Dad Files: What Happens When You’re Done Breastfeeding, But Your Wife Isn’t

Steve’s wife is so done with breastfeeding—or so he thought.

The second time my wife developed mastitis, an infection related to breastfeeding, she sat there shivering on the couch, feverish and chilled, swearing repeatedly, “That’s it. I am so done! I’m weaning. Done. No more breastfeeding.”

I greeted the news cautiously, but after my wife spent the majority of the next 15 minutes dropping “f” bombs on the entire notion of breastfeeding, I chimed in.

“Do you mean it?” I asked. “Are you really done?”

“Hell yes,” she said. “I am sooo done.”

“Good,” I told her, “because I’m done, too.”

At the time, I believed she might actually have reached her breaking point. Her first bout with mastitis necessitated a four-day hospital stay; for months, she endured cracked and bleeding nipples and a stabbing pain that radiated across her entire breast. Every so often, if a few days passed without my seeing her grimace, I’d ask if the pain subsided.

“No,” she’d say, “I’m still waiting for the good part.”

Of course, my wife chose to breastfeed because of the notable health benefits. But the “good part” held real, emotional allure: the bonding between mother and, in her case, twin sons; the joyful moments when the babies would look up at her and smile as they fed, milk dribbling down their precious chins. But now, her teeth chattering, the good part seemed a mere phantasm. And many of those studies on the health benefits associated with breastfeeding looked at children, like our boys, who had been breastfed for six months.

“Enough,” my wife said, “is enough.”

She seemed unequivocal. But even as I walked to the drugstore to pick up an antibiotic to fight her latest infection, I figured she’d probably change her mind. And sure enough, a couple of days later she started hedging.

“Have you talked to your lactation consultant about weaning?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“What did she say?” I asked, afraid of her answer.

“She asked me if quitting breastfeeding is a decision I should be making at such a stressful time,” she replied.

My wife is usually expansive, elaborating on her answers in anticipation of any further questions. But now she was tight-lipped, like a hostile witness before a Senate committee.

“Did you say anything to her?” I prodded.

Lisa turned red. Her voice dropped several octaves. “I said I’d call back in a few days,” she admitted.

Now, I’d heard what it was like to attend a breastfeeding support-group meeting with this consultant. She led a discussion among all the moms in the room. And each woman who felt so inclined told her story and shared her problems. Invariably, some of the women there were encountering complications severe enough that they had to supplement their breastfeeding sessions with a bottle. Each time, those women received warm support from the entire group. But often, some woman had “made the transition,” successfully negotiating all the pitfalls of breastfeeding so that she could eliminate bottles entirely. And those women? Well, they received a big round of applause.

I started thinking of those support meetings as cultish. And I imagined this consultant, a woman I’ve never met, sitting in front of a big, colorful mural of a giant boob, the nipple dotted with milk, as cherubim circle around the areola, ready to feed. I mean, doing the best you can deserves support. But a woman resorts to a bottle—well, they’re not really applause worthy, are they?

A few days later, my wife explained that she was going to quit breastfeeding. Not now. And not in a month.

“I’m going to go as long as I can,” she said.

Now, I was of course plainly on the record as being done. And unlike my wife, I’d undergone no subsequent change of heart. So where did this leave me? Well, it left me just another guy with a list of grievances. My wife had become a Breast Nazi to a great enough degree that after I gave her this column to read she swore I got it all wrong. Pretty much. So, know that. But hey, they’re her boobs. And this is my column. So there.

What are my grievances?

Well, I could tell you that because she breastfeeds we don’t ever know how much food our boys are getting, and this can raise questions at naptime and every time we get them weighed. I could tell you breastfed babies wake more often in the night, meaning the whole thing with the breasts is robbing the entire family of sleep. And I could tell you that the threat of another infection is always there, and mastitis can be serious enough to require surgery. But, the truth is, just to be really selfish and personal for a second, I am just ready for her to put those things away: her breasts, I mean. I used to see them on what felt to me, every time, like a special occasion. Back then, the sight of them … served notice. But for the last six months, it is not unlike Mardi Gras at our house. By this I mean, boobs. Everywhere. And far from sex objects, my wife’s first set of twins are now hugely symbolic of our new responsibilities, individual and shared.

But the decision on when to quit breastfeeding remains my wife’s alone, and in spite of all I’ve written here, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, the other night around 3 a.m., I watched her, eyes drooping, as the boys fed. They made little grunting noises at first. Then they made little lapping noises. And finally, they just breathed peacefully, in a steady rhythm. Our sons were, as my wife calls it, “dream eating”—sleeping, but continuing to eat automatically.

My wife softly stroked their heads, combing their hair with her fingers, and I noticed that, as has become their custom, the boys themselves were holding each other’s hands.

This, she tells me, is the good part, finally arrived.

