So your wife is going to breastfeed, what does this mean for you? Before or after the birth of your baby, many fathers wonder about their roles as fathers. If their partner is going to breastfeed, a new father can have a range of feelings. Some positive and others uncertain, from wondering if you will have a hard time bonding with your baby to how can you help/support your partner in her new role as a mother.
You are your partner’s advocate. You are her support system and biggest cheerleader. She will depend on you to help her co-parent and cope with her role as a new mother. Let her know that she has your full support and that you will support and help her succeed in breastfeeding.
Learn about breastfeeding. Both of you are new to parenting and breastfeeding. She has never nursed a baby before and unless she has come from a breastfeeding family, she will be just as in the dark as you. You will often be viewing feedings from a different prospective than your partner. You can help her by learning about and helping her with positioning, latching and watching for active sucking and swallowing from your baby.
Become a veteran at designated “daddy skills”. Diaper changing, bathing baby, and changing baby’s clothes. It sounds easy but is it? Some people say it can really be like trying to fit a wet, squirming octopus into positions that octopus does not want to go into. By doing these things you not only support and give some relieve to your wife, but it also helps you bond with baby.
Learn how to sooth your baby. There are lots of ways to soothe a fussy newborn. Learning to soothe a crying baby is an important skill both parents need to learn. The first three months is often called the 4th Trimester because human babies are born very immature. They will often have “meltdowns” that have nothing to do with being hungry, wet or gas. My husband could take our crying baby that I could not calm down, lay him on his chest and massage his back and he would be sleeping soundly in five minutes! What a relief for me and a great baby bonding experience for baby and dad.
I need to bottle feed my baby a so we can bond. It is a myth babies can only bond through feeding, giving a baby a bottle is the least taxing thing you can do. Your baby already knows the sound of your voice, your smell, the rhythm of your heart beat and your touch. You are adding more work for her by expecting her to pump after feedings to collect enough milk to fill bottles. Plus clean pump equipment and wash bottles. Newborns take a lot of care. There is plenty of work to go around without creating more chores… both of you will be doing a lot already.
Help her with evening/nighttime parenting. Help your partner by bringing the baby to her to feed. Then be responsible for burping, diaper changing and putting baby back to sleep. Most women take off six to twelve weeks for maternity leave. Unfortunately, we no longer live in small social groups where other women take care of the mother after birth. So most women are physically exhausted by the time you come home from work. Being on evening and nighttime duty will help her recover from birth faster, have more energy and more positive feelings towards you for helping.
Help her get help if she needs it. Being a new mother can sometimes be overwhelming. Breastfeeding may not go well for a lot of reasons that have nothing do with anything either of you are or are not doing. There are many private practice lactation consultants, IBCLCs, who can come to your home or contact La Leche League in your area for common questions about breastfeeding to help you both.
Because women in Western societies receive so little help after birth, postpartum depression is more common. Listen to her feelings, and help her find solutions. Think about hiring a postpartum doula. But if she seems to be sinking deeper into depression that is more serious than just “baby blues” and doesn’t seem like herself. Be prepared to step in. Sometimes her OB or family practice doctor can be of tremendous help. Just remember this happens to many people after birth and help is available.
Is there anything else I can do beside newborn care to help my partner? Some new dads say things like; “I feel uncomfortable handling my newborn” or “my baby cries every time I hold it”. Try to remember your newborn cries with everyone, including its mother. So don’t feel picked on, it’s best to learn soothing skills instead of assuming your baby doesn’t like you. There are still lots of duties to share: cleaning, cooking/ providing meals, shopping/ running errands, laundry, pet care, etc. Take over any mundane household task. Give your wife a surprise back massage and let her know you appreciate what she is doing to make sure the new addition to your family is healthy and happy. This will be appreciated.
Monitor visitors. Visitors can really tire new moms out without meaning to. Monitor how long they are stay and if they are staying with you lay down rules. Studies show new mothers never feel threatened by help from the baby’s father but they can feel resentful or anxious when others try to take over their baby’s care without asking or hold their newborns for extended periods of time. Also be mindful of guests who are unfamiliar with breastfeeding. Ask them to keep questions positive. If you have to, be firm and ask them to leave in a tactful way. Your partner will appreciate you for it.
Any amount of support you can give your partner will pays off in the long run, for you, your partner and most importantly your new baby. Giving her the physical and emotional support she needs when breastfeeding will be to your benefit in time. How you ask? Your spouse will love you for it and baby will be better off for it. For dad, you can say you
helped in the process and added value while helping both mother and baby!
Author's Note: This blog was co-written with my husband and partner. We are the parents of two wonderful adult children and now grandparents. I have wanted to write this blog for a long time because I feel like new fathers are not aware of the tremendous role they play in raising their children, even right after birth. In Western society’s men are often portrayed as adult children who are a burden on their partners. Working for almost 20 years as a La Leche League Leader and later as a lactation consultant. I see many fathers working side by side with their wives/partners to soothe fussy newborns, change diapers, do housework and care for infants in a way that goes far beyond men of my father’s time. I want to thank the men out there who have embraced modern parenting and say “Thank You”. Your hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed.