After my wife had our baby, she began breastfeeding and managed a successful latch several times before we left the hospital. But everything changed the moment we got home. My sleep-deprived, physically exhausted wife struggled until midnight to get our screaming newborn to latch.
Watching her strain to feed our daughter without success, I felt emasculated in my role as a husband. It seemed like there was nothing I could do to help her. I had already felt helpless throughout the birth, and now I was feeling that way again at a time when my wife needed to recover. And when I had to wake her a mere two hours into her sleep because the baby wouldn’t stop crying and wanted to feed again, I felt even worse.
But breastfeeding was something she really wanted to do, so I saw it as my job to give her every opportunity to succeed. I knew I couldn't do the actual feeding, but I was desperate to make myself useful. Here’s how I learned to be helpful—and how you can too.
Your primary role in this journey is that of a butler. I can’t even count the number of times my wife would start a feed and then realize the remote was just out of reach, the drink was on the wrong side of the table or she needed a snack (perhaps even a main course). At first, I found this rather annoying, but I quickly put my ego aside, realized that my wife was fairly limited and even learned to anticipate what she needed before she asked.
In the early days of breastfeeding, my wife didn’t want to move once the baby had latched. This often meant that she found herself in a rather uncomfortable position for quite some time. I put down my serving tray and broke out the massage oil. This gave my wife a chance to relax and ease any aches, but it also gave me the opportunity to feel like I was a part of the whole feeding process.
At first I was clueless about the world of breastfeeding, but over time (and a lot of Googling), I learned all about cluster feeding, the baby’s role in letdown and the importance of nipple cream. Lots and lots of nipple cream. I would try my best to help our baby latch and to sort out how to use the electric pump—I was even in charge of storing the expressed breastmilk. Just be careful to time your advice well. The middle of the night when you’re both lacking sleep is not a good time to suggest a different feeding position, for example, in case it doesn't go down well.
A few days after my wife had mastered her latch, our daughter became rather fussy during her nighttime feeds. After doing some research online, I discovered it might have been an issue with overactive letdown, which makes the milk come out too fast. We quickly got the breast pump out and expressed for a few minutes to reduce the excess pressure, then everything returned to normal. Managing to solve a problem together made my wife feel like she wasn’t alone, and it made me feel like I had an important role in this journey.
It took us two weeks before we left the house to go out in public. My wife was worried about having to get her boob out and feared that someone might say something derogatory about it. She would get nervous when our baby woke up, and eventually fight with the cover to feed her “discreetly.” Often, just being there for my wife helped in these moments.
I learned that you'll never know what it feels like to breastfeed a baby in public. Just as you’ll never know how it feels to worry that you aren’t feeding your baby enough or perhaps the worry of whether you’ll even be able to do it. Just appreciate how your partner feels and do what you can to support them.
Eventually, my wife’s confidence grew, but it took time. Before long, she ditched the cover, didn’t care when and where she had to feed the baby and was ready should anyone say something.
Ross Hunt blogs about his journey with fatherhood on Isablog.