10 Ways Dads & Partners Can Support Breastfeeding
You’re supporting your partner through her pregnancy—and the adventure of parenting is about to begin. (Congrats!)
If mama plans to breastfeed, then naturally she will need to take the lead. There are a lot of reasons you’ll want to support her. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend exclusive breastfeeding through 6 months and thereafter combined with food, for as long as mom and baby choose to continue. That’s because breastfeeding helps reduce your baby’s risk of infection and other challenges like allergies, SIDS, ear infections, and hospitalizations. But where does that leave you, Dad?
There’s actually a lot you can do to support a nursing mother and baby. In fact, research shows that a father’s support is one of the strongest predictors of exclusive breastfeeding duration. Your encouragement can actually help your partner succeed in breastfeeding and stick with it longer.
Here are ten ways you can support breastfeeding for your family.
1. Study up.
Breastfeeding is as natural as can be—but perhaps still something of a mystery. Remember that knowledge is power. The more you learn about breastfeeding, the more invested you’ll be and better you’ll be able to support mom through it.
And there’s so much to learn: breastfeeding’s many benefits for mom and baby, how often and how much babies eat, proper latching and positions, and how to watch for hunger cues, for starters. This isn’t just a mother’s realm! Do some homework, whether that’s through your family’s healthcare provider, online research, or breastfeeding classes. You might also find it helpful to talk to other dads who have “been there.”
2. Pamper her
Mom’s spending a lot of time in that nursing chair, so how can you make her feel special? Refill her water bottle, bring over the lanolin cream, turn on the TV show she’s been binge-watching. Or just keep her company—anything to make breastfeeding more comfortable. When baby wakes in the middle of the night, change the diaper before bringing them to Mom for a feeding. Tending to mama’s needs is the ultimate romantic gesture.
3. Spend time with baby between feedings
Breastfeeding is an amazing bonding experience for mom and baby, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the bonding. There are plenty of other meaningful ways to spend quality time with your newborn. Talk or sing, read them books, go for a walk, give them a bath. Skin-to-skin contact can help you feel connected while providing a source of comfort for baby. Enjoy this time, and remember babies only get more fun as they get older!
4. Be there for the ups and downs
Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience, but it can come with challenges too. Your partner may go through everything from latching problems to low supply to mastitis. This is when she will really need your support to achieve her breastfeeding goals. Tell her how proud you are of her for breastfeeding, and support her in seeking professional advice if needed. Many lactation services are covered by health insurance, and can be a huge help in getting your family through the challenges. Your involvement will also give you a window into early signs of mental health issues such as anxiety or postpartum depression. (Contact her healthcare provider if you think something’s up.)
5. Let her sleep
In the early days of breastfeeding, it’s important to breastfeed frequently in order to establish milk supply and ensure that your baby gets enough to eat. This can be as frequent as every two hours – day and night - and it’s exhausting. You can help your partner handle this sleep deprivation by taking the baby between feedings and letting her sleep when baby’s sleeping. And keep reminding both your partner and yourself that this phase won’t last forever!
6. Manage visitors
Family, friends, and neighbors are bound to come calling (after all, who can resist a new baby?). Decide with your partner who you want to see, when, and how often—then play air-traffic controller. Develop a scheduling system that allows for socializing while protecting Mom’s time to rest and breastfeed in private, if she wishes.
7. Offer to bottle feed—when the time is right
We get it: Many dads look forward to bottle feeding because then you’re able to feed baby directly (finally!). Know that it takes four to six weeks to develop a healthy nursing relationship—and even then, mom might not be ready to introduce the bottle, and plenty of moms never do. Follow her lead here. Once she’s ready, she’ll be more than happy for you to take on bottle feeding.
8. Get some quality time with the big kids
Not to be overlooked: If you have older children at home, this is a fantastic opportunity to spend time with them as well. Siblings will appreciate the one-on-one time with you while Mom breastfeeds and cares for the newest member of the family.
9. Lend a hand
Household responsibilities tend to multiply once a baby arrives. It may not be glamorous, but pitching in is one of the best things you can do, giving your partner more time and energy to breastfeed. Start another load of laundry, tidy up the living room, wash bottles and pump parts, cook up a nutritious meal, empty the diaper pail (again). All this is a HUGE help as you get through this crazy time together.
10. Speak up
Parenthood will definitely test and strengthen your communication skills. If you want to help but aren’t sure how, ask! If you’re struggling with the new dynamic and feeling left out, reach out to family, fellow dads and partners, or your family’s healthcare provider for support. Everyone wants what’s best for your family—and breastfeeding is part of that equation.
It’s easy to underestimate the role that fathers can play with breastfeeding.
Know that your support means the world—to your partner and your new baby.