When I decided (and was successful) at breastfeeding, I thought the benefits were pretty cut and dry: I wouldn't spend time making bottles in the middle of the night, I'd get some one-on-one bonding time with my son and my son would receive some amazing nutrients. What I didn't realize, however, was that breastfeeding would make my relationship with my partner stronger. I thought it would be my son and I, and us alone, that would reap the benefits of successful breastfeeding, but I was wrong (and, trust me, I usually don't like to admit that).
I honestly, and naively, thought that breastfeeding would negatively impact the relationship I have with my partner. I irrationally feared that he would find it "gross" (he definitely didn't) or he wouldn't find me sexy anymore (he definitely did) and that using my breasts in a functional way, rather than a sexual way, wouldn't be all that appealing to him. They were all unfair assumptions, rooted in fear and hormones and some postpartum depression a massive life-change that I was excited, but nervous, to embark on. Truth be told, my partner was so supportive and wonderful and wanted to know everything about breastfeeding (and, come to think of it, probably knew more about it than I did prior to our son entering the world) so that he could be part of the experience.
Which is why, while the benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mother have been extensively documented, it's really worth looking into the benefits you can experience between you and your partner. Something happens to you and your relationship when you become a mother and your partner becomes a parent; something that (can, sometimes for some people) create an even deeper, more complex and long-lasting bond. Breastfeeding is one of those catalysts for establishing a stronger relationship, and here are just a few reasons why:
You Tackle Potential Problems, Together
While breastfeeding may come easily and naturally to some, it doesn't for many, many others. There are so many potential breastfeeding problems that a woman could face and, hopefully, if she does, she doesn't face them alone. If she develops Mastitis or low milk supply or has issues breastfeeding because she's a sexual assault survivor, her partner will help. They will both work, together, to come up with a solution so that both mother and baby are healthy and comfortable.
I, personally, had issues breastfeeding, as it became a trigger for my sexual assault. My partner was always supportive; researching techniques and letting me vent and cry and never judging me when I considered stopping. He figured out our breast pump first, so I wouldn't have to read the ridiculously large instruction manual, and then taught me. He gave me words of encouragement and support, when I felt like breastfeeding was something I simply couldn't do. Knowing that I wasn't going through those problems alone, made our relationship stronger. I knew I could count on my partner, even if what I was experiencing was something he physically, or otherwise, couldn't.
It's Another "First" To Add To Your List
Doing something together, for the "first" time, is always a bonding experience for any relationship. Whether it was the first date or the first time you met one another's respective parents or the first time you went away together; the firsts end up paving the way to a potential always. For new mothers, breastfeeding can provide another first (if they choose to and if they're successful at it). If your partner hasn't breastfed, and neither have you, you both get to experience this wonderful albeit sometimes challenging act, together (even when one partner physically can't). You'll both get to figure out latching and the breast pump and breastfeeding positions and what happens to a woman's body when she breastfeeds. It's pretty awesome to add another "first" to your relationship list.
You Both Learn Patience
Breastfeeding requires a ridiculous amount of patience; whether it's trying to up your supply or trying to get a latch or just trying to make it through a tedious night feeding. When you harness the patience breastfeeding requires, it will inevitably affect other areas of your life. You'll probably find yourself capable of being even more patient with your partner (or maybe not, I mean, I've snapped at my partner a time or twelve). Likewise, your partner may find themselves being more patient with you. You won't be able to do that one thing right away because, well, you're busy breastfeeding.
You Learn How To Support One Another
Your partner will learn how to support you in your breastfeeding efforts, whether it's making sure your favorite Netflix show is ready to go or providing you with water, and you'll learn how to assist your partner in those efforts. Your communication will probably strengthen, as you will both have to check in with one another periodically to see how breastfeeding is going, how you're feeling, how your supply is, etc. It's honestly a never-ending job that requires diligence, and while that might not sound like the most fun, that diligence bonds you and your partner. You're both working towards a common goal: providing health and safety and security and a thriving life for your baby. You both realize that in order to support your kid, you have to support one another, too.
Your Partner Sees You Differently (And It's A Good Thing)
I will never forget the way my partner looked at me when I breastfed our son for the first time. It honestly transcended the look he gave me when he first met me, the look he gave me when he told me he loved me, and even the look he gave me when I told him we were going have a baby. Something in him shifted; like I was suddenly more than just the woman he loved. Now, I was this awe-inspiring woman that could not only create and birth life, but sustain life. I mean, you guys, it was pretty freakin' awesome, and it hasn't gone away.
You Get Time Apart (And Together)
Breastfeeding, while not a one-person job in my opinion (because yes, partner, you can help a breastfeeding woman be successful in her endeavors) is still a somewhat isolating experience. Sometimes, it really is just you and your baby, enjoying a moment. That can be amazing and so damn necessary. I, for one, am a big advocate of partners spending time away from one another, so to have some time in our parenting journey (especially at first) when I absolutely had (or just wanted to) be by myself, made the time I spent with my son and my partner, that much sweeter. I was able to bond with my son, and my partner was able to get some much-deserved alone time.
And then, of course, there are those moments when we were all together and I was breastfeeding. Whether we were all laying in bed, or all sitting on the couch watching a sporting event while our son ate; those memories are something my partner and I will cherish, forever, and I could almost feel my partner and I growing closer whenever our new family were together and my son was having a meal.
You're Both Learning, Together
While breastfeeding is (for some) a pretty natural act, there is a lot to learn. Hopefully, both partners take part in that learning process; researching and asking questions and looking up forums and finding support groups. Like I said, even if only one person can actually do it, breastfeeding isn't a one-person job. When a couple is learning something new, together, they become closer during that process. No one acts like "the boss," and no one gets to feign superiority; both are just humbled newbies, fumbling their way through the journey that is breastfeeding.
Your Partner Learns How To Advocate For You...
Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma associated with breastfeeding, especially if you breastfeed in public, without a cover, or you try your hand at extended breastfeeding. Hopefully, your partner learns how to advocate for you when those naysayers speak up and try to shame you for making a personal parenting decision. I was lucky enough to have a supportive partner who, on more than one occasion, let people know that their personal preferences had no business being forced onto his partner while she was feeding his son. To watch my partner stand up for me (even though, yes, I most certainly could have and often times did, stand up for myself) was pretty awesome, and definitely made me feel closer to him.
...And You Learn How To Advocate For Your Partner
And, of course, there were times when I had to stand up for my partner. While our society is definitely evolving and gender-equality is, at least, a little closer in sight, there are still some who view parenting as a "woman's job." My partner was on the receiving end of numerous negative comments, especially when I was breastfeeding in public. "How could you let her do that in front of people?" and, "I would never let my 'woman' show her body like that," were just a few, and in those moments, I was more than happy to stand up for my partner and his unapologetic stance towards breastfeeding. I could see that, just like me, he appreciated having a constant advocate by his side.
Your Roles, And Relationship, Evolve
Just like parenting pushes your relationship along, so does breastfeeding. Your roles, for both one another and as parents, change and evolve and become clearer. If you're breastfeeding, perhaps your partner picks up more of the household chores; like cleaning or laundry or cooking. I know that when I was exclusively breastfeeding, dinner became my partner's domain. We didn't let gender stereotypes shape who did what and when and why. We simply found what works for us and, during that process, found ourselves feeling even closer to one another.