What dads can learn from a breastfeeding class

Kevin Phillips/Sun Star Contributor
Dec. 10, 2013

Breastfeeding class. Sounds like a class only for expecting mothers right? You’re a guy. You understand why you should attend a car seat installation class, a Lamaze class and a parenting class to help you be a successful first-time parent. But a breastfeeding class? C’mon what could a guy possibly need to know about breastfeeding? The answer turns out to be -– a lot.

La Leche League is an international non-profit organization that aims to help parents better understand the importance of breastfeeding their children through encouragement, information and peer support groups.

A Fairbanks branch of La Leche League has monthly clinics where UAF dads-to-be can learn the importance of breastfeeding their children as well as important facts about a baby’s health and dietary needs.

Your wife signed you up for the class. You agreed but figured you’d find a way to weasel out of it later. Now you find yourself walking into a room on the 4th floor of the Tanana Valley Clinic downtown. You’re hoping that at least one other guy is there.  You’re shocked, and a little relieved, to see four other guys already in the room. In fact only three women are there without their significant others. You start to think there may be something of importance to learn at this class after all. Three women at the front of the class are holding lifelike newborn dolls. According to the LLL Leaders, Sommer, Jessica, and Mary, studies on breastfeeding show it is much more beneficial to a child’s health than formula, and getting a newborn started on breastfeeding immediately is very important.

Early breast milk is “liquid gold” for your newborn. Known as colostrum, the thick yellow milk that a mother produces during pregnancy and just after birth, is rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect the baby. Getting this colostrum to the baby as quickly as possible is extremely important.

Breast milk, unlike formula, changes as your baby grows. It is tailor-made to the individual child, giving her just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein the baby needs.

The nutrients and antibodies that a mother’s breast milk provides help to combat illness better than formula. Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk for respiratory infections, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and even leukemia.

The LLL Leaders also stress the importance of immediate skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn. They advise informing her doctor a birth plan, so unless the newborn needs to be removed for medical attention, the newborn should be placed immediately on the mother’s exposed chest.

Skin-to-skin contact helps the newborn in a variety of ways. It is warmer than being placed in a blanket, it is more calming, it allows him to hear his mother’s heartbeat, and it begins a natural process that leads the baby to find the breast and begin feeding for the first time.

“Skin-to-skin contact helps secure the bond between the infant and the mother,” says Sommer Proden, WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. “The baby is also covered in amniotic fluids that it spreads over its mothers chest. These are the same fluids that the baby has been eating for months and is familiar with. When it gets this on the mother’s breast it will be more likely to latch because of the familiarity of the taste.”

But what does all of this mean for dads? In what ways can the father be involved in breastfeeding?

“The biggest role a dad can play is to be supportive,” says Jessica Harper, certified lactation consultant at the Resource Center for Parents and Children. “You can also help redirect visitors when it’s feeding time for baby if mom isn’t comfortable nursing around them, give mom encouraging words, and offer to help with other parenting duties such as bathing, diaper changes, burping and holding baby while mom naps.

“Dads can also help nurture the baby with skin-to-skin contact,” says Sommer. “In the case of twins, mom may only be able to nurse one baby at a time. Skin-to-skin contact is still beneficial to forming attachments with newborns. As a dad you can be the ‘non-nutritional nurturer.’”

The La Leche League of Fairbanks hosts free clinics on the fourth floor of the clinic, every second Wednesday, third Tuesday, and the fourth Monday of every month. Classes are by reservation only, and they fill up fast. Call 907-378-2080 for reservations.

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