Getting Dads Involved With Breastfeeding

For a breastfeeding mom, the early weeks can seem like a long time, and having adequate support can not only mean a world of difference emotionally, but also mean the difference between a successful breastfeeding experience and one that quickly diminishes.  With newborns nursing a lot (WAY more than 8-12 times a day, though that is what many professionals will tell new moms), moms can feel as though they are a walking boob.  What can dads do to help mom with the breastfeeding experience?  Even more than just doing other things with the baby, there are many ways dad can help with the actual act of breastfeeding.

  • Learn about breastfeeding during pregnancy.  Attend a breastfeeding class.  Read books and watch videos (Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, LLL’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and LLL’s Mother’s Milk DVD are all excellent informational resources.  You can also both attend Esali Birth’s online Breastfeeding Basics course in the comfort of your own home and on your own time).  If you don’t get through the whole book – know where it is so you can reference it when needed.  You can also reference – which is an excellent site to search when you have on the spot questions – bookmark this page.
  • Support biological birth and get involved in birth choices.  The pregnancy and birth experience will be the first step to a successful breastfeeding experience.  What happens during birth and the first hour following, as well as the next few days, are crucial to breastfeeding experience.  Get educated.
  • Help her latch the baby on.  If she is having difficulty latching the baby, suggest different positions (like the biological nursing position, and/or side-lying) and help her move the baby’s head onto the breast, or prop pillows under or behind the baby for support.  This is especially beneficial if mom has had a medicated labor and is nursing within the first hour before the affects of medications have worn off.
  • DO NOT suggest formula when your wife has difficulties with breastfeeding.  Know the breastfeeding resources in your area before birth so that you can contact them  first.  Do not use your pediatrician for these types of questions – contact an IBCLC or someone else, or other group who you know is reputable in the breastfeeding department.  Know who to get a hold of if your wife has any issues.  Many dads go to formula first w/o consulting a book or someone else for support which can be detrimental to the breastfeeding experience as well as to mom’s emotional well-being.  Formula can have its time and place, but an initial go-to-resource is not it.  Donate your formula samples that you may have been given at your hospital stay so that you’re not tempted to use them in a tense moment.  Get a breast pump ready for situations like this – it is just as easy to pump and supplement w/ a cup, dropper…etc. as it is to mix up a batch of formula – but at least this way, baby is still getting breastmilk.
  • Take the baby between feeds and do all the other things a baby needs (like diapers, comorting, babywearing...etc.).  Know that you do have the ability to comfort the baby (a birth ball and babywearing is great for this). 
  • Learn the cues for hunger rather than waiting for baby to cry.  If you aren’t catching on – ask your wife to help you.  Specifically say “How do you know when the baby is hungry before it cries?”  It may take your wife time to recognize these as well, but when you’re helping learn the cues, then you’re parenting together.  It is something that will take a while, but knowing that babies will gnaw their hands, root, and make fishy-faces before ever resorting to crying will allow latching to be easier for mom, and the breastfeeding experience to run more smoothly.  Your baby will cry less, and everyone will be happier.  You CANNOT “spoil” your baby by responding to his/her needs.
  • Sit with her during long nursing sessions so she knows she's not alone.  Put in a movie and watch it with her.
  • Always fill her nursing station(s).  Get a basket or a portable bag and fill it with useful items for her nursing sessions.  Be sure she always has a bottle of water and some healthy snacks (that are easy to eat with one hand until she gets the hang of hands-free nursing).  Be sure she has a book, magazine, TV remote, phone, or whatever item she prefers to use during a nursing session.  Make her a salad or sandwich while she latches baby, and bring her a glass of juice.  Make this your daily task so that her nursing station or bag is always prepared.
  • Massage her breasts (towards the nipple) while she nurses.  Especially if she is feeling engorged, or for some reason is experiencing a plugged duct – this is a wonderful way of relieving those discomforts.  This is also a great way to introduce intimacy when other intimate connections may not be possible during postpartum – and a great way of boosting your oxytocin levels, increasing oxytocin levels in mom, and experiencing the direct bonding connection that mom experiences with every nursing session.
  • Tell her she is doing awesome - that she is a wonderful mom - and don't ever ever think she'll ever get tired of hearing that!
  • Let her get her rest.  Remind her to nap when she can, and give her the opportunity to do so without hesitation or frustration.
  • If you work, don’t assume that your job is harder than hers.  She needs her sleep just as much (if not more) than you do.  Respect her job as a mother, and understand her needs during the postpartum period.  Get up with her at night and do not use excuses like “I have to work tomorrow” because so does she.  She needs your support in any way that you can provide it.  Do not come home from work and turn on the TV – talk with her and reconnect with your baby.  If she is nursing, make a healthy dinner so that she can continue to nurse.
  • Call her or e-mail her every day from work and ask her how things are going.  Hearing from you will boost her energy and mood and help her to get through the rest of the day.
  • Know that nursing in public is not disgusting – it is unsanitary for mothers to nurse in a bathroom and many babies will not nurse while being covered.  Breastfeeding is a normal bodily function, and after a few times it will be very easy to discretely nurse in public.  You can help your wife do this by shielding her as she gets the hang of latching baby on (if she is uncomfortable), and by not condemning her for her nursing in public choices.  Help her to feel comfortable with the situation so that she doesn’t need extra items to feed her baby.
  • Talk with your wife and ask her things about breastfeeding - she'll enjoy the conversation and the fact that you're interested in the situation.  Learning more about breastfeeding will help you to respect breastfeeding and encourage your wife to continue.  Know that babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least the first 6 months, and approximately 75% of their diet will be milk until around 12 months of age.  Know that “extended” breastfeeding is recommended for at least 24 months, and that it is not “weird” but incredibly healthy for your baby and your wife.  By not breastfeeding, cancer rates are dramatically increased in the mother, and there are a world of negative health affects that can be caused from artificial milk supplements for your baby.

What are some other things your partner has done for you that directly supported your ability to breastfeed?