Though breastfeeding is generally thought of as a relationship solely between a mother and infant, any woman who has breastfed knows that having the support of a significant other, close family member or friend is crucial.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7, we want to recognize the important roles that the support person can play in the breastfeeding experience.
1. Education: Those first weeks home with a baby are full of new experiences, joys and a whole lot of sleep deprivation. Two foggy, sleep-deprived brains are better than one when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of breastfeeding.
Partners should attempt to become just as educated about breastfeeding as the mother so they can be on alert for when things might not be going well or offer encouragement when everything is going well.
2. Manage visitors and family: One of the most challenging parts of having a new baby is managing all the many wonderful, well-meaning family members and friends who want to stop by. Though seeing family and friends can be special for the mothers, she may find it difficult to set the boundaries necessary to successfully breastfeed.
Partners can fill in that role by insisting on quiet time, scheduling visitors in a less overwhelming manner and perhaps even being the “bad guy” who has to turn people away at the door.
3. Physical and emotional support: Though the mom will be responsible for the actual breastfeeding, partners can step in in many other ways. Many moms with new babies need help getting the pillows set up to feed, filling up their water bottle or adjusting the lighting. Support people can take care of diaper changes, burping and bathing, which will give the mother some much needed time to herself.
Partners can also play an important role offering emotional support. Breastfeeding is a full-time job in the beginning, and a partner who understands and supports this is important.
4. Help with other kids and household tasks: Breastfeeding in the early months takes an incredible amount of time. Mothers will feed their babies eight to 12 times per day, up to 45 minutes per time. That doesn’t leave much time for chores or dealing with other children or family members. One way that partners can help is to offer to take many of these tasks off her plate.
Chaffee County is a community full of amazing mothers, fathers and support people. Here are some quotes from some of our best support people:
“I think one of the main things to understand as a dad and a partner is how much time and effort go into the whole process of breastfeeding and pumping. My wife spends the better part of her day feeding and pumping – and it takes a lot of time away from her for other things. Understanding, appreciating and being aware of how much time, effort and energy she puts in – that is the first, and maybe one of the most important things you can do as a partner.
“Secondly is the ‘helping with everything else’ part. With us having a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old, there is never a shortage of bottles, sippy cups and breast pump parts to wash. So do it, wash everything up, sterilize it and get it ready for the next round – it will come very soon and very frequently.
“Also, make meals, make snacks, bring her special treats from the bakery or the ice cream shop; do it spontaneously on your drive home from work or running errands. The thoughtfulness and little morale boost helps as much as the extra calories do, (breastfeeding a growing child takes lots of calories).
“Pick up that baby whenever you can, give her breaks or at least offer to do anything that is helpful to her when you notice all the work and effort taking its toll. Give hugs, give love, give support – do this one all the time.
“Keep a positive attitude and always have a gentle demeanor around her and baby, no matter how crummy and stressful things may be at the time. A positive environment is important with a new little one and for the adults too.”
– Kevin, dad to Skyler, 2, and Sylvan, 5 months
“My experience with breastfeeding was that it was a surprise how much of a time commitment it is for the mom, especially getting up during the night to feed. I think the biggest thing I learned was to try and help in other ways around the house and taking the baby once he’s done feeding so she can do other things or sleep. I’ve just tried to be encouraging and as helpful as possible since it is so much work.”
– Tre, dad to Hyson, 2 months
“The whole family should be involved. Any support counts, even picking up the baby, hugging him and bringing him to Mommy makes a big difference.”
– Tomas, dad to Mia, 9 months
“Breastfeeding seemed like such a simple concept up until our son actually arrived and we realized that babies aren’t born as miniature suckling experts. It was a learning experience for all three of us, and we quickly discovered that breastfeeding was a full-time job for a new mom.
“We had learned about the intervals of when a baby would need to nurse, but what we hadn’t considered was the fact that the nursing itself would take up nearly the entire interval between feedings. By the time he finished nursing, it would often only be another 10 or 15 minutes before he was hungry again. It’s tough watching your wife not have any time for herself, especially during those first weeks before you can even help by offering a bottle.
“My advice would be to give your wife the opportunity to focus on breastfeeding as her sole job. It’s physically and mentally demanding, not to mention time consuming, so any chance to take on other responsibilities (cleaning the house, making dinner, changing diapers) will alleviate some of her stress. She has enough to focus on without having to think about all of the other things she no longer has time to do.
“Also, go buy as many Bobo Bars as you can find. These overpriced granola bars will be worth every penny, as her appetite will be insatiable. Sometimes you’ll find it amusing and you’ll be tempted to make a joke about it. Do not do that. The wrath of a sleep-deprived, hormonal breastfeeding mother is nothing to mess around with.”
– Mike, dad to Colter, 7 months
“As fathers, it is important to know that we can be helpful on many different levels. We have to find a strong foundation in selflessness and patience. We can support our partners emotionally and physically and must be mindful to give them the strength and space to provide for our children. Being flexible shouldn’t be a choice – it is a necessity and must be part of our mind-set.
“My advice to dads is to be present, to be open and creative about how you can support your partners and to understand and embrace that our own priorities must come after the needs of our partner and our child.”
– Eddy, dad to Tala, 3, and Sy, 4 months
“Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful things a father can witness and take part in. There is something that is so beautiful about watching your wife and baby form a bond that will sustain them for years to come. It’s at this crucial point that the motherly bond is formed, and when the kid is 50 years old they will say ‘I want my mom.’
“Being a father and witnessing this is an amazing part of life that doesn’t lose its luster no matter how many kids you have. Being a father of 3 has been amazing and I feel that breastfeeding has been a crucial part of establishing our family relationship and values.”
– Josh, dad to Marlene, 4, Jasper, 2½, and Jolene, 4 months
“My role in this breastfeeding adventure seems to be ever evolving. In the early weeks, I was the ‘dad who wasn’t afraid to ask all the stupid questions.’ I wanted to learn and understand the how and why of both mom and baby. I wanted to try feeding him myself, with a bottle – to see if there was any difference in his willingness to eat or any reaction to me ‘hand delivering the goods.’
“As the months have gone by and many strategies have been played out, I believe we’ve established our best roles. And each day we try to stay true to the routine as best as possible.
“Evenings are my favorite. While mom and baby are feeding, I’m usually in the rocker reading aloud a chapter or two of our favorite young adult books growing up. (I’m still a sucker for Encyclopedia Brown.) It reminds us of simpler times and how exciting it is to be young, innocent, and have the whole world ahead of you.
“And then he falls asleep. And with a sigh of relief and exhaustion, soon after, so do we.”
– Rick, dad to Henry, 6 months
Emily Anderson, RN, BSN, CLC, CPST, is a registered nurse at Chaffee County Public Health.