Has enthusiasm for breastfeeding gone too far?


We might appreciate how breastfeeding boosts our kids' immunity (and our wives' physiques), but on the whole we've remained blissfully ignorant about exactly what happens under the blouse or blanket at feeding time.

But no more.

Increasingly, dads are taking an active and involved role in all aspects of parenting. We change diapers. We learn Lamaze. We hold forth on the pros and cons of cord bank registries. I once heard a guy boast about his newborn's Apgar Score like he'd won the World Cup.

I'm as hyper-involved as any new dad, but I never thought I'd have much role in breastfeeding, which is, I figured, pretty much entirely a mother-child transaction.

Then I had my first kid.

In the delivery room, I was there to witness the moment my son latched on for the first time. I studied La Leche League literature and kept a close watch on the nursery to guard against unapproved formula feedings. I stood by as the hospital lactation consultant performed a hands-on demonstration of proper positioning.

All of which was fine, really. Unlike my own dad and countless previous generations of fathers, I was determined to be a full and equal partner in childrearing. If that meant I had to learn first-hand about the laxative properties of colostrum or stand by as a gigantic Russian nurse groped my wife's woman-parts, so be it.

But then came our visit with the groovy paediatrician.

Soon after bringing our son home from the hospital, my wife and I went to see our neighbourhood family doctor, a local legend known for his celebrity daughter and affinity for holistic, alternative care.

Dairy diagnosis
Much to our dismay, nursing was not going well. We couldn't be sure the source of the problem: Blocked ducts? Nipple confusion? But the result was that our baby wasn't eating. We hadn't slept in two days.

Holding our weeping, starving son in the doctor's shabby-chic waiting room, surrounded by fashionable couples and those thousand-dollar strollers that look like lunar landing modules, we looked like victims of a violent crime.

After a quick exam and quiz on nutrition, the doctor got down to business. He had my wife unbutton her shirt and instructed her how to use her forefinger and thumb to "express" a dollop of milk onto his finger.

And then he licked it. "Sweet," he said. Whereupon he extended a finger to me. I declined.

It's been eight years since that encounter and it still disturbs me in a way I find hard to explain. It wasn't lascivious – both my wife and I got the distinct sense the doctor had all the best intentions and was simply taking the most direct, least prudish route possible to diagnose our problem. He was simply doing what groovy paediatricians do.

Momma's milk
But still. To my surprise, my horror at the event wasn't shared by my Baby Bjorn-wearing, Diaper Genie-packing brothers.

One friend, an altogether sane and well-adjusted father of two, casually mentioned that he sometimes squirted a bit of banked breast milk into his morning coffee (a habit his wife didn't exactly support, "That's our night out!" she cried.)

I've heard about groups of mothers who have no qualms nursing each other's kids. Go online and you can find adult testimonials on the cancer-fighting properties of breast milk along with recipes for a beverage known as a "lactuccino."

Another couple recently relayed a story that demonstrates how comfortable some dads have become in the finer points of breastfeeding. A month after the birth of their first child, they hired a sitter and headed out for their first date as parents. But upon pulling into a multiplex parking lot, mom found that the time away from home had left her engorged, leaking and highly uncomfortable. No way would she be able to sit still for two hours, she said. After some tense negotiation, the husband agreed to duck into the back seat of the car and relieve her distress himself.

Not only did he get to see the movie, he said, his hair had a silky sheen for weeks afterward.

Far be it from me to judge, but I think this qualifies as going too far in being an equal-partner dad. I'm ready to nurture my kids and assist my wife in ways previous generations would have found ridiculous. I will sterilize parts of the breast pump and warm up bottles for late-night feedings.

But sampling the merchandise? That's just gross.

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