Grizzly bears and humans have one thing in common. They are both mammals and they both nurse their newborns. Beyond that, they are quite different.
Grizzly bears go into hibernation (a deep sleep or state of inactivity), for five to six months during the winter. A female bear will hibernate earlier if she is pregnant and will burrow much deeper below the snow and earth. While in hibernation, she will not eat, drink, urinate or pass stool. In January, she will give birth to one to three cubs while in hibernation. The cubs will weigh around 5 pounds each and will begin to nurse while their mother sleeps.
A mother bear will lose weight while in hibernation, but will not lose bone density or muscle mass, only body fat. When she leaves hibernation, her babies will weight ten to fifteen pounds. She will hibernate with her cubs for a second winter, and possibly a third, before she sends them off on their own when they are two and a half years old. (Thank heavens! No three year old cubs will be seen nursing on the cover of Time magazine!)
Earlier this month, my husband and I saw a young (but not little!) cub wandering in the Grand Teton National Park without his mother. According to a park ranger, an adult male bear (known as a boar) chased the baby bear off early so he could mate with the cub’s mother. The cub is now left without protection (mother grizzlies fiercely protect their young) and has only a 50% chance of surviving.
Luckily the dads that I meet at MilkWorks have little in common with a male grizzly. They are usually pretty incredible. Many of the moms who come to MilkWorks for a consultation are accompanied by baby’s dad. He may be loaded down - carrying baby and the diaper bag. And he often knows exactly when baby last fed and is eager to help in any way.
Research says that dads have a huge influence on how moms feed their babies. It makes sense. A mom may feel that asking for help means she is not “mom enough”. So when a dad sees a mom struggling in the middle of the night, worrying about her baby’s weight, or curling her toes when she latches, he is the perfect person to say, “Let’s get help.”
When the going gets tough and dad says, “Thanks for working so hard to feed our baby,” that may be just the support a mom needs to keep going. Or when mom is craving a few minutes of extra sleep and dad says, “Don’t get up this time. I’ll do the diaper and bring baby to you,” that may be all a mom needs to hear to know it is all worth it.
I want to wish all the fathers out there the very best. You are doing a great job helping your little bears (oops! babies!) get great food and great snuggling. Thanks for all you are doing to keep your kids healthy and happy.
Happy Father’s Day to the best dads around!