Dad, don’t underestimate your role in the breastfeeding process. Your support and encouragement can mean the difference in your partner’s success or failure at breastfeeding. She needs you.
Breastfeeding is hard. It is challenging. There will be a lot of frustration and discouragement. You will often feel helpless as you watch your partner struggle. There’s a lot you need to know so that you can help her be successful in breastfeeding your baby for as long as you both feel is appropriate.
First, learn why she should breastfeed. Understand the health benefits that it provides to both her and the baby. Breastfeeding is about more than just bonding, it’s about giving your baby the healthiest start possible. Know where your partner stands on the idea of formula feeding. If she is against it, never offer it as an option to ease her load. If she is okay with the idea of limited formula feedings, research what formula might be best for your baby and your situation.
Learn her breastfeeding preferences. She may want you in the room with her and the baby. If so, it can be a great bonding time for all of you together. Whether she wants you by her side during breastfeeding or not, you can do nice things for her. Make sure she is comfortable where she is at. Offer her food or water. If you are unsure what she needs, ask. Letting her know that you are here to help can lift a huge burden from her shoulders, even if there is nothing you can do at the moment.
You can’t take over breastfeeding, but you can take on other responsibilities in the care of the baby. Take time to love your baby after a feeding. Hold her, cuddle her, and talk to her. Food doesn’t need to be involved in the bonding experience. Your baby needs to know you. You can burp her, take on diaper changings, or even get up with the baby in the middle of the night and let your partner rest. Emma Dufficy said, “One way of looking at your partner’s (daddy’s) role is to think of it as caring for your baby without food attached. Your baby learns from the start that she can love and be loved, without it being solely about feeding. In fact, babies will often settle better with dads, because they don’t smell of breastmilk.” You can also help out with household chores or the care of other children to give your partner more time with the baby.
If your partner chooses to pump her breast milk, this will allow you to be just as involved in feeding the baby as she is. Help her research what is available to find the pump that will best suit her needs. She might need your help learning how to assemble the parts. There are also many ways to keep and store breast milk, so look into what is available and what is compatible with the breast pump that your partner chooses. Some dads take on the task of ensuring all parts are washed after each pumping session, then assembled and ready for the next use.
If your partner is struggling to provide enough milk or your baby is unable to latch properly to breastfeed, your support will be needed even more. Learn what options she has and help her determine the best solution for her and the baby. Contact a lactation consultant and go with your partner to all appointments. Ask questions so that you can better understand the situation and the possible solutions. You will learn a lot from these appointments and your partner will need all the help you can provide.
Breastfeeding or feeding your baby bottled breast milk is not the easiest path in the first year of your baby’s life, especially if it’s your first baby. Even with all the help and support that is available, there is lot that you and she still need to learn. You may not be able to breastfeed your baby, but never underestimate your importance to your partner or to your baby. You might just mean the difference between success and failure.
by Christie Haskell