We usually think of breastfeeding as falling solely on our shoulders—and a lot of it does, of course.
We’re the ones who are up at all hours of the night with a hungry baby. It’s our nipples that are sore and possibly cracked and bleeding. It’s our painfully engorged breasts that leak milk if we so much as hear a baby cry. And most important, it’s our bodies that are ultimately responsible for keeping our babies alive and making sure that they thrive.
It’s a lot, and it’s stressful.
But dads have a bigger role to play in breastfeeding than we—and they—may realize. Their support can be essential to how we approach it and how long we stick with it, not to mention how we feel about ourselves as women and as mothers.
So, new and expectant moms, forward this to your significant others ASAP. And dads, listen up!
Be supportive. I know that seems pretty basic, but it needs to be said. Often, this just means listening to your partner’s concerns, telling her that she’s a rock star and asking if she needs anything. Sometimes, she might sound overwhelmed and upset, and you might want to fix things. Resist that urge, please. She has to work out the latch, and her body needs to get adjusted to this crazy process. Just be there to listen, and let her know you’re there for her, whatever she needs.
Watch what you say. Trust me—the newly breastfeeding mom in your life already has serious doubts about whether the baby is getting enough food and if she’s going to be able to do this. For something that’s “natural,” nursing often feels anything but that in the beginning. Hearing your doubts on top of her own can really mess with her head. Remember: You know even less about this than she does, and you have to trust her and her body. As long as baby has multiple wet diapers a day, is gaining weight consistently and looks healthy, all is well. But always talk to your doctor to make sure, and if either of you has any lingering doubts, suggest doing a weigh-in at the pediatrician’s office or a breastfeeding center. You basically weigh the baby before a nursing session, then after, and that will tell you exactly how much milk baby is consuming.
Help her get comfy. As we all know (or will soon know), breastfeeding can be an all-day, all-night endeavor, especially in the beginning. Sometimes you might help out in the wee hours of the night with dirty diapers or burping, but sometimes you’ll be snoozing through the feeds. That said, a little bit of consideration goes a long way. Make sure her nursing station is set up just the way she likes it before you both head to bed to catch some baby-free shut-eye. For me, that meant having a boppy, a burp cloth, a bottle of water, a blanket and pillows propped up just so on the couch. See what your partner likes and do this prep work for her at night. It makes life so much easier, and it’s a little gesture that can mean a whole lot.
Don’t assume that breastfeeding is the only way to comfort a baby. With our first child, my husband and I recognized the awesomeness of Mommy’s Magical Boobies. We would laugh about it, but it was true—they had the power to soothe the baby, no matter what was wrong. That drowsy milk-drunk grin was all we needed for proof. (And the lack of blood-curdling screams didn’t hurt.) That said, a baby is not always hungry, and boobs are not always the only thing that can soothe him. Flex your dad skills and try to figure it out before passing the baby to Mom.
If you have an older child, entertain him during breastfeeding sessions when you can. Your partner will be handling this on her own in the weeks to come—reading out loud while nursing, or doing imaginative play from her nursing spot on the couch—but it’s nice to have some one-on-one, quiet, relaxed time with baby #2 when she can get it. This is truly a magical time, and it will be over before you both know it.
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