Mom may own the basic breastfeeding equipment, but dads play a much larger role than you might think when it comes to breastfeeding success or failure. At the start, research shows that a father can directly influence his partner's decision to initiate breastfeeding or not, and as time goes on, Dad's positive attitude plays a huge role in how long a mother will breastfeed. Research also notes that when dads are more educated about breastfeeding, their partners breastfeed longer, more successfully and have fewer problems than other breastfeeding women. Other research shows that when dads are taught about how to help handle common breastfeeding problems, their partners are more likely to still be breastfeeding at the six month mark. Overall, three key dad attributes have been majorly linked to breastfeeding success - positive paternal emotion, practical supports and physical supports - all of which are noted as being able to enrich the experience for the mother and subsequently the father. So new dads, listen up, because when it comes to breastfeeding, your actions can make or break the deal. Find out how to better support breastfeeding success below.
All those books your partner has been bugging you to read while she’s pregnant – they really can make a difference. If you’re well educated about breastfeeding, it will help the whole family. Read those books, take a baby care class, watch videos on YouTube – before the baby arrives! Learn about all the basics from latching on to colostrum to stuff you’d rather not know about (cracked nipples and sore breasts). If you’re not sure where to start, order a low cost breastfeeding facts for fathers (pdf) booklet.
Be the Best Advocate Ever
From nurses in the hospital offering bottles to family members, friends and the media criticizing her methods, breastfeeding mothers face all sorts of harassment. Don’t stand for it. At the hospital, after the birth, your partner will be 100% exhausted. It’s your job to advocate breastfeeding – turn hospital staff with bottles away, ask for a lactation consultant and keep encouraging your partner. Later, if people make lame comments, like, “Oh, you’re breastfeeding wrong” or “You’re STILL breastfeeding!” Don’t leave your partner alone to deal with it. Make sure you tell everyone that breastfeeding is a family decision. It’s okay to tell people to mind their own business (nicely).
Be Proud in Public
Breastfeeding in public is your partner’s, and your baby’s right. Be proud that your partner is brave enough to feed your baby in public, when he’s hungry, in a world that would rather see breastfeeding women covered up or locked up at home. Help shield her if she wants some extra coverage, but don’t make faces if she just whips them out either (sometimes it’s just easier). Trust me, if you act proud that your partner is breastfeeding in public, she’ll have more confidence to do so.
Push Your Partner (a bit)
Okay, it’s really not your decision to breastfeed or not. If your partner is dead set against it, that’s her choice. Offer support if she’ll take it, but then help find a good organic formula and move on without complaining. Also, if you shame your partner or are mean about breastfeeding, you need a good kick in the you know where. That said, as a mom who breastfed, I know first hand that giving up when the going gets rough can sound like the best idea ever. There were times I really wanted to quit breastfeeding. My son’s dad pushed, but pushed nicely. He’d remind me that bad days pass. He’d calmly tell me that he really believed breastfeeding was healthy for our son and then ask what he could do to help. He’d remind me how expensive and a hassle formula likely was. He managed gentle pushing, which helped a lot on days I wanted to quit.
Try not to complain about bonding
Even the most breastfeeding supportive dads I’ve known have had moments where they complain because they can’t be the one feeding the baby. Research also shows that dads with partners who breastfeed tend to feel upset at times, robbed of the magical bonding process or even jealous that their partner spends so much time with the baby. Studies further show that when dads suggest a bottle of formula, so they can feed the baby, it contributes to less successful breastfeeding. Don’t suggest a bottle. Don’t continually claim feeding is the only way to bond. And for pete’s sake, do not get jealous of all the time your partner spends feeding. If you had a baby attached to you for hours on end each day, trust me, you’d know how insane this complaining sounds to a mom. You can bond with your baby by hanging out with him, changing his diaper, teaching him to play and rocking him to sleep. You can also ask your partner if it’s okay if you get to give your baby his first solid food – that’s what we did at my house. If you’re really feeling like life isn’t fair in the feeding department at least wait until breastfeeding is properly established before introducing a bottle of pumped milk.
Help Out with Everything Else
Health organizations and breastfeeding advocates suggest newborns be fed at least 10-12 times per day, or for about 5 to 10 minute per breast; every 2 to 3 hours. As your baby gets older, he’ll eat for 20 to 40 minutes every 3 to 4 hours. After six months, babies may nurse for 20 to 40 minutes about 4 or 5 times a day. These are just estimates. Some days it literally feels like you’ve breastfed for oh, about 23.5 hours. It’s not just breastfeeding, it’s getting ready, positioning baby, burping and more. It all adds up and while it’s hard to figure typical times spent breastfeeding, suffice it to say, mamas spend a lot of time nursing. You have way more free time, so help out by managing other household tasks and baby care as much as you can. Oh, and in case you’re confused, when I say help out, I do not mean, “Wait to be asked.” Moms hate having to ask for help all the time. You’re an adult and now a father – you can cook, clean and care for a baby without being asked (pdf). You can care for siblings, wash dishes, wash laundry, burp and change the baby, rock the baby to sleep, go to the store, and so much more.
Typically mothers, even mothers who work as much as a dad, do more child care and more work around the house. That sucks. It also makes breastfeeding success that much harder. One of the best ways you can encourage breastfeeding success is to make sure you’re doing a lot in other areas to help out. Bonus, you’ll be happier (no really) and helping out means you may even get a date and some alone time with your partner in the near future. As a mom, I can absolutely say that when dad helps out at home, he instantly becomes WAY more attractive and likable – and I’m not the only mom who feels this way.
Lead image by Flickr User Karen Sheets de Gracia