Give her a hand ... Dads may not have the right equipment, but they can help with breastfeeding in a lot of ways.
Did you know that a father's impact is the single most crucial factor in breastfeeding success? That's what research has revealed. 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.
The health benefits to your baby will last a lifetime, so be patient. Your partner already has a baby - she doesn’t need you to act like one too
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 recent 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. This will save you an absolute fortune, not only in the cost of formula, which is expensive, but in future medical and dental bills because of the immune factors and physiology of breastfeeding. 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 without bottles
You don’t need to give bottles to bond with your baby - in fact, there's more eye contact in changing a nappy! If your partner has to express milk just to make you feel connected to your baby (it’s different if she's popping out and wants to make sure you have some milk ready in case baby needs a feed before she gets back), that’s one more job she has to do. It's far easier and more efficient for her to pop the baby straight on the boob. And besides, who's cleaning the breast pump?
Of course, it’s your prerogative as parents to make your own choices about whether you give your baby the occasional bottle, but remember that it’s best to wait until after the first six weeks to introduce them, because sucking from a bottle is very different from breastfeeding. Giving bottles in the early days could make it more difficult to establish breastfeeding, as your baby may take longer to become an efficient feeder, and it could take longer for your partner to establish a good milk supply.
And 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.
Share the love, your way
There are lots of ways to share precious time with your baby: burping or settling him after feeds or when he has a belly ache, having a bath or shower together, making him laugh, ‘wearing’ him in a baby carrier, or learning baby massage. If you make one activity specially yours, it will not only help your partner, but also create a beautiful shared ritual that will boost your confidence as you see the looks of recognition and joy on your baby’s face.
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.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author. She is also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, natural and organic cookies to nourish breastfeeding mothers and encourage a healthy milk supply. For a free sample of Pinky’s Boobie Bikkies and her free ebook, Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally, visit boobiebikkies.com.au.
Do you have any other tips for how a partner can help with breastfeeding? Have your say below.