When women are polled on reasons why they did not start or why they stopped breastfeeding their babies, one of the reasons that is often mentioned is lack of support from their partners. Breastfeeding in today’s society takes a real commitment, and not just from moms. Dads have a huge role to play in the success of the breastfeeding relationship.
Like moms, most dads truly want what’s best for their babies. Not all dads are aware of the amazing health benefits that breastfeeding can provide for their children, but these benefits are considerable. Breastfeeding promotes bonding, brain development and optimal health in babies. Formula-fed babies are more likely than breastfed babies to fall victim to diarrhea, gastrointestinal, respiratory, ear and urinary tract infections, as well as vomiting and other symptoms. Formula-fed babies also have more cases of allergies and asthma, are hospitalized more, get meningitis more often and are more likely to be victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Later in life, children who were formula-fed have more incidences of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis than do breastfed babies. There are also important health benefits for mothers who breastfeed. Women who nurse their children have decreased incidence of numerous forms of cancer. They get fewer urinary tract infections while nursing, and have less incidence of osteoporosis later in life. The evidence is clear that breastfeeding is worth the effort.
Unlike most aspects of parenting, breastfeeding is something that only mothers can do. So what can dads do to help their partners breastfeed? The good news is that there are lots of ways that dads can be a big help with breastfeeding. August is World Breastfeeding Month and a good time to think about supporting your partner’s efforts to breastfeed. This article provides ten tips to get dads started. The more involved dads become in helping their partners, the more ideas they will come up with all on their own.
Tip One: Encourage a Network of Support and Education From The Start: Most hospitals offer breastfeeding classes for pregnant women and while it can be good to attend these classes, they rarely provide mothers with all of the information and support that they need to breastfeed successfully. Encourage your partner to regularly attend La Leche League meetings or other breastfeeding support group meetings while she is pregnant as well as after the baby comes. Read books about breastfeeding with your partner so that she knows that you think breastfeeding is important, too.
Tip Two: Create a Formula-Free Zone: Infant formula is a very valuable product that society is lucky to have. Because of its existence, babies who cannot be breastfed, such as many of those who are not living with their birth mothers, now enjoy very high rates of survival. The presence of infant formula can, however, interfere with getting breastfeeding started. The early weeks of breastfeeding can be very difficult if a mother has not grown up surrounded by breastfeeding women. Most people think that breastfeeding should come naturally, but it is really a learned skill for both mothers and babies. Having formula in the house makes it easy to give up and offer a bottle when things get hard, so do not buy any and get rid of all the free samples that are probably coming in the mail and as gifts. Many men feel helpless when they see their partners struggling with breastfeeding and want to make things easier for them. Encouraging your partner to offer a bottle or to let you offer one won’t help. Mothers often mistakenly feel that their partners are not supporting their efforts to breastfeed and do not want them to breastfeed when their partners do this. When things are hard, your partner needs the encouragement that you know she can do it.
Tip Three: Know That The Baby Will Nurse All The Time: Breastfed babies have to eat a lot more often than formula-fed babies do. A lot more often. In the early months of breastfeeding, expect the baby to be nursing pretty much all the time, day and night. Many parents become alarmed that this means that the baby is not getting enough milk, but babies are just made that way. As long as your baby is having 6-8 wet diapers a day, she should be getting plenty of milk.
Tip Four: Your Drink, Madam: Nursing mothers are extremely thirsty all the time. While breastfeeding is very healthy for mothers, its physical demands put your partner at a real risk of dehydration if she does not get enough to drink. Having a baby attached to her chest all the time can make it inconvenient for your partner to be running to the kitchen for frequent refills. That’s where you come in. When your partner is breastfeeding, make sure that she always has a beverage at hand. It is really important and is an easy way for you to keep your partner healthy.
