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As a childbirth educator and birth doula, I am passionate about helping families prepare for birth and breastfeeding. Having three babies in four years has shown me a clear need for better information for new dads. My husband wanted to support and help me in any way he could, but honestly did not know how. There is no substitute for thorough childbirth education to help prepare dads for life with a new baby. The Birth Boot Camp classes i teach in Slidell, Louisiana cover breastfeeding and newborn care in depth. Here are a few of my best tips for dads to help support breastfeeding!
Bring her a glass of water every time she feeds the baby.
It takes a lot of water to make milk and water is usually the last thing on a new mom’s mind… that is until she sits down to nurse and has a hormone-induced hot flash! But by then she doesn’t dare move and interrupt baby! If the new dad starts the habit of bringing mom a glass of water every time she feeds the baby, mom can stay hydrated and feel cared for. If you have older children, make it a tumbler with a lid and straw to avoid a spill.
Clear the chaos during feedings.
This is especially true for families with multiple children! Stress hormones block the hormonal process of letdown (milk release) so if noise or family chaos is stressing mom out, dad to the rescue! Dad can take siblings in the other room to play, turn the TV down if its blaring, answer the phone, hush the barking dogs, and put any disagreement you may be having on hold- whatever it takes to help mom relax.
Offer supportive touch.
Breastfeeding may be natural but it is still a learned skill. Mom and baby are both learning and the learning process can be stressful or frustrating in the beginning. Offering a supportive touch can change the vibe in the room from mom being stared at like a “watched pot” to being silently supported.
Make sure she is comfortable and has the breastfeeding tools she needs.
There are so many “right ways” to feed a baby and the most comfortable way may or may not be sitting straight up and down in a rocking chair. Look at mom’s face. Does she look like she is being tortured? Does she look like she is in a miserably contorting position? Is she leaning over to bring breast to baby? Help her first get comfortable, which can be anything from laying back in a recliner to laying on her side, to sitting up, or everything in between. Then Help her find ways to bring baby to breast with support so she is not leaning over or having to lift baby and support that weight herself. There are pillows designed especially for breastfeeding, but sometimes just adding a few bed pillows can also feel right for moms. Pay attention to her comfort and offer to get whatever might help her find that comfy-cozy spot that works best for her. Gel pads and lanolin cream can go a long way in healing sore nipples. Ask her if she needs some, and go get it for her at Target, Walmart, or a pharmacy.
Get up with her in the middle of the night.
I know, this sounds pointless, but hear me out! When mom is solely responsible for always getting up, missing out on so much sleep, and watching you snore, she might get a little resentful of being the only one on night shift. Even if you can’t nurse, you can still get up and bring baby to her! You can make sure that she is warm or cool enough, offer a blanket or pillow, offer a glass of water or a cup of tea, or just sit with her and tell her she’s amazing and you appreciate her. This helps her pivot from feeling overwhelmed, alone, and possibly resentful of your slumber to feeling supported and appreciated by her teammate.
Invest in a good breast pump.
Whether or not mom works outside the home, invest in a good pump. A good pump equals freedom! Freedom for the two of you to finally have a date night. Freedom for mom to escape to Target alone when she is losing her mind. Freedom for her to sleep through the night when she gets sick (or just plain tired) so you can feed baby a bottle at night. The difference between a cheap pump and an expensive pump is HUGE. This is not the place to cheap out Dad! Freedom is priceless! This one is an all-around great pump that has lasted me through 6+ years of breastfeeding, and allowed me to pump on planes, boats, and beaches.
Never say the “F” word first.
Just don’t. She’s well aware of the existence of formula. She cares just as much for that baby as you do. If she feels like formula needs to be considered, she’ll go there. In the mean time, no matter how much you coat your suggestion it in glitter and rainbows, it just might be interpreted as doubting her feeding decision, questioning her ability to breastfeed, or just not being supportive.
Remind her of how amazing she is.
Point out how she already grew a whole person from her body, and is now feeding a whole person with nothing but her body. Let her know that you don’t take for granted how amazing her body is. Be proud of what she’s already accomplished and expectant for how well she’ll continue to care for your baby. Let her know that you appreciate her choice to breastfeed your baby. She didn’t have to make that choice.
If she is struggling, get help.
Don’t wait until she is drowning. If you see her struggling to tread water, call in a life guard ASAP! If you used a doula, call them and ask if they can come visit. Call your nearest hospital or birthplace and make an appointment with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC. These ladies are the experts on helping moms breastfeed and there is no substitute for their knowledge and skill set! (And do NOT complain about the cost! A year’s worth of formula costs far more than a few visits with a lactation consultant!) These ladies are like mommy-whisperers. Moms go in crying, doubting themselves, feeling hopeless. An hour later, they emerge with newfound confidence, hope, and a plan of action to try at home. Some lactation consultants even come to your home, which is beyond ideal and worth every penny! Ask your doula, childbirth educator, pediatrician, obstetrician, or midwife for recommendations. The same goes for her emotional well-being- if she is struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, anger, or just in a funk that she can’t get out of, find her help. Let her know she is not crazy. Find a therapist who specializes in postpartum mood disorders or at the very least, a female therapist who has had children of her own and has experience with postpartum mood disorders.
