Like most men, I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding but I soon learnt a great deal when my wife gave birth to our daughter.
Men and breastfeeding, most people would not put those words together but contrary to popular belief breastfeeding does not have to be an exclusive relationship between a mother and child. In fact, it’s best for dads to actively help their partners with breastfeeding. Your participation and support are vital as a woman is more likely to choose to breastfeed and have a good experience if her partner supports her decision. Interestingly, a dad’s help and support can be the most important factors when a woman chooses to breastfeed.
When I saw my wife breastfeed, I knew that it was difficult, tiring and painful. So why do millions of mums breastfeed throughout the world…well, breastfeeding has health benefits for both mum and baby.
The makeup of a mother’s milk changes from feed to feed and adapts to the baby’s needs. The first milk a mother produces is called colostrum; this is packed with antibodies which help fight infection.
Breastfed babies suffer from less sickness and women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer, some forms of ovarian cancer and diabetes.
It’s important to know that breastfeeding is not a form of contraception and your partner can get pregnant even if she is breastfeeding. As a couple, you should use birth control if you want to decrease your chances of pregnancy.
At times I felt helpless and thought that there wasn’t much I could do to assist my wife but I thankfully learnt that I was mistaken. I wish that I had known right from the onset that I could be super helpful and be an integral part of her breastfeeding journey.
I bought Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream which helped ease her nipple pain. I also ensured that she was entertained, comfortable, hydrated and well fed. Sounds like a long list but it’s all doable and I will break it down for you in 35 easy steps:
1. Limit visitors
Yes, we know that friends and family are eager to see your precious baby as they also countdown before the little one arrives but know when to restrict visitors at home and at the hospital.
We understand that people love gushing over a newborn but your partner will be recovering and may not care for guests.
My wife and I spoke about when she wanted to have visitors over. In the early days, she didn’t want to see many people as she was learning how to breastfeed and she was teaching our daughter how to breastfeed.
I politely told family and friends that they could visit in a few weeks. Some mums may want to see family and friends as soon as possible as they want to connect with their loved ones by sharing birth stories and their struggles of being a first time mum.
Every mum is different- respect her choice either way (to have visitors soon after your baby’s birth or not). Do remember that it’s best to keep visits short.
2. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally
Though breastfeeding is natural and healthy, it doesn’t always come naturally. Breastfeeding can be mentally, emotionally and physically hard. As a new mum, my wife struggled in the early weeks of breastfeeding.
Learning how to breastfeed was a slow process for my wife and it was very difficult when she hadn’t slept much, was exhausted and discouraged.
Be sure to gently support mum when it comes to getting the little one to latch on. It takes time for mums to understand the breastfeeding technique and some mums have to overcome lactation problems.
Breastfeeding mothers have many concerns about their milk supply; they worry if the baby is having enough milk or having too much milk. It’s important for mums and dads to know that you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby.
Help your partner reach out for help if she has a breastfeeding problem by calling the doctor, a lactation consultant, the hospital where your baby was born or a La Leche League https://www.llli.org/. The nurses really helped my wife. I also found YouTube breastfeeding videos and it helped my wife as she could see how mums breastfed.
3. Encourage your partner to nurse skin-to-skin
Tell your partner about nursing skin-to-skin. Snuggling gives mums and baby the best start for breastfeeding.
Skin-to-skin benefits range from babies that breastfeed better to boosting the baby’s mental development. It’s simple; a naked baby (or with a diaper) snuggles up to mum’s bare chest and feeds.
Newborns have a heightened sense of smell, so placing your baby skin-to-skin triggers the baby’s instinct to find and latch onto the breast.
Mums produce more hormones such as prolactin which stimulate breast milk production and oxytocin (referred to as the love hormone) which encourages bonding and helps release the milk.
Mums and dads should practice skin-to-skin as often as possible.
4. Know how to get baby to latch on (use the nose to nipple position)
My wife and I learnt about the nose to nipple position and this knowledge helped her learn how to breastfeed. Know this position well: A mum should hold baby close with the baby’s nose level with the mum’s nipple.
Encourage baby to latch on by gently stroking their top lip. Wait until the baby opens their mouth really wide with their tongue down.
Your baby will tilt their head back and come to the breast. Mums need to support baby’s neck but not hold the back of their head.