A little too late for me. But I suppose, after how hard she fought to get here, my role is to be among those giving my wife a round of applause, even if I still have to get up in the middle of the night to do it.

…………..

Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood here on Be Well Philly.

  • cc

    What a tricky subject … first, why would you be done with breastfeeding, as a Dad? My husband always says, joking but somewhat serious, that it’s the best thing I could do for my 3 children… and for him. Yes, sleepless nights, mastitis, leaks and soreness are part of the deal. But it’s nothing compared to the eyes and movements of a nursing baby: heaven does exist on Earth!

  • Amy

    Guess what? Once you make the decision to have kids, it’s not about you any longer. It’s apparent which parent gets that and which doesn’t. Looks like dad wants to sacrafice the good health of his children for selfish reasons. If you think I’m being harsh, educate yourself on the health benefits of both mom and baby. Sad story.

  • des

    This couple will be divorced by the time those kids start school.

  • Jessie

    Wow, man child indeed.

  • http://onelemonatatime.blogspot.com AMummysLife

    Wow, what critical comments you ladies are making. How on earth do you get the connection of someone tired of seeing his wife going through all the pain and head games that breastfeeding puts a mother through and divorce?

    He’s still supporting his wife but that doesn’t stop him from wishing that something he had been used to having all to his own is now been used by his sons. I know my husband certainly does, especially when we start getting to that year mark.

  • Bex

    i think this is very interesting! my partner has never expressed his true feelings about me breastfeeding our son (9 months!) he just goes along with what i say.

    i can totally understand you being ‘done’ with bfing, especially as it was making your wife so ill. That said, are you not back on board now the ‘good bits’ arrived?

    *claps* applauding for your wife…she’s a trooper! especially with twins :)

  • J

    Wow… This is NOT about you. Sorry, but it’s not. It’s about your sons. Also, if you really think she should quit, compare free breast milk with health benefits, to expensive formula that is detrimental to infant health.

  • Amy k

    stop being nasty to the guy! I think this is exactly how my partner feels seeing me in pain all these months with so many problems! Its hard on the dads too when every week brings a new infection or yet again you see a consultant and think it will improve but it doesnt!..thankfully 12 wks in for us I have finally seen a little improvement after tongue tie has been cut.
    I liked this article and would not have coped without my partner!

  • http://www.becomingsarah.com Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com

    I guess I’m the odd man out, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with one person in a relationship being ready to quit breastfeeding before the other – and I don’t think that indicates that they’re headed for doom and divorce. My husband and I differ with regards to breastfeeding perspectives. In our case it’s usually me threatening to wean and him encouraging me to keep on as long as possible…but I’m not sure that really matters. We also differ with regards to which music we prefer, how we’d rather spend a date night, and how much money we think is worth having a small heart attack over when we see the tuition bill for preschool, but those are little details. A relationship is more than that.

    I’m glad to hear your wife finally reached the good part =) I hope things stay positive for her and your little ones!

  • Joanne

    I believe it is hard for the dad as well as the mom… My husband watch me breast feed our child for two years. Yes my breast may have lost their sexuality. They turned in to baby bottles. Now my husband slept throught almost all of our over night feedings. He never had to get up to get a bottle. But he also lost that bonding time feeding his new baby too.

  • AHodges

    Six months and he’s crying about how he has to share his wife’s boobs? Grow up, man.

  • Lucy

    Wow! It’s NOT all about the children! Keeping your relationship healthy is so important for the whole family – especially for the children. Sure breastfeeding is great (I breastfed all my kids for years, supported by my husband) but the greatest gift you can give your children is a secure home life. Parents who love each other through the ups and downs of life set a wonderful role model of lasting relationships to their children. I applaud you for venting your frustrations here and I don’t think you are selfish – you love your wife and don’t like to see her suffer. As far as the “de-sexualising” of breasts, I can understand your feelings there too – it can be confronting getting used to their other function. Best thoughts to you and your family.

  • Megan

    Glad you finally figured out that your role is to be among those giving your wife a round of applause.

    Newsflash, your babies would not be sleeping all night anyway. Sometimes people who stuff nasty rice cereal down their babies can get them to sleep longer. Do you know why? Because their little bodies can not process it. It’s a sad thing to resort to.

    I am sooo proud of your wife!!! She is a major rock star!!! She faced some serious challenges and is still on track and doing her best for your babies. Do yourself a favor, tell her thank you.

    Then, delete this column or add some more at the end about how you have learned that you need to be supportive and how you appreciate her taking such awesome care of your children despite those challenges and despite your not being supportive.

    I can see why this is something you struggle with. You watched her go through some medical issues, and that is scary. But you’re going to have to get over your Marti Gras issues. You’re a parent. Time to act like one. TELL YOUR WIFE THANK YOU. :)

  • Andrea

    This was a brave article to write. Some women are smug and “cultish” when it comes to breastfeeding. This man wrote an honest article about viewing the pitfalls his wife endured. Honesty isn’t always popular. But I’ll applaud honesty.

