August 9, 2010

Breastfeeding Daddies.

Did Someone Call For a Milkman?

Take a moment.

This photo rendered me speechless, bone-dry of any words, jaw settled neatly on the floor.  Once the dust cleared, the image continued to inspire the same eye-rubbing disbelief as, perhaps, a Centaur crossing the road during rush-hour traffic. I have never, in my 33 years of existence, considered a child drawing milk from the breast of her father.  Such a foreign thought renders a sort of catastrophe in my reasoning.

So I did a little investigating.

The story of the above snapshot is as follows, as paraphrased from The Mercury Newspaper, October 2002:

A 38-year-old Sri Lankan man, whose wife had died three months earlier during childbirth, attempts to breastfeed his two infant daughters.

“My eldest daughter refused to be fed with powdered milk liquid in the feeding bottle. I was so moved one evening and to stop her crying I offered my breast. I then realised that I was capable of breastfeeding her,” the man admitted.

Dr Kamal Jayasinghe, deputy director of a Sri Lankan government hospital, was quoted as saying it was possible for men to produce milk if the prolactine hormone became hyperactive.

Apparently, men and boys have mammary glands just like women, but there is so little mammary tissue that they are usually unnoticeable.  Although the mammary glands of human males do not produce milk automatically under normal conditions, with appropriate stimulus, a man can indeed produce breast-milk.  (en.wikipedia.org/)

Men can take the herb fenugreek to inspire lactation, which has been known to help women with a low milk supply. Also, certain hormonal treatments or medications can stimulate mammary glands, as can extreme stress combined with physical activity and a shortage of food, a phenomena that was first studied in the survivors of the liberated Nazi concentration camps after WWII. (www.thethinkingblog.com/)

There are also documented examples of fathers who are able to make themselves lactate through consistent pumping, nipple stimulation and sheer will. In an online publication written by Laura Shanley titled Milkmen: Fathers who Breastfeed, Shanley describes how her husband wanted to see if his body was physcially able to lactate, as he had read in medical books.  “He began telling himself that he would lactate, and within a week, one of his breasts swelled up and milk began dripping out.”

In her article, Shanley also quotes another short piece called Male Lactation, written by Professor Patty Stuart Macadam of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, as saying the following:   A breast is a breast. Male lactation is physiologically possible and, according to Dr. Robert Greenblatt, production in males can be stimulated by letting a baby suckle for several weeks.

I didn’t set out with the desire to set up a stance on either side of this particular topic, though the facts and the images have done more than an adequate job turning a handful of my own deeply-rooted, pre-conceived notions on their respective heads.  I suppose one could argue that if a baby is nurtured and nourished properly, the details of where he or she receives noruishment from—mom’s nipple, dad’s nipple or a bottle—should not matter, should they?

Yet, even as I write this in the attempt to sound open-minded and diplomatic, I find myself leaning very obviously to one side.

My confession is this:  the image of my husband sitting comfortably on the couch, shirtless, barrel-chested and hairy, nursing our nine-month old daughter while sipping sun-tea and listening to Cat Stevens, is a sight I would prefer to live out the rest of my life without seeing.

My husband is a stellar dad.  He is a master at stacking and toppling blocks, getting our daughter to crumble into a heap of fitful giggles, taking her on outings, feeding her, singing and reading to her, bathing her, putting her to bed, snuggling her…

But as for milk thing, I think I’ve got it covered.

The following video clip is an excerpt from a short documentary film entitled Milk Men directed by Peter Templeman, who was nominated for an academy award (for a different film) in 2007.  It should definitely give you a fair amount to chat about over your tuna casserole this evening at dinner.

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