Partners & Breastfeeding - 5 Ways They Can Be Part Of It
The first few months after the birth of your baby can be a real emotional rollercoaster ride. There are moments of pure joy, excitement and absolute wonder, but things can also feel really overwhelming, confusing and simply a hazy blur of days and nights too. So of course new mums, and new families, need lots of support to help them as they settle into the new rhythms of their new life with a newborn.
This is particularly true during the early days, weeks and months of breastfeeding. And often partners can feel that breastfeeding is an area where they aren’t able to be involved - but actually the opposite is true.
So read on and learn a number of brilliant ways that partners can be a valuable part of the breastfeeding journey…..
Partners play a hugely important part in the breastfeeding process. Indeed research has demonstrated women are an amazing 10 times more likely to initiate breastfeeding if their partners are supportive of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a natural, biologically normal process - but it does take some ‘learning’ and usually some time for the mother and the baby together to find their unique breastfeeding rhythm. This is because for mums they need to ‘learn’ how to hold and position baby, and we usually haven’t really seen lots of breastfeeding women - so haven’t been able to learn what to do. For mothers having confidence in her body to produce enough milk and in her ability to feed her baby, and feeling relaxed and supported will all make a HUGE difference - and research has shown that a supportive partner can really boost this confidence and trust. More information on partner support in breastfeeding here.
So although partners might not be physically able to breastfeed a baby, they still play a *hugely* important role in the breastfeeding process. Of course partners might well wonder exactly what they can do to help, and that’s why I wanted to write this blog post, to give you some insights into practical things you can do as the partner of a new mother .
So here are 5 ways for partners to be part of breastfeeding:
1) Learn About Breastfeeding Before Birth
Going to an antenatal class about breastfeeding together before baby is born will give you a really great understanding of how breastfeeding ‘works’, and give you tips and ways of getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible. You need to learn this important stuff when you are not really tired and emotionally up and down with a newborn baby. Waaaaaay better to get get the theory sorted in your head in pregnancy. And even though breastfeeding IS absolutely natural and the ‘biological norm’ for human babies, it does take learning and practice. Most new mums, and especially new partners have never even seen a women breatsfeeding before - and how you positioning and holding baby at the breast is just one thing that can make a huge difference into how well baby feeds (and so puts on weight).
You’ll cover things at a good antenatal breastfeeding class like how milk is made in your breasts, how the milk is transferred from boob to baby, how to ‘latch’ a baby onto the boob, how to hold and position baby - there are lots of different options and it’s goof to know more than one, how often babies feed, how to know if baby is getting enough milk, what ‘normal’ breastfeeding feels like. In York we are so very lucky to have the brilliant charity Treasure Chest York who provide a monthly Antenatal Breastfeeding Workshop, totally for FREE. So do book onto a workshop if you can, they are really brilliant.
There is also a great online course, Team Baby: Getting Ready to Breastfeed by the ABM which you can do together at home in your own time. Also highly recommended.
Your partner is usually the first person that you as a new mum will talk to with any worries or concerns about breastfeeding, so it really is important that your partner also learns as much as possible before baby is born too. So they are really with help and suggestions. And for mum just knowing that you have that support, that back up of a knowledgeble birth partner will be SO reassuring. So that already makes partner a huge part of breastfeeding.
One breastfeeding study found “teaching partners how to prevent and to manage the most common lactation difficulties is associated with higher rates of breastfeeding at six months”.
2) Know Where To Find Breastfeeding Expert Help
Your partner might have a problem breastfeeding, and something that needs more than just your support. Don’t panic and feel out of your depth, even with antenatal preparation, there are things which need some additional specialist breastfeeding help. Your role now is recognising this and knowing where to get that help. There are lots of breastfeeding support organisations, both nationally and locally. So make a note of these details of some brilliant breastfeeding specialist help:
ABM (the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers) lots of factsheets and information here
The Breastfeeding Network including The National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212
La Leche League - a national and international organisation with lots of great resources and books
In York we have the brilliant Treasure Chest group who have face to face drop-ins Monday to Friday. A supportive friendly and non-judgemental place to chat with specially trained peer supporters (mums who have breast fed their own baby and undergone specialist training). Treasure Chest York also have a Facebook group you can post questions any feeding questions too (day and night), it’s a really supportive place.
