Breastfeeding: How Your Family Can Help

How dads can make a difference
Many new fathers assume that breastfeeding is Mom’s department and leave it to her, but there are many ways that dads can get involved and be instrumental to making it work, says Terriann Shell, IBCLC, an international board-certified lactation consultant in Big Lake, Alaska. The perfect first step? Attending childbirth or breastfeeding classes with the mom, or reading up on the topic, before the baby is born. By learning all about the benefits and proper technique of breastfeeding, Dad will understand why his assistance is so important and be better prepared to pitch in.

In the week or so following the birth, when Mom is just getting the hang of breastfeeding, she may need a hand positioning the baby and getting him latched onto her breast—which is where an informed dad can be a huge help. “In the beginning, it’s almost like a two-person process,” says Fery. Holding the baby’s hands as she latches on, watching to see that the baby latches well onto the areola (the dark part surrounding the nipple) into her mouth and providing pillows to prop up Mom’s arms are just some of the things that a woman’s partner can do to be a team player.

To maintain her milk supply and her own health, a nursing mom must eat well, stay hydrated and get enough z’s—easier said than done when nursing a newborn every two to three hours. To help, her partner could make it his mission to look after her needs—for example, by bringing her a plate of healthy finger foods or a fresh fruit smoothie while she’s nursing, or being “on duty” (answering phone calls or listening for the baby’s cry) as she tries to nap. Likewise, taking over tasks such as grocery shopping and laundry or even cleaning her breast pump could help lighten her load and allow her to get some badly needed rest.

In the early stages of breastfeeding, it’s normal for a woman to feel uncertain of herself, overwhelmed or down in the dumps—in which case, a little encouragement from her BFF could go a long way, notes Fery. “Reminding her that she’s doing a great job and doing a wonderful thing for the baby could help a lot,” she explains. A mom’s emotional state can strongly affect her letdown reflex and ability to produce milk, adds Sally Wendkos Olds, coauthor of The Complete Book of Breastfeeding. So his expressions of love, appreciation and confidence may do more than lift her spirits; they could make breastfeeding go more smoothly as well.

Assuming the role of “non-nutritive cuddler”—being the one to hold and comfort the baby between feedings—is another way that a woman’s partner can get in on the act and make her life a little easier, adds Lawrence. “If the nursing mother picks up the baby, the baby may smell her milk and want to nurse when she doesn’t really need to, then end up spitting it back up,” Lawrence explains. Because Dad isn’t associated with food, he actually may have more luck calming the baby. What’s more, it would allow him to feel close to his child and be actively involved in her care.

Acting as the family’s breastfeeding advocate is also a great way for a significant other to be supportive. “Even today, when most people accept, or at least give lip service to, the benefits of breastfeeding, a woman may encounter discouragement from friends, relatives, neighbors, her employer or even complete strangers,” Wendkos Olds says. Dad can help by speaking to anyone who expresses disapproval or doubts the mother’s ability to nurse, explaining the benefits to others and protecting the mom from anyone who tries to interfere with it. “If he makes it plain that his partner is not to be discouraged from nursing, people will probably take his cue and keep any negative opinions to themselves,” Wendkos Olds says.