Before I write this post I want to acknowledge that not everyone is able to breastfeed and a fed, loved baby is best. I can only speak about my own experiences so I’m never going to be able to write about pumping or bottle-feeding because those things just weren’t in the cards for me. So when I speak about breastfeeding it is never because I think anyone else’s decisions are wrong on uninformed, it’s just because it’s all I know. I’m also doing my best to use inclusive language here because not everyone with a uterus and milk ducts is a woman/mother, and not every partner is a man/father, so if you read “she” and “he” here sometimes, please know it pertains to anyone who might be fulfilling those roles.
The fact is that no matter who you are or how you feed your baby the first year is usually wrought with some sort of troubleshooting. Too much milk or too little, supply issues, schedules, allergies and intolerances, there’s just so much information out there and it can be super overwhelming, so always trust your gut instinct. I always defer to the KellyMom website for the best information but I’d highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant if you have serious issues that you need to work through. An LC helped me through Hennie’s reflux and diagnosed Wells’ oral ties when I was having recurring painful nipple blisters and clogged ducts. They really know their shit and if you run into problems and are absolutely determined to have a successful breastfeeding relationship it’s worth spending the money for a one-on-one consultation or attending a group workshop (once covid isn’t so prevalent). It’s much cheaper to hire an LC once than to pay for formula for a year! And again, I know this is a hot topic so let me reiterate that however you feed your family, I support you! There is a multitude of reasons why someone may not be able to or want to breastfeed and they are all valid.
The research shows though, that one of the biggest contributing factors to a successful breastfeeding journey, whatever that might look like for you personally, is having a partner who supports and encourages you in your breastfeeding relationship with your baby. You may have a whole village of supportive people around you but when the inevitable midnight struggles hit it’s generally your partner who is by your side. I have been extremely fortunate to have what I think is the absolute best husband in this regard. He is calm and confident as a parent and is weirdly naturally intuitive about breastfeeding for a man without breasts. So I’ve compiled a list of the many ways that he has continually supported me in my breastfeeding journey with three babies, just in case anyone out there wants to know how best they can support a breastfeeding parent.
- STAY CALM. Like I said, my partner is nothing if not consistently calm, and this is a quality that I believe Is specifically important for breastfeeding. Babies take their emotional cues from those around them, so when mum gets frustrated while breastfeeding (and it will happen, in the first month and beyond) it can help to have a grounded, calm partner nearby to take the baby and calm him for a minute so everyone can gather their composure for another try.
- STAY UP. At least in the first weeks as breastfeeding is being established, stay up with her and be there for moral support while she feeds the baby. She will be spending a LOT of time up in the night over the course of her breastfeeding journey and it can feel quite isolating. A little encouragement goes a long way.
- HYDRATE. Don’t ask your partner if they’re thirsty, just make sure there is water at their side whenever they’re feeding, especially in the first month when feeds can take a while. Breastfeeding requires heavy hydration and makes you so thirsty (and hungry for that matter). Keep the water and snacks close at hand, especially if your baby is the type to take a full 45 minutes to complete a feeding.
- BE INFORMED. Read some research about breastfeeding. I was surprised at how important it was to Tom that our babies be breastfed if I was able. It turns out he had read about the medical (and magical!) benefits of breastmilk, like how babies receive the mother’s antibodies and immune system etc. I think if a partner knows the benefits of breastfeeding he or she is much more likely to encourage their spouse to continue.
- LISTEN AND LEARN. Your partner has enough to focus on with their postpartum recovery, so when your midwife/doula/lactation consultant shares tips for breastfeeding or explains different breastfeeding positions, try to memorize them for when you need to remember them in the middle of the night. I can’t count the amount of times that Tom has corrected my position, pointed out a bad latch, or suggested I try something new that actually worked wonders. He has turned out to be much more intuitive than I’ve been with breastfeeding somehow (Rather than feeling emomsculated™ about this I actually love it. Y’all know I stan the crushing of gender norms).
- STEP IN. When things are going poorly, ie when your partner and baby are both in tears or about to be, the best thing you can do is give them a minute to calm down before trying again. Tom always notices when I’m about to lose my cool. He asks to take the baby and will calm her down and give her back to me when she has stopped crying and I’m ready to try again. Then he sits beside me, quietly observing, and if he has an idea how to help he asks if I would like to hear a suggestion (lol, he’s so gentle with me postpartum when I’m at my snarkiest).
Where to Start:
- I suggest learning what a GOOD LATCH looks like on day one from a maternity nurse, your midwife, doula, lactation consultant or any other care provider (they should all be able to tell you!). Please also know that if a latch looks good but doesn’t feel good, then it isn’t right. It’s normal to have sore nipples the first few days of nursing and sometimes when baby is cluster feeding but it isn’t normal to feel pain all the time.
- I’d also encourage you to get to know the BASIC HOLDS, which include the cradle hold, laid back position, football hold, and side-lying. There are lots more you can learn and some are especially suggested for certain ailments (like koala position for a baby with reflux or feeding laid back for a mama with hyper lactation issues like me). If you know the basics you can suggest a new one if your partner needs to change things up.
Good luck, my friends!