How to be an amazing breastfeeding partner
Breastfeeding is a lot of work. Wonderful, satisfying, beautiful, enjoyable, awe-inspiring, exhausting work. Mum is going to be working hard, but there is plenty a supportive partner can do to help and support her and make the journey an exciting and enjoyable family affair.
1. Never say “will we not just give the baby a bottle” “would it not be easier to give the baby a bottle” “why do you even want to breastfeed anyway” “this is your gig, not mine” “I’d be happier if I could feed the baby too”.
Mum is not only nursing because it’s best for baby and best for her, but also because she is emotionally invested in breastfeeding. She is also tired and hormonal in the first weeks. Making flippant comments is not helpful. Telling her she’s amazing and doing a fantastic job, especially when she’s having a wobbly moment, is gold-dust. It will spur her on and give her that little bit of confidence in a sea of doubt, which is usually all she needs.
2. Be a hands on parent. Yes, Mum is doing all the feeds but feeding is just a tiny part of parenting. You can change nappies, bath baby, cook, clean, do laundry, carry baby in a sling to comfort it and give mum a break, do skin to skin cuddles with baby, play with baby, take baby out for a walk, massage baby, chat to baby, show baby the world…
3. Every time she sits down for a feed, especially during the first few weeks, sit beside her for a second and seek out EVERYTHING in her line of vision which could annoy or frustrate her. I’m talking dirty dishes, dirty laundry, dirty children, a pile of pretty much anything that’s not supposed to be there. Get it out of her eye-line. Cleaning it up for good would be best practice, but at least remove it temporarily while she’s feeding. The last thing she wants to see is the stuff that’s not being done while she’s feeding her baby.
4. Educate yourself. Go to a breastfeeding workshop like ours at The elbowroom. Failing that read breastfeeding books. Understand how breastfeeding works; the biology of it, the psychology of it. Learn what’s normal, what’s not normal, what’s helpful and what’s not. Understand the common problems and how they can be rectified. I’m pretty sure partners who are unsupportive of a breastfeeding mum are also pretty clueless about how it works. Save yourself the stress of that, and gain knowledge.
5. She is already doubting herself – you don’t need to help with that. Being a new mum is a huge learning curve and doubting herself is her new super-power. She’s surrounded by people who want to weigh her baby, almost like an assumption of failure. And people will comment as they see fit “that child’s hungry” “you never put that baby down” “you’ve that child ruined” “he/she is starving”. What she needs from you is unbridled confidence in her. 100% belief in her amazing body and her ability to care for and nurture her baby. You can never overstate how great she is.
6. Accept that she and baby are learning a new skill. Even if it’s not her first time to breastfeed, every baby is different. There is still a ‘provisional licence’ period of about 6 weeks when there will be ups and downs. Good days and tough days. This is normal. There will be days when baby is very demanding (this is baby asking for more milk to accommodate its growing needs!). There will be days where there is a lot of sleep. There will be days where there is no sleep. There will be tears, laughter and awe.
7. Feed her. Breastfeeding is a hungry business and new mums need to eat and drink lots of water. Fill the freezer with stuff you normally eat before baby arrives because you will get sick of take-aways. And NO ONE gets over the threshold for baby snuggles unless they are carrying food. That’s a rule!
8. Success does not come in the form of sleep. There is too much emphasis on baby’s sleeping. How long or often your baby sleeps is not a sign of successful breastfeeding. Babies are hardwired to wake and feed at night. This is because prolactin, the hormone that produces the milk, is at its highest during the night. Successful breastfeeding looks like this: Happy baby growing and developing, happy mummy delirious with love and exhaustion. Sleep is an occasional bonus. You can help by encouraging mum to sleep during the day when baby sleeps and working out ways for her to do that even if there are other children in the house.
Some worries you might have
Baby is feeding all the time…like all the time. This is normal newborn activity. Remember a baby at the breast is not only drinking milk. It is also putting in the milk order for tomorrow and getting comfort and learning about trust and love. Babies also go through development leaps and growth spurts, during which they will feed all the time. If mum’s happy, just go with the flow and keep the cake coming!
I’m walking on eggshells. She’s up one minute, down the next. This is not uncommon after birth. Mum is recovering from birth and is not getting a lot of sleep. You know yourself, when you’re tired, emotions are magnified. Her hormonal system is also all over the place as it rebalances. Give it time and lots of hugs.
She is in agony every time she feeds. I can’t watch. Breastfeeding should never be agony. If there is pain there is something wrong. It is likely to be something to do with how baby is latching on to the breast or it could be something like a tongue tie. Either way, waiting and seeing is not the answer. Call a qualified lactation consultant or get in touch with Cuidiú or La Leche League volunteers for help.
Will we ever have sex again? Yes! Maybe not immediately, maybe not for a while…but absolutely yes! A woman’s body goes through many changes when she is pregnant and then gives birth to a baby. These can make some women lose interest in sex for a while. This happens to both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding women. In fact, childbirth affects women’s sex lives more than breastfeeding does. Some women say that the emotional and physical effort of looking after a baby makes them feel ‘all touched out’ by the end of a day. After their baby is born, some women experience dryness in the vagina, but this is easily overcome by using lubricating products available at supermarkets or pharmacies. A woman needs her partner to be patient and sensitive as she recovers from the birth experience and gains confidence in breastfeeding and as a mother.
Remember, sharing the care of your new baby is a loving act too. And, well, there are other methods of curing an urge…!
This blog was written by Lisa and Emily for www.eumom.ie