Modern dad's are far more involved with parenting then they have ever been but when it comes to breastfeeding, it’s the one task a male can simply not do - unless of course you are Robert De Niro’s character Jack in the film Meet the Fockers with his laugh-out-loud custom made Manary Gland!
Aside from that unforgettable 'option', there are plenty of ways dads can support mums take on the exclusive role of breastfeeding their baby and feel less like a spare limb in the early days.
1. Proactive support
If your partner/wife decides to breastfeed your baby, be proactive and positive about supporting her decision. Become educated on the subject by attending a breastfeeding course with her (usually part of your antenatal group). Although breastfeeding is a natural thing, it’s a learning curve for everyone and comes with challenges. Learn about common breastfeeding problems so that you can help diagnose any issues and find her the right help to overcome them. Learn about your baby's feeding cues to ensure you're ready to pass baby to mum at the right time. Keep breast-feeding helpline, breastfeeding counsellor or health visitor's numbers to hand in case she needs to seek professional help. Help by giving mum & baby the best start with your educated support.
2. Buy her some nursing clothes
One of the most thoughtful things you can do is buy her some clothes that are fit for purpose, just like selecting the right tool for the job. Nursing clothes are designed to fit and flatter post natal bodies with their extra curves and larger breasts. They have areas cut out for nursing access and offer a level of discretion when breastfeeding so that her breasts and stomach are not on full show. If you're unsure what she'd like, buy her a twin pack of lace trim soft scoop nursing vests that she can wear for day or night and combine with her other clothes to create her own look. They make the perfect gift as way of thanks for bringing your baby into this world, especially if she doesn't have to think about choosing them herself!
3. Household chores
You will soon see that breastfeeding is time consuming. A growth spurt could mean mum is nursing all day long in response to baby’s hunger cue’s, which in turn builds up her milk supply to meet he increased demand. So a little help around the house will be much appreciated by her. Do some laundry (see our helpful guide for getting breastmilk, baby sick and baby poo our of dirty laundry), go food shopping, prepare some healthy meals, clean the loo and change the matrimonial bedding every 3 or 4 days (it’s likely to be saturated in breastmilk from night feeds or leaks).
4. Be her extra hands
Whilst she’s breastfeeding, ask her what she needs whilst she's essentially stuck in one place nursing. Offer to reposition her support pillows, bring her a glass of water and a healthy snack, ensure she has the tv remote, book or mobile device to hand for her own entertainment whilst she nurses. Keep her company, share the journey.
5. Compliment her
New mums can feel very anxious about whether they are adequate at breastfeeding with sleep deprivation (from night feeds) and post birth recovery further exacerbating these concerns. So ensure you tell her she’s doing a wonderful job nursing your baby - without being prompted and not just when she’s exhausted and having a ‘down’ day. Tell her she looks beautiful. Heartfelt compliments will raise mum’s spirits and encourage her to continue breastfeeding.
6. Encourage her to sleep
As a general rule, mums are advised to sleep when baby sleeps. This is said to aid post birth recovery, catch up on sleep lost during night feeds and build up her milk supply. And whilst she may feel like she has a hundred other chores to get on with whilst baby naps, encourage her to take at least one nap a day herself. Assure her you will watch over your baby and wake her for baby’s next feed, allowing her to nap with peace of mind.
7. Provide distraction
Whilst mum settles herself into a comfortable nursing position, amuse/distract your hungry baby with with a few funny faces or raspberry kisses. This will ensure your baby is awake and alert for a full feed and give you a few precious moments of daddy time together whilst mum positions herself ready.
Babies need changing often, and sometimes it involves a full set of clothes too! You can be in charge of nappy changes day and night. And whilst mum may want to change her fair share, offer to change your baby, especially before/after a feed if it's required and especially during the night whilst you're on paternity leave.
After a feed, offer to wind your baby. Figure out which way burps your baby best. Try over the shoulder, sitting upright, upright stirring or 'leopard in a tree'. And be sure to have a muslin cloth or two to hand to mop up any spit-ups!
Bathtimes can be a great time you to take the driving seat, even after you’ve returned to working full time. Enjoy a little splash time with your little one, get them used to water, clean them and play silly games. Allow mum to have a few moments alone-time or let her keep you company whilst you do the physical part.
11. Washing & Sterilising
Help by keeping the breastpump and bottles washed and sterilised ready for use.
12. Amuse older siblings
Older siblings often feel left out with the arrival of a newborn and will compete for mums attention. Offer mum and newborn the opportunity to establish breastfeeding whilst you play with the elder sibling making them feel included and loved. You could all snuggle up together or make feeding time the sibling's 'special' time for playing independently nearby.
There are so many ways in which you can nurture the bond between you and your baby without having to feed them. You can resettle them back in their crib or play with them with their toys. You could give your baby a cuddle or enjoy some skin to skin contact with them. You can soothe baby with songs or stories. Or you can take baby for a walk in the pram between feeds. You play such an important role as the father to your baby.
14. In public
Unfortunately breastfeeding in public is still taboo, making mums feel anxious about feeding in public places despite their legal right entitling them to. Be her human shield to protect her from prying or judgemental eyes and offer a level of privacy and discretion for her as baby latches on or off. Then carry on as normal. If anyone has the audacity to say anything negative be ready to counteract with a positive comment about how well she is doing and avoid an altercation that will leave her humiliated further.
15. Accept change
You may find that however gloriously fuller your wife's/partner's breasts are, you simply can't touch them until she stops breastfeeding altogether. Some mums find they don't wish to have their breasts touched whilst their breasts are fulfilling their role nourishing your baby and some mums feel self conscious about leaking milk during sex. If in doubt, ask her permission first and support her preference.
16. Natural conclusion
When mum feels it's time to stop breastfeeding, applaud her for her efforts and the invaluable start she gave your child. Support her as she weans baby off the boob. This may mean that you need to step in to soothe baby away from the residual smell of breastmilk on mum or settle them to sleep if feeds have usually led naturally into bedtime. However tough or enjoyable breastfeeding has been, appreciate that mum may be feeling rather emotional about giving it up and be ready to offer moral support, reassuring her that many other bonding experiences will come her way.
Here are some links to other articles written from a dad's perspective on breastfeeding and parenting, in no particular order.