Tip Five: You Don’t Need to Feed The Baby Yet: Many dads encourage mothers to let them feed bottles to their babies so they can share in the experience of feeding the baby or help at night. Although this is fun for dads, it can also interfere with breastfeeding. Even if the bottle is full of expressed breastmilk, every feeding that a mother misses makes it harder to keep up her milk supply. To keep up an optimal milk supply, bottle-feeding should be saved for necessities, like if mom needs to work away from her baby. There are plenty of ways that dads can bond with their babies other than giving them bottles. Dads can be in charge of bath-time, for example. Also, most babies are ready to begin trying some solid foods during the second half of their first year. Dads can be the number one baby food feeder when that time comes. It will be there before you know it.
Tip Six: Good Night, Sleep Tight: Babies need to breastfeed at night and this can make it hard for your partner to get a good night’s sleep. If your baby sleeps in a crib, you can help by going to get the baby as soon as she stirs and bringing her to your partner to nurse. When the baby is finished, you can change her diaper and get her back in her bed. If your partner needs to get up for work in the morning or to take care of other children, though, separate sleeping arrangements may not work out. If your partner cannot nap during the day while the baby naps to make up for the time she has to nurse at night, your family might want to consider co-sleeping. A family bed can allow your baby to nurse without fully waking up your partner so that they both get a better night’s sleep. Note: co-sleeping requires sobriety and is not a safe option for parents who drink alcohol at night or use drugs. Be sure to educate yourself about safe co-sleeping first!
Tip Seven: Pick Up The Slack: It may seem like all your partner does is sit around all day, but breastfeeding is not the passive activity that it can appear. It takes up lots of energy as well as time and your partner is going to tire easily. Your baby will only be little for a short while, so now is the time to pitch in. Don’t expect your partner to be able to handle all the responsibilities she may have handled before baby. Breastfeeding has to be her main job for now. Support that by getting things done around the house and not asking too much from her.
Tip Eight: Forget Your Audience: You and your partner may both feel shy about nursing in public at first. The truth is, though, that babies have to nurse a lot and your partner is not likely to continue doing it if it means she has to stay home all the time. Breastfeeding is perfectly natural and is nothing to be ashamed of doing in public. Encourage your partner to practice nursing in front of a mirror until she feels confident that she can nurse as discreetly as she wants to nurse when out and about. Then encourage her to take the baby anywhere she wants to and to hold her head up high. Let her know that she should be proud to be a nursing mother anywhere.
Tip Nine: Three’s Company: Many women feel pressure from their partners to leave the baby for couple-time. Lay off. Romantic overnight trips away from the baby are just not practical during the first year when your baby is primarily breastfed. If your partner works a full-time job away from the baby, even regular evenings out may not be practical. Nursing is a supply and demand thing and babies have to nurse often to keep up a mother’s supply. Couple-time is important but it doesn’t have to separate mother and baby. Nursing babies are very portable and it is usually easy to have a pleasant dinner in a nice restaurant or go to the movies with baby. Candlelight dinners and videos at home are a good way to spend time together as well. Your baby is only a baby for a short time and her baby days will be over far too soon. Before you know it, she will be having sleepovers and camping trips and you and your partner will have plenty of time alone.
Tip Ten: Run Interference: We don’t really live in a very breastfeeding-friendly society. Your partner may face criticism from friends and family and even strangers about breastfeeding. More likely than outright criticism, she may face lots of questions that undermine her confidence (She just nursed. Why is she nursing again? Do you think she’s getting enough?) and she may face many pressures that make breastfeeding hard. Lack of confidence is the worst enemy of successful breastfeeding so shield her as best as you can from negative influences and let her know that you back her up.
Supportive dads can make all the difference to a mother’s ability to breastfeed successfully. By following the tips in this article, dads can make a good start in supporting a healthy beginning for their babies. Asking moms what else would help them with breastfeeding is a good way for dads to support their partners even farther. By letting them know that they are proud of breastfeeding efforts, dads can take a lot of pressure off their partners and help their babies to grow strong. And strong, healthy babies are what all parents want!