When it Comes to Breast-feeding, Dads Have No Rights

You are a servant boy. Do your wife's bidding.

To say that my wife has become the undisputed point person in our home would be a gross understatement. Sure, before the twins I already referred to her as my “Minister of Social Affairs,” but the implication of that title was that I was still somehow in charge. Also we took turns making decisions enough that I was no worse than half wrong.

Then she started breast-feeding.

Lisa told me about the research showing the health benefits: Breast-fed babies face fewer illnesses, ear infections and a lower incidence of asthma. Breast-fed children have higher IQs and as adults have a lower incidence of cancer. I did some cursory follow-up. But if I didn’t think she should breast-feed, for whatever reason, would my opinion really have mattered?

Well, in terms of a there’ll be peace in the valley kind of mindset, sure it’s better for both of us if we agree. And I’m sure it’s been helpful to my wife to receive my support. But, and I can’t stress this enough, they’re not my boobs! So, in terms of deciding something as fundamental as what my children eat and how they take it in, my input was inessential. And my turn into distant second fiddledom was only beginning. My wife faces constant questions: Should she feed them at the same time, even though it’s more difficult to help the babies achieve a painless, efficient latch? Or should she feed them one at a time, the better to train them to latch properly, even if that means taking a lot more time?

I have an opinion. Truth be told, I also have a rooting interest. The choice effects me profoundly: For example, if she feeds them both at the same time I’ve got to be there every step of the way, pulling babies off her chest and putting them back on, diapering and swaddling and burping our boys. If she feeds one at a time, she can do most if not all of that work.

That’s the difference between me sleeping 60 to 90 minutes, or potentially four or five hours straight. But that decision, again, belongs entirely to her. In fact, I generally recuse myself from deliberations for fear of feeling guilty if I sway her.

When the babies cry, are they hungry or gassy?

Again, I have an opinion. And sometimes I’m even right. But frankly, given that Lisa is with the babies 24/7, and I’m there for half that time, I don’t even trust me.

Generally, my standing has fallen so low that my wife no longer even speaks to me. But she still controls my behavior.

Deep in the heart of the dark, dark night, when my wife breast-feeds both boys at once, I sit beside the three of them, wait and listen. Lisa will chat with them the entire time. But at some point, she’ll say: “All right, Eli, it’s time for you to be burped.”

We all know what that means: It’s time for daddy—he who need not be directly addressed—to burp Eli.

“OK, Jack, you better go get your diaper changed,” she says.

Now, let’s be real: Jack isn’t going anywhere. Jack gets carried. By dad. The servant boy.

Now, believe me, I can hear a lot of people out there—moms and dads alike—telling me to grow up and see this situation in its full context. I’m helping in the care and feeding of my children, in whatever way is necessary. My wife needs my support now, perhaps more than ever. And though mom is infinitely more vital now, times will arise when I will be just as important and sometimes more so.

Got it.

You’re right.

Had these thoughts myself, in fact.

That’s why I wrote them.

But breast-feeding can do something to a guy—can cause him to feel not only helpless, but a little unnecessary. And while a lot of men offered me a lot of cautionary tales about becoming a dad—enough to scare me witless before I ever heard either of our babies let out their most alarming cry—none of them warned about this part.