Including Dad While Breastfeeding
While breastfeeding is optimal for baby, it can be demanding for both mom and dad. While the physical and emotional demands on mother are obvious, those for father may be less visible but no less real. Dad can feel alienated from the nursing couple or like the proverbial third-wheel. Some fathers struggle with ambivalence over the breastfeeding relationship, particularly if they haven’t been around nursing mothers before.
To head off potential problems like these fathers should read up on breastfeeding or get some brochures for him from La Leche or your pediatrician. A better informed father is more supportive and less likely to fall victim to nursing ambivalence.
Besides becoming informed, there are other ways Dad can be involved.
- Be mom’s nursing aide. Be aware of baby’s hungry cues and bring baby to mom for breastfeeding. Gather anything she might need to help her be more comfortable with nursing such as pillows, a drink or snack, blanket or a magazine. In the early weeks, she’ll benefit from someone being a nursing spotter, helping her get baby positioned properly especially while she’s still healing from childbirth. Making sure she has plenty to drink is important to head off dehydration.
- Immediately after nursing, Dad should take the baby and hold her on his chest, or carry the baby in a baby sling or carrier. Baby will be satisfied and more open to those snuggly moments. Baby-wearing is an excellent way for father to bond with baby as well as giving mom a break to shower or nap.
- Dad can take over night-time diaperings so it isn’t just mom who has to get up in the night.
- Fathers can be helpful by sharing in the breastfeeding lifestyle. Did mother give up smoking or having a cocktail because of pregnancy and nursing? To share that lifestyle and give up those things with her will mean the world to the nursing mother. She won’t feel as isolated if you eat healthy together and avoid things that aren’t good for baby.
- Running interference for mom is a huge help, and will show dad how important he is. This might include helping mom find a blanket and position it discreetly if that’s important to her during public feedings, or by helping her find a nice quiet comfy spot while out and about and nursing. Dad can also handle any rude reactions for his partner and answer any nosy questions.
- By providing cheer-leading support, Dad can prove to himself and his wife just how important he is in this nursing relationship. He can explain the benefits and importance of breastfeeding to less than enthusiastic relatives. He can remind Mom why it’s important when she gets discouraged with nursing or feels overwhelmed.
- When nursing difficulties arise, a well-informed father can help problem solve by reading up on the subject. For instance, is this a clogged duct or mastitis? Why is baby nursing round the clock this week?
- Later in the nursing relationship, Dad can be the one to introduce the bottle if Mom will be pumping or supplementing with formula. Baby is much more likely to accept a bottle from the father than the mother anyway.
- When mother returns to work, Dad can help prepare the supplies Mom needs to pump at work, help with breastmilk storage and preparing baby’s bottles for the daycare or sitter.
- Finally when the nursing couple time is dwindling, Dad can be a support to both Mom and baby during the weaning process by giving lots of affection and attention to both. He can rock the little one, tell stories or sing during those moments formerly taken up with nursing. This is especially true with those last to go nighttime feedings.