If your partner is breastfeeding the first thing you should know is that you can make a difference. Research has shown that a father’s support is one of the more important factors in breastfeeding success.
What Does Dad Support Look Like?
Before we even talk about how fathers can support breastfeeding there is one very important point to make. Fathers can support breastfeeding, but in the end, the mother is the one who does it. It’s her body, she gets to decide what to do and for how long. A father’s job is to help her figure out what she wants and needs to do and then support her in her decisions.
Most Canadian mothers want to breastfeed. In fact, about 90 of mothers start out breastfeeding, and they all have a better chance of breastfeeding the way they wanted to if they get support.
Yours is particularly important.
You can support your partner in all sorts of ways. Some of them are just little bits of help.
- Bringing her the baby when it’s time to feed
- Fetching her glasses of water when she’s nursing (breastfeeding moms get surprisingly thirsty)
- Feeding her. She’s still eating for two, you know.
- Taking the baby after the feeding, if she wants to go to sleep
- Doing anything that reduces her workload so she can get lots of rest. That means cleaning, shopping, laundry, screening visitors (if that’s what she wants)
- Keeping her company. Read to her from the newspaper, have a chat or just hang out with her while she’s nursing.
But you can also help her in bigger ways. One of them is to learn something about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is “natural” and all that. But it’s actually a skill that a mother and baby learn together, and it doesn’t always go easily at first. And while you can’t become an instant breastfeeding expert, there are two key things Dads should know.
Frequent nursing is normal in the early days. It’s also necessary because frequent breastfeeding stimulates the breasts to make milk.
The problem here is that some people still tell moms that babies should be fed on a schedule. Don’t listen to anyone who says that. They don’t know what they’re talking about. And what’s more, their bad advice can sometimes make mothers feel like there’s something wrong. So if someone says, What?! Is that kid nursing again already? Just laugh and say something like, “Yeah, he’s a hungry little guy isn’t he. I guess he knows what’s good for him. He’s helping his mommy make milk.”
Getting a good latch is pretty important.
Have you heard about the latch? It’s become one of the big buzzwords in breastfeeding in the last 10 to 15 years.
Here’s what it means. Babies shouldn’t just suck on the nipple like it was a candy cane. That can make Mom’s breast sore and it’s not the best way to get the milk out.
The baby’s mouth needs to be WIDE open and the nipple is up at the back of his mouth, not down by his lips.
His chin will be pressed against the breast, like, crammed right in there. But his nose, though it will be close to the breast, won’t be crammed in like the chin.
A good breastfeeding latch is tricky to describe and it may be hard for you to picture, but there are some great videos about latch on Dr. Jack Newman’s website.
Click here to see them.
There are two other useful things you could do.
Go to a breastfeeding class with her. Hospitals sometimes have classes that provide instruction in breastfeeding basics. By going to a breastfeeding class you’re helping your partner in two ways:
Number one, it tells her that you think breastfeeding is important, that you’re in this together
Number two, when it comes to solving breastfeeding challenges, two heads are better than one. You might learn something that will help you know how to support her better.
Help her ask for help
Like we said before, lots of breastfeeding moms encounter problems at some point. Almost all of those problems can be solved if you get the right help quickly. But it can sometimes be hard for mothers to ask for help. Some women feel like breastfeeding is something they should be able to do naturally, so they should be able to solve problems on their own. And then sometimes a mother is so busy and tired that picking up the phone just seems like one more thing she has to do.
So you can be the one to ask for help. You can call:
- Your local public health unit,
- The hospital maternity department
- A friend or relative with breastfeeding experience
- La Leche League which is kind of like a breastfeeding support club. It’s members know a lot about breastfeeding and are dedicated to helping other mothers. To find your local La Leche League, go to www.lllc.ca, look in the phone book or call 1-800- 665-4324.
- A lactation consultant: Lactation consultants are health professionals who specialized in breastfeeding. Most communities have them. Some lactations consultants work in clinics and some make house calls. Your health unit or hospital should be able to help you find one.
So you see, even though you don’t have “the equipment” there’s actually a lot you can do to help your partner breastfeed.
What about bottles?
Feeding an infant is a really cool thing to do. You might be thinking, “Boy I wish I could give her a bottle so I could feel more part of what is going on.”
It’s a good idea to be careful about bottles in the early weeks.
Bottles and breasts require a different kinds of sucking. Babies can sometimes do both, but there are some babies whose breastfeeding ability gets messed up if they start having bottles before breastfeeding is well established.
The other problem with giving bottles to newborns is that each time the baby has a bottle, the mother’s breasts lose an opportunity to get the stimulation they need – from the baby’s sucking – to help their breasts make milk. That can make it harder for the mother to establish a good milk supply.
Bottom line: It’s best to wait at least six weeks before giving a breastfed baby a bottle.
If a baby does get a bottle in the early weeks, for whatever reason, it would be better if it were pumped breastmilk rather than formula. It would also be a good idea for Mom to pump breastmilk (she will probably have heard about breast pumps). That will help her keep up her milk supply. Breastmilk keeps very well in the freezer, by the way.
But there’s no need to rush into giving the baby bottles. Believe us, you’ll have lot of chances to feed your child eventually.
What if my partner can’t breastfeed?
Sometimes moms run into breastfeeding problems they can’t solve and they have to give up as a result. There are a few things you need to understand about this.
The loss of breastfeeding can be very emotional. Most mothers really want to breastfeed and some say they feel pressure to do it. So when a mom has to give up it can be devastating. She feels like her body failed at doing something it’s supposed to be able to do. She feels like she’s missing out on an important experience. Some mothers say they feel guilty, or they feel that people are judging them for giving their baby formula.
What can you do about it?
Well, you can’t fix it, but just be as supportive as you can.
Keep in mind that many mothers already feel pressure about breastfeeding. They don’t need more pressure from their partners. What she needs from you is your support regardless of how things turn out.
Don’t tell her it doesn’t matter. It may matter a great deal to her. Some mothers need time to almost grieve the loss of breastfeeding.
Let her know, in all sorts of little ways, what a good mother she is and how much your baby loves her and how much you love her and how much you admire everything she has done.
She’ll be OK. It may take a little time. But don’t try and “make” her get over it faster.
There is one more way you can help. Help her learn about formula. Some mothers are so sure they are going to breastfeed that they learn all about breastfeeding and not about formula. So, when a mother unexpectedly switches to formula, suddenly she doesn’t know anything about how to feed her baby. So help her figure it out. Get online, call the doctor, call the health unit and help your partner find the information she needs.