of joy. That’s what counts.
Just keep something in mind: I’m not a doctor, and none of the information in this article is intended to provide medical advice. I do however, love to read, have an obsession with keeping my kid healthy, and know what it’s like to deal with milk problems.
Congratulations on becoming a father, and if there are any questions you’d like a mom’s word on, let me know. I’m happy to answer.
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