Dear Mr. Dad: My baby’s mom and I are separated and I hardly ever get to see my 9-month old son because my ex is breastfeeding. Isn’t there some way I can spend more than just a few hours at a time with him?
A: Feeding your baby is a wonderful way for the two of you to bond with each other. And yes, there are some ways for you to increase your time with him. But before we get to that, it’s important to acknowledge that your ex is doing a fantastic thing for your son.
Current recommendations are that babies should have nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life, then, over the next six months, gradually phase out the milk and phase in solid food. As you may have heard, breastfed babies have stronger immune systems, are less likely to develop ear infections or pneumonia, and may even have higher IQs. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not the act of breastfeeding that gives babies all these advantages; it’s the actual breast milk itself.
Most mothers will express, or pump, their breast milk using a breast pump. The milk can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week or be frozen for several months. Later, when your baby is with you, you’ll give him that milk in a bottle. Using pumped breast milk will allow you to take your son overnight—but you and your ex will have to cooperate. Unfortunately, using a breast pump can make women feel like a cow. And pumps aren’t cheap (they can cost as much as $350). She can rent one, but long term, that will end up costing even more. If your ex won’t provide breast milk, you could give your baby formula—if your pediatrician agrees—until he hits 12 months, which is when he can start drinking cow’s milk. But your wife would still need to pump when the baby’s with you to keep up her milk supply.
If your son has never had a bottle, introducing one might be tricky. Here are some tips:
- Practice. Don’t wait until you have your son for a full day before trying a bottle. Drinking from a bottle is different than breastfeeding so give your baby a chance to get the hang of it.
- Offer a bottle a little earlier than his regular feeding time so he’s not starving.
- Ask your ex to go somewhere else while you’re introducing the bottle. Babies can smell their mothers up to 20 feet away and he may not want to try something new if he can smell her breast
- Don’t force it. If your son resists, try again a little later. You might also try putting some breast milk on the nipple of the bottle, experimenting with a different type of nipple, or changing positions.
- If your son flat out refuses to take a bottle, try putting the milk in a sippy cup.
Most babies your son’s age have already started eating at least some solid foods (although “solid” is hardly the right word—“soupy” or “mushy” would be closer). In fact, it’s possible that several of his daytime snacks and feedings in a row consist entirely of baby food (the kind you can buy in the grocery store). This opens up the opportunity for you to take your son for a pretty good stretch. However, to quickly identify allergies, introduce new foods slowly—one at a time every few days. And make sure you and your ex are sharing this information with each other.