Hector Cruz never thought he'd become a breastfeeding advocate. But after the birth of his first child, Cruz had a wake-up call about how important fathers are to the process.
Cruz, 33, and his wife, Nicole, had been trying to conceive for 10 and a half years before Nicole finally became pregnant in 2013. Cruz was eager to learn everything he could about raising an infant; but when Nicole signed up for breastfeeding class, Cruz wasn't allowed to attend.
After the birth of their daughter Sophia, Nicole had difficulty breastfeeding and their pediatrician advised the couple to switch to formula because jaundice was causing Sophia to lose weight too quickly. But Nicole was determined to breastfeed – and though Cruz wanted to support her, but didn't know what to do.
"I wish I could say I was an enlightened guy, but I wasn't," Cruz told FoxNews.com. "I figured women have breasts, a baby has a mouth, it all works and there are never any issues. I was very, very wrong."
Cruz turned to the Expressions! Lactation Services group on Facebook, a breastfeeding support and infant feeding page that Nicole had been a part of. Cruz posted a plea for advice— Could they do donor milk? How could they make breastfeeding feasible?—on the group's wall and within minutes had over 50 responses.
"This was my first foray into the whole breastfeeding advocacy and understanding," Cruz said. "I started learning what a proper tongue latch is, tongue-tie…clogged duct… hand expression.. I had no clue."
Based on the advice they received on Facebook, the new parents ended up working with a lactation consultant who came to the hospital and Nicole was able to breastfeed.
Hoping to educate more fathers about the importance of breastfeeding, Cruz founded Project: BreastFeeding in November 2013, a campaign to bring awareness to destigmatizing breastfeeding in public, educating men and empowering women.
As part of the campaign, Cruz began photographing men, some shirtless, holding their babies in a breastfeeding position. Accompanying the photos is the phrase, "If I could, I would." Cruz's first photoshoot was with military families at Fort Campbell military base in Kentucky.
Cruz, a photographer, chose this unusual image to bring attention to the need to support women who choose breastfeeding.
"We're a society that thrives on controversy, so what better way to… get people talking than a dad saying it," Cruz said. "I had to ask myself, if I could [breastfeed my child], would I do this? It took a few days of me really processing that because it's completely bending the stereotypical role men take. I was really honest with myself and I would do whatever it takes for my wife and my child."
The key, he believes, is engaging the father right when a couple find out they're pregnant.
"I think that's where it starts for a lot of guys, where they start checking out of the process because we're not really a part of it; [feeling like] they're not making me a part of it," Cruz said.
Cruz's original goal was to post a billboard of one of his photographs in their home community of Clarksville, TN, near Fort Campbell. But now, his project has evolved into a much bigger campaign and Project: BreastFeeding is traveling the country, taking portraits of families and fathers at MommyCon, a natural parenting convention.
Cruz has submitted a 501(c)(3) application for federal non-profit status and Project: BreastFeeding is now fundraising to develop a curriculum for co-ed-taught breastfeeding support classes for men and women. As the group travels the country taking portraits, Cruz's goal is to post a billboard of his photos in every community they visit.
Project: BreastFeeding is also partnering with the Mama Hope, a non-profit that works with in-need communities in sub-Saharan Africa, and together they're going to visit Uganda in May to educate fathers in the pregnancy and breastfeeding process.
While Project: BreastFeeding's goals are focused on breastfeeding and educating fathers, Cruz says it's all about family support.
"We don't want to bash moms who choose formula; every partner has the right to choose how they want to feed their child," Cruz said. "All I'm trying to do is be a dad, a good supportive husband and a good father. I think any guy would want to do that."
For more information visit Project: BreastFeeding.com.
Written by Nicole Kwan, FoxNews.com
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
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