Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 Ways Partners Can Support Breastfeeding Moms

1) Help her prepare:

Chances are, if your partner wants to breastfeed she’s going to mention it at some point before the baby is born. There is actually a great deal of preparation, both mental and physical that goes into a successful breastfeeding relationship. You can help your partner, and show your support for her decision to breastfeed by educating yourself about it, listening to and helping her set goals and letting her know that you understand how important it is to her to breastfeed.

My husband’s advice: It couldn’t hurt to prepare yourself as well, try reaching out to another father who has been there before; a friend like this can go a long way in calming your fears and insecurities.

2) Be her advocate:

This step is most important in the beginning. Initiating a successful breastfeeding relationship is not the easiest thing to do, if the birth of your child takes place in a hospital or birthing center that is not breastfeeding friendly it may seem near impossible. You can help by avoiding unnecessary formula supplementation. Let hospital staff know that your partner intends to breastfeed. Familiarize yourself with common reasons to supplement; some are valid, many are not. If a doctor or nurse offers or ‘prescribes’ formula ask questions, demand a full explanation, and be critical. While your partner may have fully prepared herself for this kind of situation, she will likely be stressed and tired, the only thing she should be worried about in the days following birth is resting and nursing your new baby.

If at any point, your partner seems convinced by medical staff, or anyone else, to give up breastfeeding, if she is told she’s not producing enough milk or is being offered formula for any other reason, the best thing you can do is remind your partner how important it was to her to breastfeed. Suggest she take a day to think about it and seek a second opinion from another doctor, a lactation consultant or Le Leche League leader. You certainly don’t want to tell her what to do, she may still decide to stop, but she will appreciate (eventually) that you didn’t let her make that decision in the heat of the moment.

After you are home from the hospital, being her advocate could mean answering curious (but sometimes stressful) questions from family and friends. Crowd control by keeping visitors and well wishers to small groups and short visits so that mom and baby can nurse often, rest and bond. Helping her nurse in public (however SHE is comfortable doing so), and defending your child’s right to eat when and where he is hungry if your partner is approached while nursing in public.

3)     Have back up

While it is important for you to know at least a little bit about breastfeeding in order to support your partner, you likely won’t have all the answers if your partner runs into problems. The truth is if your partner is anything like me, she doesn’t want you to have all the answers (that would be annoying); she wants you to understand and support her. So if she does run into problems and seems to be struggling, or frustrated, or just at a loss for what to do, the best thing you can do is offer to hook her up with someone who does have answers. Find this person well in advance and have their number on speed dial.

Your back up could be anyone you and, more importantly, your partner trusts for breastfeeding advise. I would suggest a local Le Leche League leader, an IBCLC or lactation educator, a post partum doula, or even a close friend or family member who has breastfed

4)      Nurture her so she can nurture your baby

Exclusively breastfeeding a baby is really hard work. Not only can it be pretty time consuming in the beginning, but it can also be physically tiring. While it may be tempting to offer to feed the baby a bottle to give her a break and capture some of those sweet and quiet moments for yourself, a much better way to help is to help your partner re-fuel.

Even if you don’t cook, make sure she’s got healthy snacks on hand and plenty of water, and whenever possible, the best break you could give her is an hour or so of uninterrupted rest when baby isn’t hungry. During that time you can capture the closeness and bonding that your partner enjoys feeding the baby with a little bit of skin to skin contact, or by wearing your baby in a sling or wrap.

Advice from my husband:  Every ounce of weight your breastfed baby puts on is because of the hard work of your partner and the magic of her body. Nurture her soul by letting her know how much you appreciate it.

5)      Don’t let her feel ‘tied down’

The most common reason I hear from women NOT to breastfeed is that they don’t want to feel ‘tied down’.  I am not sure where they get this idea from, I can’t say I’ve ever felt that way, but that may be because of the support of my husband.

While it is tricky for a breastfeeding mother to be away from her baby, it certainly doesn’t mean that she can’t have me-time with baby near by (that’s where you come in). For me it was having my husband bring our son to my weekly volley-ball games so that I could nurse him between sets. For your family it may mean going shopping together but splitting up so that your partner can shop on her own, playing in the wading pool with baby while your partner swims laps or relaxes in the hot tub, or even walking to a park while your partner catches up with friends at a coffee shop near by. Whatever it is, it is very important that your partner has time to herself on a regular basis. 

While the focus is so often placed on mother and baby, a supportive partner is just as vital to a successful breastfeeding relationship.  Please share more helpful ideas for partners who want to help and support breastfeeding mamas in the comments section.


mamapoekie said... [Reply to comment]

another great post! Jenn, you're really doing a great job here. Adding this to an upcoming Sunday Surf

Julian@connectedmom said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you! Glad you liked the article! It actually came about when my Father shared with me that he always felt guilty that my Mom couldn't breastfeed me like she wanted to, that he felt responsible because he had no idea how to help her. I thought he's likely not the only guy who wants his partner to be successful but doesn't know how to help her do that.

Jenn @ Connected Mom said... [Reply to comment]

Love this post, Julian! It's great to give poeople practical tools for breastfeeding success.

Allison said... [Reply to comment]

I am struggling with getting the support to pump, so I'd also encourage fathers to support mothers if they need to do this. I would like our son to take breastmilk from a bottle as well as the breast as it will make transitioning back to work easier. With our first son we didn't keep it up in the first few months (but not in the first 3-4 weeks)and when I started back to work transitional part-time @ 6 months he would not take a bottle. We managed with a cup but it caused me a lot of stress and worry.
Expressing breastmilk takes time and finding time is much easier with a partners help! I also like my husband to offer the bottle as I think it's more successful if it's not me.

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