Be the gate-keeper and silence the doubters.
Your mother may mean well when she tells the new mom that formula will help baby sleep better. Your sister may not mean to terrify the new mom with her stories of bleeding nipples. But YOU need to be the gate-keeper and filter the feedback she is receiving. What people say to a new mom matters. It can affect them so much more than you may think. Its very possible that visiting friends and family may have the best of intentions and the worst of ideas when offering breastfeeding advice- advice based on outdated, obsolete practices that we now no to be detrimental to breastfeeding, like using formula simply to increase sleep duration. Make a judgement-free zone around mom, offering solely encouraging feedback. If that means redirecting the conversations with visitors, then do it. If that means pulling your mom aside and asking her nicely to keep her breastfeeding advice to herself, then do it.
Go to newborn appointments with her.
If at all possible, go to those first few appointments with mom and baby. Be with her when baby is weighed and feeding is discussed. Offer another set of ears to interpret any suggestions and help mom think through the feedback she receives. Praise her publicly and be proud of how hard she is working to feed your baby, because it is hard work! If there are any concerns about weight or growth, being present together as a team to ask questions and discuss options is always better than making her be the messenger and potentially leaving you with unanswered questions.
Dads can read about breastfeeding too!
Don’t assume its her responsibility alone to be educated on breastfeeding! Read a breastfeeding book like this one, or read through an evidence based-website like KellyMom. Take ownership in the learning process so that she doesn’t have to educate you as to why your well-meaning suggestions are actually counterproductive. If you, as the dad, are equipped with some basic knowledge about how breastfeeding works, you will be better prepared to recognize and redirect those voices of doubt and bad advice that may find their way into mom’s ear. Do you know how big a newborn baby’s stomach actually is at birth or by day 5? If not, then find out, so you can remind mom of exactly how little milk a newborn actually needs in case she starts doubting that she is making enough. Knowledge is power! Get some!
New moms are hungry! They are also very tired and busy all day growing a person with nothing but their body. Make. Her. Meals. If you need help, ask. If someone offers to bring you a meal, do not hesitate, do not say you’re fine, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Say, “YES PLEASE.” And if you are home, do not wait for mom to ask for food. If its morning, just make her breakfast. If its lunchtime, just make her lunch. If its dinnertime… you guessed it. Just assume she is hungry and feed her! Do not simply say, “Let me know if you’re hungry” or “Call me if you need something.” She won’t. Just. Do. It.
Do everything else…and don’t expect a medal.
Here’s my detailed plan for distributing household chores during the immediate postpartum period. Mom: Sole provider of life support for tiny human. Dad: EVERYTHING ELSE. To clarify, that means laundry, dishes, meal prep, sibling meals and baths, grocery shopping, errand running, dessert fetching, host duties, team diapering, baby care during bathroom and shower and when she just needs a freakin break, and happy and cheerful man-servant. Learn her priorities, and make them your priorities. If she doesn’t care about the lawn, then let it grow a bit taller this time. If you don’t care if the towels ever get folded but she does, then get to folding! And do not, under any circumstances, imply or insinuate that you are somehow the front-runner in the sacrifice competition. Never forget that she grew a person inside her body while sacrificing her own comfort and favorite things, then went through more physical discomfort than you will probably ever know to bring that baby outside her body, and is now sustaining life with nothing but her body. Doing the laundry for a while does not make you a hero or a martyr. It makes you a reasonable human being.
Help her connect with other breastfeeding women.
Depending on her circle of friends and family background, mom might not even know another breastfeeding mother. She may not have anyone else in her circle of support who can relate to what she is experiencing. Find a La Leche League group or other breastfeeding support group and encourage her to go check it out. You can locate your closest LLL group here. Help remove any obstacles that would keep her from attending, like older siblings or not being able to drive after cesarean birth. Make supporting her a high priority in your actions, not just your words.
Lower your expectations… then lower them again.
Real postpartum life is just not as magical as the Pampers commercial wants you to believe. Give her grace for the roller-coaster of emotions she may experience. Don’t expect her to be rational and logical every day. Don’t act like its weird if she randomly starts crying. Don’t treat her like she’s crazy if she never has an explanation for why she’s crying. Her body is recovering from a major ordeal. She has an internal wound,and possibly external wounds, that take months to heal. She is experiencing the most rapid and dramatic hormonal changes in her life. Don’t expect her world to still revolve around you and your needs. That’s just not realistic. Something has to give. She can’t be perfect in everything to everyone while getting 37 minutes of sleep per day and absolutely no physical space or alone time. Be patient. Be kind. Be patient some more. It will get easier.
- Legally Blind Mom of Three
- Childbirth Educator & Doula
- Former Special Ed Teacher