You can also contact a Lactation Consultant (called an IBCLC) for one to one private breastfeeding support in your own home from a highly qualified expert. Head to the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website here to find your nearest one (we have some brilliant lactation consultants in York, and I’m happy to recommend some to you. Head to my ‘Recommended Practitioners’ page for more details) . These people REALLY know their stuff, and have more specialist breastfeeding knowledge than you GP, Midwife or Health Visitor with years of specific training.
3) Take Time To Be There To Support Her
New babies feed a lot…..like really a lot. Young babies usually feed between eight and twelve times per 24 hours, and of course that’s day and night. Looking after a new baby can really feel like an all-consuming task. That’s why knowing you’ve got support, and someone looking after YOU as a new mum is vital.
Even just having time to get out of pyjamas, have a shower, eat something and have a cuppa, go for a wee - all of these thing become huge achievements. So having a supportive partner who gets this, who doesn’t come home and ask the worst frickin’ question in the worlds ‘so what have you done today, the washing up is still in the sink?’ is really important. New mums need to feel valued and supported, what have then done all day - erm, kept your baby alive and flourishing…only the most important damn job in the world. She needs to know this though, so supportive words are really worth so much. The occaisional ‘you’re doing such an amazing job’ are worth more that their weight in gold. Seriously.
Also physical comfort can make a huge difference when breastfeeding, so bringing cushions for behind her back or under her arm when feeding may help, or suggesting an alternative position to feed in (and of course partners will know all about this from the antenatal course you’ve done)
Bringing her drinks and snacks - a cup of tea is never a bad idea imho! And keeping the fridge and cupboards stocked with yummy and nutritious and healthy snacks can be vital too, simple things like energy bars, bagels to toast, dried fruit and nuts - things that can be eaten one handed are best!
Take on household chores, mum needs to concentrate solely on baby right now:
Do the laundry and the washing up (without complaining, or making a big deal that you’re doing it)
Do the food shopping, or organise online food shopping each week so mum doesn’t have to head to a supermarket with baby, pushing a trolley - not good for new mums bodies.
Change baby’s nappies.
Bath baby - a great time for baby to have some calming one-on-one time with baby. Dad can take a bath with baby too, some skin to skin while bathing together is a lovely bonding experience to Dads. And maybe mum can talk a nap, head for a walk outside on her own for a short while, while you do this.
Massage your partners feet or give her a shoulder massage while she’s breastfeeding.
These are a simple ways to help support a breastfeeding mother. So often mums are left on their own, trying to nourish themselves while juggling a newborn - who seems to be permanently attached to their breasts. It doesn’t take much to do a few simple things that will hugely lighten her load.
4). Be An Advocate For Breastfeeding
Everyone - friends, family, colleagues, people in the street - seems to have an opinion about how babies should be fed, should sleep and should be cared for. You’ll find that many people want to share their ideas (sometimes really rather forcefully) with new parents. Often it’s well meaning, but it can feel overwhelming and undermining sometimes, especially when you own ideas are different to theirs. In fact you might well have already found this in pregnancy too.
With all of parenting it’s for individual families to find out what works best for them. For mums to trust their maternal instincts, and not to do things that don’t feel right to them, because they don’t want to upset someone (this can often be close family…..) If breastfeeding is important to your family, then you can help maintain your breastfeeding partner’s positive mindset about breastfeeding by blocking out any negative naysayers. Those who’s ‘advice’ starts with ‘in my day……’ or ends in ‘well it never did you any harm’, or ‘……and you’re making a rod for you’re own back there’
So it can be helpful to close down the comments quickly without offending (too much at least!!), if you find someone around your partner talking negatively about breastfeeding, or questioning her and her ability to feed your baby well.
5) Be Patient, Be Encouraging, Be Kind, Be There For Her
A new mother experiences rapidly changing and fluctuating hormone levels in the early weeks after birth. This means she can feel like life with a baby and breastfeeding is going really well one moment and like it’s all falling apart the next. This is a normal state of affairs, but as the hormones settle then emotions can too.
You can really help during this time by being patient, and being there to listen and to encourage her Sometimes she doesn’t need you to actually ‘do’ anything in particular; just being there and listening, and reassuring to her is often more than enough.
I hope that this has proved a useful article. The early days (and sometimes not so early days) of breastfeeding may be hard work for both of you. Not only can it be challenging for the person with the breasts, but it might be difficult for a partner to watch the person you love experience some challenges. But the key is knowing that you CAN make all the difference, with the simple guide above. Just remember that breastfeeding although completely natural usually requires support in our modern society, and this is normal, and we are luky to have brilliant support available.
So, in summary, partners play an essential role in the breastfeeding process and there are many ways you can provide support and help.