“Breastfeeding is enhanced and the nursing couple sustained by the loving support, help, and companionship of the baby’s father. A father’s unique relationship with his baby is an important element in the child’s development from early infancy.” – from LA LECHE LEAGUE PHILOSOPHY
Last week we enjoyed our annual Couples Meeting where we invited fathers (and other support persons) to join us. We had a great discussion that included dads helping brainstorm how to change a baby’s diaper on an airplane in ways only a man would think of doing and honoring the mothers present for their commitment to breastfeeding. Having men at the meeting enhanced our discussion, and having the support of the men in our lives inside and outside of La Leche League meetings means more to us than we could ever express.
Each La Leche League Group decides how to handle the question of whether or not and when to invite men to come to meetings. At this point, our policy in La Leche League of Salt Lake City is to welcome female support persons to come to any meeting they wish and to hold a special Couples Meeting once a year to invite men to come as well. For now, this is the best way we can think of to meet the needs of the group of moms that we serve with the resources we have at this time.
Why invite men to a meeting about breastfeeding?
The men who give their support to breastfeeding mothers are so important, and La Leche League recognizes and seeks to support the unique role of fathers in their children’s lives. Having or not having the support of the one who loves a mother and her child the most can really make or break a breastfeeding relationship, so it is very important to include fathers when we are educating about the importance of breastfeeding. Additionally, fathers have a different perspective, being the non-breastfeeding parent and have a lot to add to the conversation. It is important to hear what fathers have to say.
Great! If men are so important, why do we only invite them once a year?
For starters, having one special Coupls Meeting that men are encouraged to attend helps get fathers who would not otherwise come to a La Leche League meeting to come. They know there will be other men there, and they know that the topic chosen will include them so they won’t feel out of place. Perhaps if there was more interest and we had the resources to do so (remember that we are all volunteers), we could host meetings welcoming fathers more often, but for now, this is what we have found that works best for our group.
But why don’t we just invite fathers to all of the regular meetings?
There are some La Leche League Groups that do this, and there tend to be a very few men who take them up on their offer. Fathers sometimes come, but they tend to be the only man in the room. Advertising a special Couples Meeting where fathers know there will be other fathers there can actually increase the number of fathers who come, even if it is only once a year.
Also, while the importance of the support of men cannot be overstated, and it is something we certainly want to encourage, the main purpose of La Leche League is to provide mother-to-mother support for breastfeeding. Other physicians, lactation consultants, peer counselors and organizations provide valuable support in other ways. La Leche League Leaders are mothers, and our first priority is serving mothers. We want La Leche League meetings in general to be a safe place for ALL mothers to feel comfortable, and there are some mothers who would not be served as well with men at the meeting for one reason or another.
First of all, not all breastfeeding mothers have men that they would be able to bring to a meeting. Babies are born into all kinds of circumstances, and the role of La Leche League is to help mothers breastfeed… ALL mothers, not just mothers who are married, and we seek to be sensitive to mothers’ circumstances. The mothers without partners may be the ones who need the most support from a group like ours, and we do not want to do anything that might discourage them from attending.
Second, some mothers would not be comfortable nursing in front of men. Absolutely, we are in favor of mothers nursing their children wherever and whenever they need to eat, including when men are around, but La Leche League meetings are often the first place that mothers even see or try out nursing in public. Moreover, La Leche League meetings are a place where mothers can come who are having problems. Mothers often expose more than they normally would feel comfortable exposing in order to get help from a Leader with getting their babies to latch correctly, and they may be unwilling to come to a meeting to get such help if men are present. It is not just about nursing in public. It is about working out the bugs. Meetings are the main place that mothers can come to receive help in person. We do not have the Leader resources to provide home visits for every mother who would be uncomfortable getting help with latch in mixed-gender company.
Third, having men there affects the conversation. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just different. As La Leche League, our purpose is to provide mother-to-mother support, to create a place where mothers can come and get support for motherhood specifically, not just parenthood in general. There is a freedom and an openness that comes from speaking only among women, and we feel that it is very important to provide a space that maintains that freedom and openness. We do believe it is very important for men and women to be able to talk about things together as well, and we do provide a forum for such conversation during our Couples Meetings, but without the resources to provide a fourth meeting in the month, we believe that it is more important to provide a place for only women and children most of the time and to invite men once a year, even if that means there is one month out of the year when mothers who can only come to an evening meeting will not have a female-only place to bring their concerns. It is the best balance we have been able to find so far.
How do you support a father’s “companionship” and “unique relationship with his baby” the other 11 months of the year?
Many mothers come to meetings with questions of how to share information or discuss issues with the fathers who join them in parenting. They receive support and encouragement on how to meet Dad’s needs as well, how to listen to his point of view, how to facilitate a father’s bonding with his child, and how to give him the same respect that we would hope he would give the mother. Actually, some of these conversations would be the very conversations that would disappear with men in the room. As La Leche League Leaders, we are mothers, not fathers, and we are most qualified to offer suggestions to mothers on how they could respond to family situations. Mothers themselves are the most important ones to build a relationship with the fathers of their children and support them in their unique role, and we are always available to equip mothers for this mission.