While a father may not be able to feed his baby at the breast, he's still an important part of breastfeeding a baby.
Research shows that if her partner is supportive of breastfeeding, a mother is more likely to give it a try, and more likely to keep going even if things get tough.
Mothers who feel supported by their partners are more confident in their ability to breastfeed, and are less likely to perceive a low milk supply.1
But partners might be wondering what they can actually do to help since they can't actively feed the baby.
Here are the seven best ways a dad or partner can be the best breastfeeding booster:
#1: Be Prepared
Learn about breastfeeding before birth — attend a class together, or read some of the breastfeeding literature she hands you. It's difficult to find ideas directed at partners, but learn how breasts make milk, strategies for positioning and latch, and how to know a baby is getting enough. When mum worries about anything related to breastfeeding, chances are you're the first person she will ask, so learn as much as you can or know where to go to get the information you need. One study found “teaching fathers how to prevent and to manage the most common lactation difficulties is associated with higher rates of breastfeeding at six months.”2
So, learn the basics and be prepared to help.
#2: Be Supportive
One of the best ways to show your support is to refrain from suggesting formula at the first sign of difficulty — think of other strategies to try first. Provide moral support — let her know you think she's doing a great job. Tell jokes, get her to laugh, find the funny in everyday situations. Laughter sometimes is the best medicine. But be physically supportive, too. Provide her with hands-on help when she is positioning baby, and even with latching. Bring her some pillows or a glass of water. Pick up the baby during the night and change his nappy/diaper so mum doesn't need to move around too much.
If you feel stuck and don’t know how else to support your partner, suggest she seek extra help from appropriate breastfeeding support organisations (like the Australian Breastfeeding Association in Australia or La Leche League in the US) or an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant).
#3: Be a Gatekeeper
Have you ever heard the adage, “if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all”? It's your job to enforce this. Everyone has an opinion about infant feeding, and they all want to share it with a breastfeeding mother. As her partner, you can keep her in a positive frame of mind by blocking the naysayers.
Speak up when you hear someone talking to mum adversely about breastfeeding. Phrases like “we've found that … works for us” and “our doctor has recommended …” go a long way to halting less-than-helpful input from others.
#4: Be an Advocate
While you don't need to attend a nurse-in or join a breastfeeding support organisation, you can choose smaller actions that make a large impact for your family.
Get rid of free formula samples, as well as any formula sponsored literature about breastfeeding. If your hospital wants to send you home with a formula sponsored gift bag, say no. Support mum when she feeds your baby in public, rather than asking her to cover up or go somewhere else to nurse, proudly keep her company wherever she is as she feeds your baby.
#5: Be Her Caretaker
Sometimes when caring for a new baby, it's hard to find time to take a shower, fix a meal or even use the toilet. Take care of mum so her basic needs are met. Shop for nutritious foods that take minimal preparation, and make sure she's eating often enough. Help her to relax, with a shoulder rub, or taking over baby care while she showers. Encourage her to get help when she needs it, whether from a lactation consultant or another health professional.
#6: Be Baby's Caretaker
Since you can't feed baby yet, take over other tasks, like nappy/diaper changes, baths, comforting baby, burping, etc. Babies enjoy snuggle time with dad — consider a soft carrier or sling and carry your baby. Go for a walk with baby in the stroller. Learn infant massage. Read to your baby.
When baby starts solids (in the second half of the first year), you can be the chief spoon-feeder and chef.
#7: Be Patient
A new mother has swiftly changing hormones in the weeks after birth. Learn to recognise what's normal and what might need attention, but be patient with her emotions. One minute she may seem fine, and the next she may be crying. Just listening to her or keeping her company with patience is sometimes enough. Also, your sex life may not return to normal as soon as you might like — a woman's libido changes with these postpartum hormonal shifts.
She may feel “touched out” from being so physically connected to baby all day, her breasts may be sore or leaky, and she may have more vaginal dryness. All of these combine to make sex less-than-desirable for her. Find other ways to be intimate and believe that eventually things will get back to normal. Read more about sex after birth (and how you can help get things back on track when she’s ready) with these great articles:
- Why Doesn’t She Want Sex After Having A Baby?
- Libido and Breastfeeding – Where Did My Libido Go?
- When She Prefers Sleep Instead Of Sex – What To Do
Some dads and partners express feelings of inadequacy — they feel that the baby prefers to be with the mother, or they can't do anything as well as mum can, or women are better parents because they have innate knowledge that somehow comes with breastfeeding. Common worries include wondering how you will bond with your baby and resentment that the baby is coming between you and your partner. Interestingly, mothers have these same fears! Rest assured that you have an important part in baby's life, as well as in mum's. Be her support and find ways to be involved — not just in breastfeeding but in parenting. Your input is essential.
Also see BellyBelly’s article: Blokes, Boobs & Breastfeeding written by David Vernon, to read common concerns men have about breastfeeding, as well as lots of great information on the importance of the role partners play during breastfeeding.
Want to read other dad's stories about supporting a breastfeeding mum? La Leche League International has a great online collection here. The Australian Breastfeeding Association also has a great list of ways to help here.
1 Mannion, C. A., Hobbs, A. J., McDonald, S. W., & Tough, S. C. (2013). Maternal perceptions of partner support during breastfeeding. International breastfeeding journal, 8(1), 4.
2 Tohotoa, J., Maycock, B., Hauck, Y. L., Howat, P., Burns, S., & Binns, C. W. (2009). Dads make a difference: an exploratory study of paternal support for breastfeeding in Perth, Western Australia. Int Breastfeed J, 4(1), 15.