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Making It Work

Nurturing a Positive Father-Child Relationship

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 4, July-August 2006, pp. 168-171

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

While I work, my daughter is home with my husband. They manage okay while I am gone but once I get home she will have nothing to do with him. If he even tries to hold her while I run to the bathroom she is hysterical. He is heartbroken as he loves caring for her and being with her and she laughs and plays with him when they are alone. While he strongly supports breastfeeding, he also feels that our nursing relationship may be at the core of this issue. How can I encourage their positive relationship, even when I am at home?

Mother's Response

I have the reverse situation of yours. I am a stay-at-home mother of a breastfeeding 15-month-old and my husband works outside the home all day and commutes an hour each way to and from work. As soon as he walks through the door my son practically forgets I exist! He goes straight for the door and his dad has to pick him up just to get inside. I am ecstatic that our son has bonded so closely with his father. On weekends, my husband gets up early and takes our son so that I can sleep in a few extra hours. We call this "daddy time." Our son loves "daddy time" and gets upset and crabby if our busy schedule interferes.

Your daughter is making up for lost time with you, and it may or may not have anything to do with breastfeeding. Your husband can take comfort in the fact that your daughter is strongly bonded with you both. I know several other breastfeeding children whose mothers are the primary caregivers and who want nothing to do with Mom as soon as Dad gets home from work.

It sounds to me as though your husband and daughter have a very positive relationship. Perhaps your husband needs to hear from you just how much you appreciate his care and attention to your daughter while you are at work.

Cara Phillips-Duken
Port Orchard WA USA

Mother's Response

It sounds as though your baby just needs some time to reconnect with you and nurse when you come home.

I work part-time and I leave my 10-month-old son several days a week for four or five hours at a time. Depending on the day, either my husband or my mother watches him. My son loves them both very much and is safe, happy, and well-cared for while I am gone. When I return home, however, the only thing he wants to do when he sees me is nurse. The need is primal and not to be messed with. He cries, waves his arms, jumps up and down, and is completely beside himself until we sit down together with him at my breast. After about a half-hour of unfettered nursing and cuddling, however, when his tummy and his heart have been re-filled, he eagerly pops off my breast and jumps back into the arms of his dad or grandma.

If your husband is able to wait it out until you have nursed your baby and the bond has been re-sewn, your baby will probably gladly jump into your husband's arms again. But, on the other hand, if your baby feels your husband is standing in the way of this reunion, look out! Ask your husband to be patient, and to trust that his love will be rewarded in a short time when your baby is ready to renew that bond.

Lynne Rubin
Clifton NJ USA

Mother's Response

Your daughter's response to your husband when you are at home versus when you are not at home sounds very familiar. When my daughter was 16 months old, my husband and I reversed roles—I went back to work full-time while he resigned from his job to stay at home and care for our daughter.

Now it is "mama time" as soon as I get home. She nurses first thing, then we play, or go for walks. In fact, on the weekends, my husband actually used to say that he missed her because she was not letting him hold her too often. We can for sure say that our nursing relationship helped grow this bond between my daughter and me, and as a family, we are all grateful that this nursing bond has been able to continue.

Eight months have passed since I have returned to work and my daughter is getting used to the rhythm of our daily schedule. I think once she realized that I would still be there for her through breastfeeding, she became more secure with letting me out of her sight.

One way to support the father-daughter bond when you are at home could be to ask them to share the fun activities with you that they do together during the day. With the three of you playing together, your daughter is showing you how fun her dad is and how special her time is with him.

I also think that nurturing a positive relationship between your child and your husband can be through your continuation of breastfeeding. A husband who is supportive of breastfeeding and respects that bond will benefit from this strong mother-child relationship.

Debbie Goodwin
Middlesex VT USA

Mother's Response

My daughter was the same way: she would be happy and have a great time with my husband if I was nowhere in sight, but if I was home she wanted nothing to do with him. He even made the comment once, "I may as well be a stranger!"

All I can say is that this too shall pass. And I wouldn't force the issue of her being in his arms if she doesn't want to be—that might make the situation worse. To encourage bonding, maybe your husband can take over the responsibility of feeding her solid foods, changing diapers, and bath time. There are some things my little girl still prefers with me and that's okay. Before you know it she'll be the daddy's girl he dreamed of having. My daughter is proof positive of that!

Melissa Schmidt
Fond du Lac WI USA

Mother's Response

Congratulations on continuing to breastfeed after returning to work! It sounds as though you and your husband have worked out a wonderful arrangement for meeting your daughter's needs.

The description of your daughter's behavior sounds familiar. Both of my children have had periods when they preferred my husband or me. In our household, we call it being the "MFP," or most favored parent. Whoever is the MFP for the day (week, month) can rest assured that this is a temporary situation.

People often assume that breastfeeding is the problem, but I've observed children who aren't breastfeeding who act the same way. I think this is a normal stage of development and that it will pass. I remember my husband feeling very rejected by our daughter when she was an infant, but now that she is eight the two of them are best buddies. And in between then and now, she has shifted back and forth many times between her two MFPs.

Ruth Hersey

Becoming a Father

How to Nurture and Enjoy Your Family

"Fatherhood," according to Dr. William Sears, "is the only profession where you're guaranteed that the more effort you put into it, the more enjoyment you will get out of it."

In his book, BECOMING A FATHER, Dr. Sears shares his own story of maturing into fatherhood and addresses common questions and complaints of fathers, new and old, including:

  • What exactly am I supposed to do during labor and childbirth?
  • How can I comfort my baby if I don't have breasts?
  • Can I have fun with a newborn?
  • How can I bond with my toddler?
  • Is there sex after childbirth?
  • What should I do to discipline my toddler? My teen?
  • How do I balance my work and my family?

Dr. Sears understands the concerns and conflicts of fathers and mothers. Reading this book will help both partners understand each other better as they share the important work of raising children.

Order BECOMING A FATHER online at or call 800-LALECHE.

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