Tips on how dads can support breastfeeding mothers.
I don’t know about you, but my breastfeeding journeys did not go so well. Both of them. I blissfully thought that after my first one that I’d have it all waxed and knew all there was to know about breastfeeding issues now. Like a walking, talking, milk-squirting booby milk encyclopaedia. I mean, I basically had lived and breathed them all, right?
But I was wrong – as my second baby came along to prove. I had a myriad of challenges, most of which often left me in a crumbled tearful mess on some nights. But I had made up my mind about breastfeeding my kids, so I researched the crap out of it, and did all I could to get us back on track. Happily I managed to eventually breastfeed them both until they decided when they had enough.
Sure, it was all happy clappy in the end, with a lot of big girl panty hitching I did on my part, and loads of re-enforcements in the form of lactation specialists and my mom, but let’s be very very clear on this: There was simply no way I would have made it through those breastfeeding journeys the way I did, if it wasn’t for my husband. Absolutely not – I firmly believe this.
So, daddies, listen up! No matter what you may think now, even though you might not have all the “equipment”, or maybe with age-old societal brainwashing of what the role of a man is “supposed to be” has you frowning, know thatyou play such a crucial role in the success of your woman’s breastfeeding journey.
Understandably most dads feel a little helpless in that their immediate reaction is how, genetically their physical form doesn’t seem to offer up much in the way of being able to assist that mother. But dudes, let it be known that there is much more to it than just milk exiting your body. The part you play is such a vital one in this delicate house of cards building that is establishing breastfeeding.
First up, and its an important one…
Attitude –Don’t come with a bad attitude. Breastfeeding is not gross. It’s not a waste of time. It won’t destroy your woman’s breasts. Your baby hasn’t stolen your woman’s breasts. (ps. This is not a property brokerage. Her body is her body.) And don’t even try to book her a one way ticket on some guilt trip about choosing to breastfeed. Just check all of that at the door right now. She needs your positive energy; To feel that you’re involved and willing to support her in any way she may need it. She may need your humour, or your calm. Your softness or well-formed opinion. Her needs may vary throughout, and how incredible it is for any woman to know that her man is the one she can turn to for those needs during this rather character-testing time. Having the right attitude therefore is so key.
There was also a cross-sectional study investigating the relationship between the mothers’ choice of breastfeeding and support from health professionals and normal-man-on-the-street people, where Elsa R. J. Giugliani and colleagues concluded, “A favorable attitude of partners towards breastfeeding was the most important factor associated with breastfeeding.”
Support your woman – So, she has made up her mind about this breastfeeding gig. She knows if given a choice, breastmilk is far superior to formula. But the journey may pan out to be the hardest thing she will ever do. The last thing she needs is you questioning whether it’s the right choice, and that maybe “it’s just easier to not breastfeed”. All you will do is confuse her, add to her worries, make her feel guilt for her choices, and make her feel alone and isolated. So men, get the facts on breastmilk, understand where your woman is at mentally, psychologically and then jump on that support wagon like it’s the best damn road trip ever suggested!
Similarly though, if she chooses to no longer breastfeed, same thing: get the facts, gauge her mental space and support, support, support. Yours is to keep it real and banish any guilt, not to add to it.
(By the way, formula is not the devil, and you are not horrible for giving your baby that – through choice or not. But the facts are the facts: breastmilk far outstrips formula in countless ways, ways that often in some cases, mean life or death for baby).
Thirst. The thirst is real guys. It’s not just some lame attempt at trying to keep you busy. She really needs that drink of something. Because, the moment that baby latches, it’ll be like a switch flipped inside of her: she’ll go from perfectly hydrated to crawling-through-the-dessert-parched in exactly 0.4 seconds flat…And, especially in the early days of breastfeeding establishment, once baby has a good latch, she’s not going to want to move. She may want to take an unreasonable amount of selfies yes – because that shit’s worth documenting – but definitely is not going to want to get that drink. A drink we for some or other odd reason will forget about at least 8 times out of ten before we sit down to feed. Forgive us – we only have a bajillion other things going on in our brain. Forgive us, and indulge us with that glass of water, jungle juice or whatever. Sure, you may perhaps feel a bit like a waiter, but you know, come to think of it you may as well get used to it, your kid is about to make both of you in glorified waiters in no time soon. muhahahahaha.
