Breastfeeding is typically reserved only for biologically related mother and baby, but there could be benefits to the infant and the father or partner — if they are up for the task.
The concept gained notoriety recently when a man used a device that allowed him to pump milk through an artificial nipple. His nurse suggested it after his wife had an emergency C-section and could not immediately breastfeed.
The photos of the Wisconsin dad, Maxamillian Neubauer, went viral soon after he had success with the device. He dubbed it the moob — man boob.
The viral photo has brought up the question of is it healthy for men to try to take over breastfeeding duties when needed?
Feeding by the father
Leigh Anne O’Connor, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLE) from New York, said that men can certainly try to use the device, but that doesn’t mean it has to become a mainstream concept.
Other fathers or caregivers may try to do this as a Plan B in the case of complications, but it is not the only way to feed or bond with an infant.
Skin-to-skin contact with a baby is a great way to bond. There are other ways to supplement feeding with breastmilk instead of using a bottle. Finger feeding lets the baby suck on flesh. The concept is the same in that a tube of milk or formula is attached to the finger while the baby sucks, she said.
“If a bottle is used, it can be used mindfully so as not to interfere with breastfeeding,” she noted.
Gender’s not an issue
Leah DeShay, a California-based IBCLC and member of Aeroflow Breastpumps’ Lactation Support Directory, said that all babies respond to human caregivers regardless of gender. Skin-to-skin contact with a father or mother provides great neurobiological feedback and advantages.
“Research that includes any method of skin to skin, whether it includes feeding or not, with a male parent shows huge and fast changes in neurobiofeedback in the father’s brain as well,” she said. “So the research is clear. Not only does it not matter what the gender is, both genders of parent along with the baby experience long-lasting benefits from experiences like this.”
Any skin to skin a parent can offer — whether from the mother or father — is beneficial to the baby, added Laura Sarantinoudis-Jones, an IBCLC from New Jersey.
“Ideally, we would like the mother to provide the skin to skin and nutrition to the baby as soon as he or she is born,” she noted. “If for any reason the mother cannot provide that, any skin to skin from a parent is better than no human contact at all.”
Lauren Manaker, a lactation counselor from South Carolina, agreed.
Her first choice would be for the mother to breastfeed because there are benefits when the baby latches on to the mother. She doesn’t suggest that men use the device over a woman breastfeeding, but said it’s a great option if the mother cannot nurse.
“It promotes bonding with dad and I do not see it as a negative choice if mom is unable to breastfeed herself,” Manaker added.
Benefits for baby
As for whether or not a man breastfeeding may confuse the infant, O’Connor said not to worry.
“Babies like to be held and cuddled by all family members, particularly the parents. I cannot see any reason this would confuse a baby or have any negative impact,” she said.
There are reasons that skin-to-skin contact between a new mother and their infant can be important. Hormones are exchanged between the mother and baby during skin-to-skin contact. That exchange does have an impact on milk production as far as volume and composition.
But skin-to-skin contact with others has perks, too.
“If a baby is in contact with different family members, those bacteria can help the milk to make more antibodies when the baby’s mouth comes in contact with the breast,” O’Connor added.
DeShay said that all new parents should review their options to figure out what they are most comfortable with and ensure they are on the same page about breastfeeding.
“The only common challenge I can imagine is partners having uneven expectations of breastfeeding or unintentional ignorance and fear about all the different options, causing them not to agree on how to proceed with feeding their child,” she explained.
That’s why parents need to discuss these issues during pregnancy, and even prior to conception.
DeShay noted that fathers have used their nipples to soothe children in ancient times — it’s just not something that’s a normal concept in the westernized world.
In the case of the Wisconsin couple, O’Connor said the dad did a “great thing” for his family.
“He did what made sense and with a good deal of support,” she said.