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You breastfed your first baby for the whole first year?
Good for you!
Way to go, mama!
You should be so proud of that accomplishment!
That was the general reaction of all the lactation consultants I met in the hospital when my second baby was born eight months ago. They pretty much heaped piles and piles of praise on me.
I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty nice to be patted on the back over and over again—especially after pushing out another bundle of joy (sans pain meds, this time!) that I also planned to nurse for a full year.
(Of course, let it be known that the World Health Organization recommends children continue breastfeeding “for up to two years of age or beyond”—far longer than my mere 12 months!)
Nevertheless, if they had bestowed on me some kind of medal or trophy for a year of breastfeeding—which actually seemed somewhat likely—in my acceptance speech I would have been terribly remiss not to give a shout-out to the guy who made that accomplishment possible.
Sure, I was the one providing the physical body parts and working through the physical issues of engorgement, overactive letdown, plugged ducts, thrush, and more. But my husband was (and still is) the one behind the scenes, providing bottles of water to keep mama hydrated, Googled answers to questions about pumping schedules, and much-needed pep talks.
Think breastfeeding is solely the milk-filled mom’s job? Think again.
Partners (be they dads, same-sex partners, or other caregivers) play a critical role in a mom’s breastfeeding success.
Not sure how to help? Start with these 12 ways partners can support breastfeeding moms.
12 Ways Partners Can Support Breastfeeding Moms
1. Say thank you.
Showing gratitude is so simple yet so powerful. Saying thank you lets her know you recognize the gift she’s giving your child—and, in some cases, the sacrifice she’s making to do it. Most days the benefits to the baby are reward enough, but an expression of appreciation from you is always welcome too.
2. No cow jokes. Seriously.
Any breastfeeding mom who’s ever hooked herself up to a double-electric pump has felt like a cow being milked down on the farm. We are allowed to joke about it as much as we want, but trust me, you’re better off not saying a word.
3. Help her get set up.
Just because breastfeeding is natural doesn’t mean it isn’t physically awkward, at least at first. It can be really tough to get a little tiny infant positioned and latched just right!
So help prop up the pillows, adjust baby’s position, and make sure both parties are comfortable. This will help ensure baby gets enough milk and mama isn’t in pain—especially important since those early nursing sessions can sometimes be long marathons!
4. Get busy at the sink.
Michigan-based rapper George Moss recently made the internet explode with a selfie showing him cleaning his wife’s breast pump parts after a performance.
“What I thought was just a funny little tongue and cheek joke, turned out to mean a lot more to over a million people … Although I appreciate the love, likes, and kind words … its [sic] absolutely CRAZY that this all happened because I washed a couple bottles. If anyone should get the credit it should be people like my wife!”
Breastfeeding moms everywhere were swooning. I just kept thinking, “Of course he was washing bottles and parts! My husband does this every single day!”
It’s true; I can probably count on my hands the number of times I’ve done this job because my husband is so on top of it. It is been absolutely key to my success as a breastfeeding and pumping working mom.
5. Understand and support her breastfeeding goals.
Is she steadfastly committed to breastfeeding for a certain number of months? Then if a rough patch comes up, gently help her through it.
Is she on the fence about whether she wants to breastfeed for more than a few weeks? Don’t pressure her to keep going if she doesn’t want to.
Talk openly about her breastfeeding goals so you can determine how best to help her meet them.
6. Respect her decision about breastfeeding in public.
If she’s not totally comfortable with it, then help her scope out a quiet, private spot to nurse when baby gets hungry.
But if she has no qualms about it, then neither should you.
7. Participate in middle-of-the-night feedings.
Just because a mama is breastfeeding doesn’t mean she should be the only one deprived of sleep. Indeed, if both partners help out in the middle of the night, everyone is likely to feel a bit more rested.
My husband always brought baby to me so I could physically stay in bed. He also handled post-feeding burping duties and 3am diaper changes (even when a gassy, sneezing newborn managed to get poop all over the nursery wall in the wee hours of the morning!).
If it sounds like I’m bragging about him, it’s because I am. I just wish he weren’t such a rare breed.
8. Be knowledgeable.
Go with her to a breastfeeding class. Read up about nursing on the internet. Pick up a book at the library.
There’s no excuse for being ignorant about breastfeeding, whether you’re the one with the milk or not. Having at least a basic knowledge will allow you to actively help her troubleshoot issues if they come up. (From some troubles I had with my first child, my husband can tell you the ins and outs of an overactive letdown! It was a relief to have him doing some of the Googling as we worked through it with our son.)
9. Find other ways to bond with baby.
Sometimes a breastfeeding mom deals with feelings of guilt because her partner isn’t able to bond with the baby the way she is through nursing.
Which is unfortunate because, while breastfeeding is certainly a bonding experience, it definitely isn’t the only one!
Partners can give the baby a bottle once breastfeeding has been successfully established. (Bonus for letting mom get out of the house for a few hours.)
They can hold the baby skin-to-skin.
They can babywear like a boss.
They can rock and sing the baby to sleep.
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be a barrier to others bonding with your new little one.
10. Keep her fueled.
In all the craziness of caring for an infant, breastfeeding moms often forget to take care of themselves—especially in terms of staying hydrated and nourished.
But adequate H2O is essential to mama’s milk supply, and breastfeeding tends to leave moms utterly ravenous.
To recap: We’re thirsty and starving but lack the time or energy to drink and eat enough. It’s quite a dilemma!
So bring her a bottle of water. Stock the pantry with high-protein snacks (bonus points if they can be eaten one-handed!). Make sure her very basic needs are met.
11. Take ownership of another task.
If she is the full-time baby feeder in the house, maybe when you’re home you are the official baby diaper changer, or perhaps you’re the enthusiastic leader of baby bath time.
Find another baby-care task and make it yours.
12. Back her up!
There are plenty of people who still make negative comments about breastfeeding moms—ranging from outright cruelty (“That’s disgusting!”) to passive aggressive defensiveness (“I didn’t breastfeed and my kids turned out just fine, thank you very much!”) to uninformed insensitivity (“How do you know you aren’t starving your baby???”).
Help her navigate those kinds of comments, and stand up for her when they’re uttered in your presence. It’s a great way to let her know you are on her team.