  • Heather

    Wow. I think the attacks on this guy are a bit unfair. I think you have to look at it from the mans point of view too.
    I am breastfeeding my second baby, she is about to turn 1 and I have no desire to stop anytime soon. My husband supports my decision, but I know he sometimes wishes I would wean. And NOT for the sexuality of my breasts (which, lets be honest, headed south during pregnancy lol, though he is adamant they are still all good!) but because I know he quite often feels a bit helpless. I have to always do the night wake ups. Quite often if she is really upset, only mummy’s boobs will comfort her.
    It must be hard for the father to feel quite impotent in this situation.
    Granted, I think the poster could have been a bit more sympathetic about how this was written, but this is a public blog of someone’s opinion, he is more than entitled to express himself. Not once has he said he doesn’t support his wife in her decision, and ‘her decision’ being the key statement here. He will offer his support whether he agrees with it or not. To me, that makes him an amazing husband and a great father.
    Hush you naysayers!

  • Courtney

    I applaud this new dad for sharing his feelings and being genuine. We all know what it’s like to be a new parent – instead of being so dang critical and nasty and telling him what he should fee, why don’t we support him and be positive and encouraging instead? New parents, well heck all parents, could use a bit more of that.

  • Dan

    I won’t bother with the snarky comments- just wanted to say that you *are* selfish, and that women like your wife are the reason why the planet is still turning and the species is still thriving.

    Please for the sake of your kids, man the f up, and provide and protect your family. Not have a fine white whine about the loss of your wives boobs.

    Disgusting.

  • Erica

    Hi there, Steve.

    Maybe you read your replies, and maybe you don’t. But, it’s called a reply box, so I’m going to reply to YOU, not the other posters on here.

    I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate your honest blogs, and that I know it must be hard grappling with the feelings of helplessness and selfishness (and hey, it’s normal and OK to have selfish feelings, contrary to what some might have you believe) in the face of the crazy displays of bravery that your wife puts on just by being a new mom to twin boys. Both of you are very brave. I read your previous posts, and I’m pretty sure having this outlet is also helping you and your wife get through this journey.

    It seems the point a lot of people keep misunderstanding is your last line–”But I suppose, after how hard she fought to get here, my role is to be among those giving my wife a round of applause, even if I still have to get up in the middle of the night to do it.” She deserves that from everyone, and it’s great that though you don’t necessarily agree with her, you trust and love her enough to cheer her on, whatever choice she makes.

    Keep writing. I’ll keep reading.

  • BF momma

    It is never, ever ok to call breast feeding Mommas, supporters or others involved “Nazi”. How terribly insensitive to both sides involved. Comparing BF support to the horrors of the holocaust is disrespectful and uneducated

    • Mary-Jane Sackett

      I agree that the term “Nazi” applied to nursing mothers, lactation consultants or other breastfeeding advocates/helpers is offensive and shows total disregard for what this word really means. Please never forget the Nazis MURDERED millions of Jews in Europe. People who support breastfeeding are advocates for the health and safety and LIFE of infants/children all around the world. There should be no comparison between the two groups.

  • Jacqui

    Wow. Great article. Honest and refreshing. True not his decision in the end but it is his family too and he is entitled to his opinion. I support bfeeding fully and fed my own son till he was 18 months but what is right for my family is not right for every family and a little respect is in order here folks. Thanks Steve for sharing.

  • Mommy of 3

    Kudos to you for being done with breastfeeding, but still supporting your wife and cheering her on! You’re the model of what a daddy should do with a breastfeeding momma. :)

    And yes you’re right, it does sound like a lot of breastfeeding support groups become cultish. You can see some of their brainwashed members in your comments section, they can’t tolerate anyone who suggests that breastfeeding is not the best option for every family, or that a man has any right to be concerned for the mental or health status of his wife. And no, the best choice for babies is not breastfeeding every time, it’s whatever works for the parents.

  • Tridus

    Going by some of the comments, the part of the article about the cultish nature of breastfeeding is bang on. “How dare you say something not positive!!!” is the vibe from those people, and it’s absurd if you read the entire article before commenting.

    Thanks for sharing Steve.

  • Bill

    ‘Nother excellent article Steve.

    Lisa and my hearts are with you…wow, you all have been going thru a lot…but as you are aware now, nature provides us with some sort of magical will power and endless supply of love (sometimes in fits and starts) when it comes to taking care of our kids.

    We just do what we have to do for our kids, all the time (well, OK, 99.9% of the time…), and many of those times, we look back and realize that we never thought, even just a few weeks ago, that we could EVER muster the strength to do what we now do every day.

    It’s the magic of love. Of being human. Of being a father or mother.

    It’s just fantastic.