As a dad, you may feel uncertain about how to help and support your breastfeeding partner. You may not know which tasks to be in charge of when it comes to your baby or what you have to offer since you can't breastfeed. I have put together a list of ways you can be an integral part of the breastfeeding journey. You don’t need milk coming out of your nipples to support your baby nursing.
1. Care for Your Baby
Take on your share of all the other facets of baby care.
- Bottle feeding with pumped breastmilk
Plan with your partner for you to handle one of the nighttime feedings. Helping your partner get more sleep is better for their health, their milk supply, and your home overall. Sleep deprivation puts a strain on daily functioning and relationships. Helping to prioritize your partner’s sleep will help your family in the long run.
I was relieved when I started pumping, and my partner could take over one of the nighttime feedings. Both of my children were of the mindset that one must eat every two hours all night every night so nursing took a toll on my sleep. The first time I got a stretch of sleep longer than two hours, I felt like a new human being. Well, I felt more human being and less zombie-like.
- Changing Diapers
I cannot reiterate this enough, your partner grew a whole human inside of them for nine months and then either pushed them out of their body, probably ripping some things along the way, or had to have major surgery for your baby to be born. Therefore, make it your goal to change as many diapers as possible.
Babies need to bond with caregivers to develop healthy attachment styles as they grow. Holding and interacting with your baby will help to deepen your connection with each other. Bonding with your baby can also help your partner.
I felt relieved knowing that I wasn’t the only one who could soothe our baby. Having a partner who would scoop them up to snuggle and calm them down gave me the mental and emotional breaks I needed.
Nemours Kids Health offers other ideas for how to bond with your baby:
- Read and sing
- Copy their movements
- Imitate their cooing
- Wear them in a front carrier
- Hold them skin to skin on your chest
2. Get Directly Involved in Breastfeeding
You don’t have to sit on the sidelines while your partner nurses the baby. Below are some ideas for how to get involved.
- Be in charge of burping your infant halfway through and after feedings.
- Help your partner get some extra sleep. Your partner can sleep while feeding the baby in the side-lying position, and you can stay awake to monitor your baby's safety.
- Spend time with your partner while they are Keeping them company will give you both time to connect.
Check in to see if your partner needs anything to eat or drink. Their body is working hard to produce milk and nurse your child, so make sure they get the sustenance they need.
3. Redistribute Household Tasks and Child-Rearing
Within healthy relationships, both partners communicate and find the best way to split up the household and child-rearing duties. You and your partner figure out what works best for your relationship. When I had my first child, it was like survival of the fittest in our house, and we were just trying to stay above water.
Having a newborn is like getting the world’s worst roommate. They wake you up at night, don’t clean up after themselves, are all up in your business, and don’t communicate clearly. After we got through the initial shock of the first week, we were able to talk about how we could better split up duties around the house. We decided my partner needed to take on additional tasks since I spent more time feeding our baby and wasn't getting much sleep.
Identify tasks that keep your household running and decide which ones would work best for you to take over. Maybe you take on the meal planning and preparation or the cleaning that they usually handle.
If you have other children in the home, focus on making sure they get one-on-one time with you. You can go for walks, read books, or play at the park together. You could also plan with your partner for you to stay home with the baby while they have an outing one on one with your older child.
My youngest son often cluster feeds in the late afternoon, so my partner will take our toddler on walks to see the construction site down the street or read books together in his room. My partner also takes care of our toddler if he wakes up in the night and gets up with him in the morning.
4. Emotional support
Validate your partner’s emotions and breastfeeding experience. Nursing a child is hard and exhausting all on its own without factoring in all the other household, child-rearing, and job duties your partner may have.
It was a relief to know that my partner saw how tired I was and how much effort it took to breastfeed both of our boys. I felt like all my hard work wasn’t going unnoticed when he would thank me for nursing them or acknowledge when I felt worn out and weary.
According to the International Breastfeeding Journal, "Mothers feel more capable and confident about breastfeeding when they perceive their partners are supportive by way of verbal encouragement and active involvement in breastfeeding activities."
Worried you’ll say the wrong thing? Below are some phrases you could use to encourage your partner. If needed, you can put them in your own words to make it feel more natural.
- You’re exhausted.
- This feels overwhelming for you.
- I see how hard you’re working.
- You dedicate a lot of your time to breastfeeding.
- I’m grateful you are nursing our kid.
It will also help you be a better partner and parent if you acknowledge and process your own emotions. Having a newborn at home is a big adjustment for everyone in the family, not just the breastfeeding parent. You too are getting less sleep, your schedule has changed, and your life may feel a bit turned upside down in the beginning.
Recognizing when you feel overwhelmed, tired, or irritable can help you cope with those emotions healthily. My partner learned it was beneficial for him to call his friend who is also a dad every couple of weeks to check-in and have someone to talk to.
5. Be a Breastfeeding Advocate
Not everyone in your family’s life will support your partner breastfeeding your child, especially for extended periods, but you can be a strong advocate for nursing. Educate yourself about the benefits of breastfeeding and tips that can help your partner. See our previous article on 5 breastfeeding tips.
A dad defending their partner’s decision to breastfeed their child is powerful. Your words of support for your partner matter.
I breastfed my first son until he was two years old. When he turned one, people started asking how long I planned to keep nursing him. When my partner heard this, he would jump in and say, “for as long as they both want to.” I was grateful whenever he would say something. It took the pressure off of me trying to come up with a response to defend my decision.
Dads have an awesome opportunity to join in their child and partner’s breastfeeding journey. You do not have to sit back as an observer. You can be the support that helps your partner nurse your child for as long as they choose to. By joining in the process, you also get to develop a deep connection with your baby. You have the opportunity to play an integral role in the breastfeeding journey and support your partner and baby's wellbeing.
Dad, we are cheering you on here at Ellie and Becca. We want all parents to be successful and feel confident about their children breastfeeding. You play such an important role for your baby and partner, and we know you can do it!