Researchers find that fathers significantly influence whether their partners breastfeed and for how long. But figuring out how to support a breastfeeding mama isn’t always easy.
Some dads feel excluded by the breastfeeding relationship. Some want to help their partners when breastfeeding proves challenging, but don’t know what to do. (If her nipples are sore or the baby cries a lot, should he offer to get bottles and formula, or encourage her to hang in there?) Here’s some ways breastfeeding moms can involve dads:
1. Share information with him about the importance of breastfeeding
When he knows why it matters, he’ll be more motivated to help.
2. Discuss your breastfeeding goals
The World Health Organization and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend breastfeeding for two years and beyond, but your goals may be different. Maybe you think three months is long enough; maybe you see two years as just the beginning and plan to nurse until your toddler weans himself. Talk about what’s important to you. If you are having problems, what would you like him to do? Rub your back and encourage you to keep trying? Call La Leche League or a breastfeeding clinic? Or head to the store to buy formula and bottles?
3. Enlist him as your breastfeeding coach
There are some great instructional videos on line (see the ones at breastfeedingclinic.ca for example) but few are filmed from the mother’s point of view. If your partner has watched the videos with you, he can help you copy the positioning and techniques. Nervous about breastfeeding in public? Dad can let you know if that T-shirt you were thinking of wearing reveals more skin than you’re comfortable with. Dad can also provide an extra pair of hands when you need them to get that positioning just right. While you’re holding your breast with one hand and supporting the baby with the other, he can help with adjusting the baby’s head position a little, tucking the baby’s bottom in, or even just moving some of the fabric of your T-shirt that’s brushing the baby’s cheek.
4. Let him know other kinds of hands-on support are appreciated, too!
Perhaps he could bring the baby to you, with a drink and snack if you need them. Once the baby’s done, Dad could change diapers, help burp and rock the baby back to sleep while you get a little more rest.
5. Discuss the bottle issue
Many mothers who are committed to exclusive breastfeeding prefer to avoid bottles completely. Others are willing to have Dad provide some bottles of expressed milk once breastfeeding is well established (usually after six weeks or so). You may want to talk to a La Leche League Leader or Lactation Consultant for tips on how to maintain breastfeeding while giving some bottles.
6. Encourage him to build his own relationship with the baby
Maybe dad will be brilliant at getting up stubborn burps, or have the magic power to sing the baby to sleep with his deeper voice. Putting the baby skin-to-skin against his chest is soothing for the baby and encourages attachment; it’s also a great way to do “tummy time.” At first, a lot will be trial and error, just as it is for you, but as he begins to learn your baby’s individual cues and signals and personality, their relationship will grow stronger. Supporting each other through the early challenges of breastfeeding and parenting can be good for Mom and Dad’s relationship, too.
This article was originally published in August 2012.