Help her get comfy: Breastfeeding, especially at the beginning can take it’s toll on a mama’s spine, arms, neck, traps, rhomboids…her whole freaking body! So help her find her comfort by ensuring she’s well positioned, has enough supportive pillows and cushioning behind her back, under her arms. And then – this is important, lads- remember exactly how she needs her pillows to be placed. Seriously, for love of all that is good in this world, please don’t make her have to explain the pillow configuration to you… AGAIN. The previous 712 times she did it for you was enough, and is probably the last thing she feels like doing with her current sleep stats and over-clocked mind. Click save in your brain or take a picture – whatever it takes. It might seem like a small thing, but trust me, there are a million other small things she’s dealing with right now that all rack up against her. So it’s nice to know that you, as her man, can take care of at least one (or more) of those smalls things instead. It’s the small things, guys – really. (And some big things too.) 🙂
Get informed: The last thing she needs is bad advice. She doesn’t have to be the only one researching the crap out of this breastfeeding journey, there’s space for you too. Or maybe she’s not the researching kind ( not everyone is, and that’s ok). But there’s nothing stopping you from maybe picking up that baton and getting yourself equipped with the knowledge. It can only bring about good things. Because we all know you want good things for her and baby too, so you want to be sure you’re taking a step( and helping her take a step) in the right direction.
So, unless you’re a professional yourself, the only way to know what the facts are, is to seek it – through sound and reliable information sources, both written and through actual lactation specialists themselves. (ps. A normal nurse does NOT equate to a lactation specialist, just as a GP does not equate to a brain surgeon)
Similarly, those breastfeeding classes? Go with your lady! You have every right to be there, in fact, you may benefit from it as much as she does.
On that note: Don’t offer ill-informed advice, no matter how well intentioned. I remember my hubby and mother, with only good in their intentions, trying to convince me first that maybe this whole breastfeeding thing wasn’t meant to be. And then that I should offer baby some formula in between, or that maybe I’m just being too paranoid about the nipple confusion and that I can just express into bottle and give myself a rest. All well-intentioned statements that had my well-being at heart, but also all of it was horrible advice that was going to sabotage all my efforts of trying to establish breastfeeding with my baby. I knew they were not well-informed, or perhaps outdated (my mom used to be a nurse) and I knew that anything I said was just going to be whitewashed as a “woman hell-bent on doing what she wants, but is too tired to think straight”. So what did I do?
I spoke to the midwife who is also qualified in lactation (she visited often and for free to support us through the post partum period) and I spoke to lacation specialist at the breastfeeding clinic. I explained the situation to them – that I had a supportive team behind me, but they needed some facts and direction. I asked these professional both to provide some more focussed attention to my current support team to educate them on some breastfeeding biomechanics and also how to go about supporting a mother. Mike and my mom were willing to dig a trench for me and to cradle me through this journey, I just needed them to be guided as to HOW to do all that. You know, dig the trench in the right direction kind of thing.
And fortunately for me, Mike absorbed it all. As did my mother, even when it totally clashed with her old-school ideas and misinformed advice she received as a young mother herself. They both took it and ran. Especially Mike and this made the world of difference where I no longer had to fight to convince them of what I was trying to accomplish ontop of the current stress of the battle. I then had a full force of support behind me. Which really made the difference, especially late at night, in the dark, at the wee hours, when doubt comes knocking the loudest.
Similarly, you need to be the Protector: Guard her against that well-meaning aunty’s bad advice. Chances are at this point she’s neck-ful of all the unsolicited advice. She’s also very likely tired of formulating p.c response to such well-meaning answers, or no longer has the patience nor energy to vomit out all the facts a few times a week to non-lactating people, when really all she wants to do is focus on the good work she’s already doing with her child.
This goes for many other situations where it helps if you act as the buffer- eg. Guests overstaying their welcome.
