Would it surprise you to know that the single most important factor in a new mom’s success with breastfeeding is the support she gets from her husband/partner? Dads-to-be are usually surprised to hear that they have this impact, and are all ears on how they can help the process. Here's some advice from veteran dads about how dad can help with breastfeeding:
- Breastfeeding is natural but not easy. Just like learning to drive a car, it takes time and practice to really get the hang of it. The importance of the emotional support that you offer during this time can not be overstated. You’re the cheerleader. If you offer encouragement and appreciation, not only will mom be more likely to hang in there past the rough part, she’ll remember you were there for her when she needed you.
- Positioning and latch-on are key. Since you’re seeing mom and baby from a different angle than she is, you’ll probably have suggestions about positioning or maybe adding a pillow here or there to make things more comfortable for her. Men have a natural sensitivity to visual angles and it can come in handy here.
- Help mom relax. This can be anything from a shoulder rub to the tried and true bringing her a glass of water or something to eat while she’s nursing. One new dad talked about helping his wife relax by rubbing her breast as the baby was getting ready to latch on. When she’s relaxed, the milk will let down. An engineer in Daddy Boot Camp had a good check list for problem solving breastfeeding: Mom relaxed? Milk letting down? Baby getting enough? Baby calm enough to suck? Well positioned?
- Get covered. Read up on what your insurance covers in the way of breast pumps and supplies. Breastfeeding supplies are now tax deductible, so use that flexible spending account to pay for them.
- Dad can feed a breastfeeding baby too. Speaking of breast pumps, veteran dads say a good one is worth it. After 3-4 weeks, mom can start pumping milk, giving dad a chance to feed his baby a bottle from time to time. This may be in the middle of the night so mom can sleep (although some moms report engorged breasts if the baby misses a feeding) or during the day so mom can get out for a while without worrying about the baby getting hungry while she’s gone. Feeding is a key bonding time, so now dad gets to share the experience with his little one.
Even if mom is breastfeeding during the night, you can share the load by getting up and bringing the baby in to her. Sometimes waking up and not having to get out of bed is really appreciated. One veteran dad thought that even though his wife had said that she could get up and do it on her own, he felt like she was looking at him asleep and getting resentful.
- Lower her stress levels. You’ll both be surprised at the amount of time breastfeeding takes. Anything you do around the house is going to take a weight off mom. Otherwise she’ll sit there nursing, but making mental notes of everything that needs to be done around the house. And getting stressed.
- Be the protector. New fathers are often surprised at how protective they feel towards their new family. If mom needs help with visitors that don’t know when to leave, or needs a buffer from a questioning grandma (who might not have breastfed), you’re in the perfect position to have her back.
- Own another activity. Since mom is the go-to parent for breastfeeding, jump right in and own another baby activity. Dads are great with baths (watch the video of first time dad of twins, Jason, bathing his 6 week old baby), baby massage, or putting babies to sleep. With two of the big ones handled, (eating, sleeping, etc.) you’ve become a great team.
- Find outside help. Maybe you do everything humanly possible and mom still has trouble. It happens. Luckily, there are certified breastfeeding counselors around. Find one though La Leche League or the International Lactation Consultant Association's search page. They’ve heard it all – sore nipples, not enough milk, breast infections, you name it. As the family resource finder, you will have scored again.