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Did you know that, according to research, a father's impact is the single most crucial factor in breastfeeding success? So even though you may be feeling that you can’t really be involved because your partner's the one with the breasts, there are some important ways you can support your lady. And you don’t have to bare your man boobs to help!
The bonus to your efforts is that there's nothing more of a turn-on than a partner who nurtures the new mum so she can focus on the intense needs of your newborn. This doesn’t necessarily mean you'll get a romp in the sack any time soon, and that shouldn’t be your prime motivation (after all, you're a grown-up now, and you do want the best for your baby, don’t you?), but you will be accumulating loving feelings and goodwill rather than resentment that can brew if she feels isolated and unsupported.
So, how can you help with breastfeeding?
Remember whose boobs they are
I’ve seen too many new dads who seem like little boys who don’t want to share their partner’s attention – or breasts. There was even a US advertisement for baby bottles with the headline ‘Reclaim your wife’s breasts’!
As I used to tell my own kids when they were small and had a treat, “It tastes better when you share.” This goes for your partner’s breasts – right now they're for providing optimum nutrition to your baby. The health benefits to your baby will last a lifetime, so man up and be patient. Your partner already has a baby, so she doesn’t need you to behave like one too!
Bond with or without bottles
If your partner would like to express – if she’s going back to work and needs someone to give baby milk while she’s away, or she just wants to spend a few hours away from bub, for example – there are things you can do to help. Make sure she’s comfortable and has what she needs, spend the time staying on top of the household chores, and clean the pump and bottles whenever needed. And of course you can give your baby the bottle he needs it, which is a lovely way to spend time together.
Remember that breastfeeding works on the supply and demand rule: the more milk your baby drinks, the more milk mummy’s breasts will make. To maintain her milk supply, your partner will need to express when you give a bottle - if she skips a feed, her body won’t get the signal to produce milk for the next feed. It could also lead to blocked ducts from being 'over full'. This can cause mastitis, which will make her feel extremely ill and require medical help.
Love up your lady
It might look as though your partner is just sitting around all day, but it takes a lot of energy to make mummy milk and nurture a baby - even the easiest baby will take nine hours of basic care each day!
If you love up your lady by helping her relax and focus on feeding right now, she'll remember that you were there for her when the going was tough, and that’s a big investment in your relationship. Bring her a drink, feed her healthy food (breastfeeding burns calories, and low blood sugar can make a cranky, irrational mum), and notice things that need doing without being asked – throw on a load of washing, do the dishes, tidy up, and call on your way home from work to see if she needs you to pick up a few things. If you help her, she'll have more energy and time to share with you.
Have her back
Your partner’s confidence is a big factor in her ability to breastfeed, and there can be a lot of advice that causes stress and self-doubt. Whenever a baby cries, somebody (hopefully not you!) is sure to ask, "Is he hungry?" or "Do you have enough milk?" - or even "Perhaps your milk isn’t strong enough?" (By the way, that last one is never true, but it was a popular belief when you were a baby so it’s often said by grandmothers.)
Although most advice is well meant, there can be no worse feeling for a mother than worrying whether she might be starving her child. So your role here is to have her back and protect her from negative comments: learn the basics of breastfeeding so you can be a buffer against unhelpful advice. Your protector role also extends to limiting visitors and making sure they don’t stay too long, especially in the early days when she needs to rest and recover from birth and establish breastfeeding.
Call for help
If your partner and baby are having breastfeeding difficulties, consider it an investment to hire a lactation consultant to come to your home. By having a professional come to you, there isn’t the stress of getting to an appointment, your lady will get the time and individual attention she deserves to sort out problems, and will enjoy breastfeeding much more.
This article brought to you by Philips Avent.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author. For a free sample of Pinky’s Boobie Bikkies and her free ebook, Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally, visit boobiebikkies.com.au.