Your baby must always be able to freely move his/her head. Make sure the baby takes the nipple and as much of the areola into his/her mouth.
5. Keep the mum entertained
Especially in the early days, music and entertainment helped keep my wife’s mind of the stress of learning how to breastfeed.
My wife initially breastfed for 40 minutes to two hours every two hours.
Yes, breastfeeding is a beautiful act of love but it did become tedious for my wife so I played her favourite shows online.
I also updated her music playlist on her iPod and made sure her phone was charged so that she could use it while breastfeeding.
6. Food and drinks
Breastfeeding burns calories so it makes mums very hungry and thirsty. Breastfeeding is tiring and it is easy for mums to opt for sweet snacks; step in and help prepare healthy meals. Bring her something to eat and drink.
New mums are sleep deprived so I would prepare meals in advance and when I was at work she would just heat them up. I would also make tasty, healthy smoothies.
7. Help ease her nipple pain
When your partner suffers from sore nipples it makes breastfeeding very uncomfortable and painful.
Buy the Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream for her sore nipples. My wife used it and it was fantastic as it soothes and protects sore and cracked nipples.
8. Pamper your partner
Draw up a bath for her and massage her. A relaxed mum will feel more prepared to breastfeed.
9. Be her number one supporter
Be kind, patient and understanding as breastfeeding can be very tiring. Dads can bolster their partner’s confidence by offering words of encouragement.
Many people lose weight through breastfeeding but some mums gain weight; remind her that it’s normal to have her weight fluctuate.
Tell her that she looks beautiful and compliment her often-she just brought a new life into this world and every day she is learning more about being a mum.
Be affectionate; hug and kiss her often!
10. Really listen to your partner
You both have been through so much and she wants someone who she can honestly confide in.
My wife vented to me because she was so frustrated with breastfeeding, she was trying so hard and she was completely exhausted.
She said that breastfeeding looked so easy but she was really struggling. She felt better after she vented and was relieved that she wouldn’t be judged for her frustrations.
11. Use expressed milk to feed your baby
Expressing milk is the way a mum takes milk from her breasts without the baby needing to breastfeed directly.
Breastfeeding should be well established before you start bottle-feeding. Wait until your baby is at least 6 weeks old; at that stage your baby should be comfortable with nursing on a real breast first.
Mums express milk with their hands, a manual pump or an electric breast pump. My wife found that the electric pump worked best. She expressed milk and I introduced our baby to a bottle at feeding times.
I gave our daughter a bottle when she was happy and relaxed and not when she was very hungry. Babies use a different sucking action when drinking from a bottle and it took a while for her to get the hang of it.
Don’t ever force your baby to feed and remember that your baby doesn’t have to finish all the milk in the bottle. A baby’s tummy is tiny so they can’t have large amounts of milk in one feed.
12. Know that you should not give your baby any water for the first 6 months
Babies get all the hydration they need from breast milk even in hot weather. Giving water may cause your baby to drink less breast milk and suffer from malnutrition.
If a baby is given too much water, this can result in water intoxication. Once your baby is 6 months old, you can give him/her sips of water when thirsty.
13. Keep your baby in your bedroom
Having your baby in your room makes night time breastfeeding easier. Studies have also shown that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is reduced when babies are close by.
Place your baby in a bassinet, cradle or crib that is near your bed. Our baby slept in a Moses basket next to my wife’s side of the bed; this enabled my wife to reach out to her from time to time.
For safety, our daughter was always placed on her back, not on her side or stomach.
14. Different breastfeeding positions
There are many breastfeeding positions but the one that worked well for my wife was lying down and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding while lying down allows a mum to rest, especially when they are recovering from labour.
It’s comforting for mums to nourish and nurture their baby and rest at the same time.
15. Have a comfortable feeding chair ready
Your partner can use a reclining chair or any comfortable chair. The chair doesn’t have to be specifically for breastfeeding. Be sure to add cushions if desired.
16. Buy your partner a breastfeeding pillow
I bought my wife a breastfeeding pillow and she loved it. There are many different types of pillows but I bought the Boppy Feeding Pillow.
Our daughter was able to feed in the correct position and it’s also an exceptionally versatile product which can be used for propping, tummy time and sitting.
17. Occupy older kids when mum is breastfeeding
Entertain or take out your older kids while mum is breastfeeding.
