Breastfeeding: 15 Ways New Dads Can Help

Today's dad plays an integral role in the breastfeeding relationship. In a 2009 survey, Bravado found that the vast majority of breastfeeding mothers (70%) came to their decision with input from their husband/partner.

At the same time, however, survey respondents reported their partners weren't as proactive about learning about breastfeeding as they could be.

Upshot: if you're a new dad, educate yourself about nursing! Here are 15 ways you can help your wife make the most of her nursing experience.

1) Step up
Don't presume your wife needs her mother's support more than yours. Nearly 57% of BBIC survey respondents cited husbands/partners as the most important influence in their lives as nursing moms. Just over 21% chose their mothers. So don't be shy; be an active participant in nursing.

2) Encourage her
Don't forget to compliment her on her dedication to breastfeed. It'll help keep her motivated – during good times, as well as through sore nipples, mastitis, 3am feedings and other breastfeeding challenges.

"My husband was super-supportive every step of the way. Without his support, I would have given up in the first week," said one survey respondent.

3) Support her with family and friends
Although research supports breastfeeding as the best choice for the majority of babies, society can exert pressure on women to abandon it, particularly when nursing challenges arise. If loved ones question your wife's decision to breastfeed, gently but firmly remind them that – although you know they're just trying to help – their comments are counterproductive.

4) Don't suggest formula
Survey respondents said new dads should avoid raising formula as an option. She knows it's an option, and chose breastfeeding instead. So avoid the F word unless she brings it up first.

5) Listen
Breastfeeding is natural.... but it doesn't always come naturally. Many new moms need help establishing milk flow, and many infants need help learning to latch on. If your wife wants to borrow your ear – or shoulder to cry on – be there. It goes a long way in promoting successful breastfeeding. "His support has been ESSENTIAL to our success," said another BBIC survey respondent.

6) Do more chores
She's sleep deprived and exhausted, so do what you can to help create a harmonious nest for baby and mom to bond in. Tackle some laundry or wrangle some messes – she'll notice and appreciate it!

7) Get up with her at night
Although your work schedule may make it impossible to do every night, try getting up with your wife for some nighttime feedings. See if she wants anything to drink or eat, a blanket, or just some company. (Or consider taking turns with nighttime feeds: let her sleep while you bottle feed baby expressed milk.)

8) Take her cues when it comes to her breasts and sex
"He thought it was going to be fun and sexy – boy was he wrong! When the prenatal class handed out a pamphlet on sore nipple cream, he panicked," reported one survey respondent.

The truth is, some women don't like their breasts handled during sex, either because they're sore or it doesn't feel "right," given the new role her breasts fill. Another concern new moms cite is fear they'll leak milk during foreplay or sex. So, ask her how she wants to be touched first.

9) Get "Hands On" with Breastfeeding
One respondent said her husband would sometimes sit and support her in his arms while she held and nursed their baby. "Baby would look up and see us there together. It was such a feeling of love and great bonding for the three of us," she reported.

Another respondent who had a "very difficult time" establishing breastfeeding said "My husband would help get baby latched for the minute she would. Then he'd [bottle] feed her so I could pump." Eventually, the family found breastfeeding success: "When she finally caught on, he was dancing all over the room!"

10) Take a Breastfeeding Class Together
Go with your wife so you can offer her your support when the time comes, just as with prenatal classes. Take notes. "My husband asked the instructor more questions than anyone else in the class by far! I was happy he wanted to be fully informed and prepared."

11) Become Her Research Partner
Be proactive and read up about breastfeeding in books, magazine articles and online. Your wife is likely researching as well, but when issues come up and she's juggling baby, you can check your resources for high-priority info she needs ASAP. Looking for a great place to start? Check out our Breastfeeding Resource Library.

12) Provide moral support (even in the form of comic relief!)
Women often feel more comfortable nursing in public when their husbands/partners are with them – and studies have shown they encounter less hostility (compared to nursing alone or in the company of a female friend). So be there to lend moral support if she needs it.

One respondent said her husband sometimes took his own shirt off in solidarity when she nursed. "There's never a dull moment when he's around" she said.

13) Get help for her if she needs it
The shirtless dad mentioned above hired a post-partum doula when his wife experienced breastfeeding difficulties. If your wife's having trouble, use your time to research and book a home visit from a post-partum doula, nurse, or lactation consultant. Looking for some help? Check out our list of Resources for Breastfeeding.

14) Act as gatekeeper
Take it upon yourself to screen calls and guard the door during the first couple weeks at home when your wife's tired, healing from childbirth, establishing breastfeeding, and most importantly, the three of you are bonding as a family. Keep interruptions to a minimum and heed her wishes about whom she wants to see – and who needs to be politely but firmly kept at bay.

15) Finally, ask her what she needs
You won't know unless you ask!

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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