Far too often, men feel isolated when their partner exclusively breastfeeds their new child. Men may feel like they are not important or that they are not able to bond because they are not getting to feed their baby. Some men may even experience feelings of jealousy.
Fathers are vital to a new mother’s success in breastfeeding. While the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” bears truth, in this case, the support of a father to his partner’s breastfeeding is the most important. The “village” may support her but if he does not, she is at a greater risk of failure*. However, though the world may be against her, his support can be enough to see her through to success.
Dads, you are Super Man to your breastfeeding partner and child!
Supporting your breastfeeding partner is more than simply stating, “I support you/your decision” but involves action to show this support. Having given birth does not mean that your partner is no longer growing a human. Breastfeeding is tiring, can be a challenge, and while we mothers may love it, it’s not always fun and something we like doing. I will never forget that first huge challenge when I became a new mother and my husband was my biggest support and cheerleader, encouraging me that it was ok and we would get through it and I would be successful.
Here is a list of a few things you can do to help your breastfeeding partner know that you do support her as well as to help you find ways to get involved with this part of your child’s care.
First, take pride in your partner. She is giving your child the BEST of the best, Straight From the Tap! (See this blog for more information.) When you can appreciate what she is doing, supporting her will be so much easier. Breastfeeding is a lifestyle, not just feeding the baby, and your role cannot truly be replaced.
Make sure mom has water when she is nursing. In the brain fog of being postpartum and sleep deprived, she may not think to get that before she starts but, she can’t make milk if she is dehydrated. The average amount of water mom needs while nursing is going to vary depending on a lot of factors but mom needs to always keep water in hand. She needs to be drinking roughly a gallon, more if she can, of water (not tea, juice, soda, etc.) a day. She cannot make enough milk if she is not drinking enough water. This can be one of the hardest things for some women to accomplish.
Make sure mom has a healthy snack to nibble on while nursing. Now is not the time to start dieting. How many calories a mother needs to consume while breastfeeding is still debated. A good rule of thumb though is if mom is hungry, she needs to eat something. High protein foods, good fats, fruits and vegetables are fantastic. Go easy on the simple carbs and refined sugars. While those are the easiest and sometimes the fastest to grab in a hurry, they are void of nutrients both baby and mom need and can make it hard for mom to get back to her pre-pregnant weight. While on the subject of weight, do not criticize her body but appreciate it and tell her she is beautiful. It took nine months to grow this new person. The weight is not going to necessarily fall off of her and some women are never able to fully go back to their pre-pregnant body.
When baby is fussy and nursing just isn’t helping, take the baby and give mom a rest. This is a great time to use one of those daddy super powers. Sometimes, dads just have “the touch” and can sooth the baby when mom can’t. Savor this! You may have to learn though. Just like mom and baby have to learn how to breastfeed, dad and baby have to learn each other too. This is a new relationship so go slow. Try taking your little one for a stroll. This may be around the house or if the weather is nice, go outside. Give baby wearing a try (be sure to learn how to put baby in properly and do this in a safe place, like over the bed, until you get the hang of it). Sing or talk to your baby. Daddies have a deeper voice than mom and that can be soothing and those vocal vibrations through your chest can be an added comfort. You may be saying, “I’ve worked a long and stressful day and am exhausted when I come home.” I understand. But guess what? Mom is not only tired and stressed, she’s probably at her wits end. Being a parent requires a lot of effort, regardless of how tired we are or how hard work was, and it takes teamwork from mom and dad to get through it. Before you know it, you’ll be looking back wondering where the time went.
Give mom a massage. Her shoulders, back and neck are going to really feel the strain and massaging those muscles will really help her. Relaxing also helps in milk production so it is beneficial for your little one as well. With my youngest, there were times I would be sitting up in the bed in the middle of the night, hunched over our son because I was so sleepy and I didn’t want to fall asleep while nursing for fear of dropping him or smothering him. Some nights, I would be refreshingly aroused from my fatigue by warm hands gently rubbing my aching muscles. That not only felt amazing physically but it helped make those moments bearable. And of course was brownie points for my husband.
Help with household chores, including meals.
Back off on sex. Some women are all for it but some are so touched out and exhausted that the last thing they want is to expend more energy “tending to his needs”. This is one of those areas that can really hurt a marriage. If your partner is not wanting sex, leave it alone. Take this time to nurture your relationship in other ways. Pushing sex on a woman who does not want it will only cause harm and push her away.
Hold her if she wants you to, especially if she needs to cry the stress out. Sit with her between your legs and let her lean into you while she nurses. This not only keeps you and your partner close but will give you a new view of your little one and your little one of you.
If she needs to talk, listen to her. That means actually putting the phone down, turning off the tv and looking her in the eyes. This time can be a real strain on the relationship but if you nurture her, you two will grow closer.
Ultimately, make your partner your top priority and communicate with her. Ask her what she needs of you and then do what you can to fulfill that. Effective communication, articulating, active listening and action are vital to any relationship but all the more so during times of greater stress. And as much as you love your new baby, new babies equal new stress. Don’t let your relationship suffer because of this life change.
*To you moms who are single or do not have the support of your child’s father, do know that you can still be successful. If you do need support, please reach out to your local lactation consultant, La Leche League or local breastfeeding support group. Don’t give up! You can do it!