18. Mum’s alone time
Let her have her much needed alone time. Breastfeeding can be very tiring, let her sleep and rest. Encourage her to nap when baby naps or when you bottle feed.
19. Eliminate cabin fever
Fact: Mums produce more milk when they are relaxed. If she feels most relaxed by going out then encourage her to do so; cabin fever is real and socialising will help her.
Get a pram so that she can take baby out. Venturing out with a newborn can be daunting but it’s important for mums to be physically active.
My wife was nervous when she first took our daughter out in a pram and she kept checking on her every 10 minutes. Our baby slept for most of her trip and my wife enjoyed lunch, shopped and felt exhilarated when she returned.
20. Do most of the housework or hire someone
Clean the house – this is a major help! If you don’t like housework or don’t have the time but can afford a cleaner, hire one. Having things organised and neat will make your partner’s breastfeeding journey more enjoyable.
21. Change baby’s diaper before and after feeds
Your partner is keeping your baby nourished around the clock so changing diapers will give her some time to rest.
22. Burp the baby
I used to burp our daughter after feeding. I learnt how to burp her from a nurse. Don’t be scared of hurting your baby; just be sensible and gentle. I used the over your shoulder position: Ensure that your baby’s chin rests on your shoulder, support the head and shoulder area with one hand and gently rub and pat your baby’s back.
23. Learn your baby’s hunger cues
Early hunger cues include sucking sounds, moving around, tongue and hand-to-mouth movements. If you see these, bring your baby to your partner to breastfeed or you can bottle-feed with expressed milk.
24. Bring baby to mum
I brought our baby to my wife because she was recovering from labour and she found it difficult to walk. Your partner will be grateful for that little bit of extra support given and it brings the family closer together.
25. Helping at night
It was tough to wake up at night knowing that in a few hours I’d be commuting to work but changing my little girl’s nappy and burping her helped my wife. I knew that if my wife woke up and was alone every night, she would feel alone and tired.
26. Know how to wake up a baby for a feed
Newborns need to feed at least 8 times or more every 24 hours during the first few weeks. To wake up your baby, undress and gently move your baby’s arms and legs. Talk and sing to your baby and make eye contact.
Place a cool facecloth on their forehead and make sure that the lights are dim as bright lights will make them want to close their eyes.
27. Learn about Dream Feeding
A dream feed means doing a late night feed while your baby is asleep.
28. Sterilise bottles and clean the breastfeeding pump
If mum is pumping, sterilise the bottles and clean the breastfeeding pump.
29. Support her choice to breastfeed in public
Breastfeeding in public is legal and protected by law. Mums feel very supported when their partners support their decision to breastfeed in public.
My wife was initially very nervous about breastfeeding in public; she thought that everyone would be staring at her.
She soon became confident and breastfed at restaurants, on the train, at the airport and on the plane.
30. Get her a breastfeeding cover if she wants privacy
My wife opted for ways that she could nurse with discretion in public. She loved the breastfeeding apron that I purchased for her and to this day she has kept it as a memento.
31. Attend a breastfeeding support class before or after birth
Attending breastfeeding classes together will make you feel closer to your partner. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the classes.
My wife and I attended a breastfeeding support class after she gave birth and it did help us learn about the different breastfeeding positions.
32. Support her decision to breastfeed for a short/long time
Discuss the benefits of breastfeeding with your partner and help her weigh out the pros and cons. Support her choice to breastfeed for a short time or an extended period.
Don’t pressure her to nurse rather have an open mind and remember that it doesn’t work for everyone.
33. If she wants to supplement breastfeeding with formula, support her
Yes it’s best to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of a baby’s life but if your partner is struggling and wants to do mixed feeding (formula and breastfeeding), support her.
34. Seek help if your partner is suffering from depression
Some women may experience depression and anxiety after giving birth and during breastfeeding.
If you feel that she is suffering from depression and it’s not the normal baby blues, consult your doctor.
35. Talk to other fathers about their experiences with breastfeeding
It’s easy to forget to look after your own mental and physical health and it’s important that you as a dad are supported too!
I’m sure that by talking to other dads you will gain valuable advice from those who helped their partners in their breastfeeding journey.
All this information will help you understand breastfeeding and how to make it work for you as a family. I can guarantee that your partner will definitely appreciate the effort that you are making!
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