Reassure. The right way : At some point, I’m sure, she’s going to falter. Waver. She’s going to second guess herself. Things are going to go ape-poo crazy, she’s going to have a meltdown, you name it-it may probably happen- and she’ll be there wanting to trash all she’s been striving for …Even if that moment is fleeting, even it gets emo-cray-cray, you, my good man, stand by her no matter what, and reassure her of her choices. Be gentle. Be kind. Encourage. BUT don’t dismiss her feelings – don’t just whitewash it away with “its ok” or “its not so bad”. And definitely-maybe don’t go in with “I understand what you’re going through”. Because as a man saying that to a woman about issues unique to a woman…to a woman, who I might add is riding a crazy wave of hormones in flux, you’re just walking on dangerous ground, my friend.
Instead, do your best to hear her, give her the space to express her emotions without judgement, and be her safety net. I know it sounds like a tall order, but feeling like you’re being heard is often just golden right there. So, you may not know all the answers, but just be there for her with your gentle assurance.
Bonding: Feeding is not the be-all-to-end-all in terms of bonding. Don’t fall for that myth, guys. You won’t need to feed baby in order to bond, there are so many other ways for that to happen. Yes, it’s great to be able to feed your baby. And yes, it can give mom a break. But if your woman unfortunately cannot pump, don’t think you’re automatically screwed in the bonding department. There are plenty of other ways for that, so be sure not to put any pressure on your lady for this. (See the section above on “Get informed”!)
Find ways to help get her rest: On that note, if you are pining for bottle feeding more because you’re trying to help your woman get a little bit of rest, then go you! We like you already around here. However, if your lady is exclusively breastfeeding baby with no bottles in the plan, you might be wondering then how now brown cow. But, trust me, you can still help out. Especially when it comes to night feeding: How about letting her do the feeding of baby, and you can do the rest – i.e. burping, changing and putting back to sleep, while she catches some zzzz’s. Trust me, it’ll go a long way. Feeding is only one of the many facets in parent duties.
Speaking of feeding…
Feed her! The amount of energy her body will consume, in order to produce the milk that baby needs, is suprising! And her body will source that energy from anywhere it needs to in order to ensure that baby gets the proper nutrition. So if she’s not consuming all the nutrients and minerals that baby needs through her diet, her body will go scavenge it from her bones, her muscles…just anywhere. Thereby, depleting her of her own nutrition ad energy, and thus well-being. And the last thing a new mommy who’s struggling with breastfeeding needs is to feel less than well.
So make sure she gets regular meals and snacks. And if you’re not around, some major brownie points can be scored if you stocked up on some easy-to-eat-with-one-hand snacks around the house. ( I’ll never forget the day a fantastic friend of mine swooped through the house to check in on me, loaded my fridge with these easy-one-handed-snacks (think mini chicken burgers, tuna crepes, etc) and brought some up to me as well. (left it right next to me by my free hand))
Lower her stress levels: This one is actually pretty easy, because anything you take off from her to-do list and onto yours is going to help her stress less. Because the less on her already full (serving-dish-size) plate, the better – duh! Foot or back massages thrown in here also go down super well! 😉
Know that you are appreciated. She may not at the time be able to express the full extent of her gratitude towards you and pride in you right then…Because…Well, because children do that to you. But know that all you do means the world to her. In fact, very likely, you mean the world to her…Here’s looking at you, Mikey. 😉
Thank you, for your unwavering and steadfast love, your incredible support through breastfeeding and all the different journeys that parenthood have taken us both on. You’re like one massive hug around our family when the crazy rides of life rushed through our home.
Each woman’s breastfeeding experience is different, and each woman’s choices will differ from the next, but know that you, as her man, will be her most powerful ally in helping to achieve all she aspires to. And that’s not just me saying so, there’s research to back it up*. So gentleman, know that, and never underestimate your role in it all.
Happy parenting! X
*Mitchell-Box, K. M., & Braun, K. L. (2013, November). Impact of male-partner-focused interventions on breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity, and continuation. “Journal of Human Lactation”, 29(4), 473–479. http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/29/4/473.abstract.