While breastfeeding can be beautiful and relaxing and nothing short of enjoyable, it can also be exhausting and painful and very, very stressful. When a woman decides—and is able—to breastfeed, she will need (and definitely deserves) support from her partner. Most, I would hope, are quick to give the breastfeeding mother as much assistance as they can, but sadly, there are some things a partner says while you breastfeed that seem helpful, but really aren't. Like, at all.
I personally don't know what it's like to be the partner who can't breastfeed, the one who has to sit by the feeding sidelines (for the most part) as their partner sustains their baby with their own bodies. I recently asked my very supportive partner how that felt, to not be part of the majority of our feedings, and he admitted that it was difficult. He witnessed me struggle, slept while I woke up every two hours to feed my son, and looked up potential issues when breastfeeding was extremely painful. But he also watched our son and me share moments that he simply couldn't. So, of course, he wanted to be apart of the breastfeeding experience anyway he could, and more often than not, that meant saying or doing something to help. Sometimes, his words and actions were beneficial. Other times, sadly, they were not.
The thing to remember when you're breastfeeding and exhausted and in pain and anxious is that your partner does have the best of intentions. So when they say these seven things that appear helpful, but really aren't, just remember that they're trying. And hey, it's the thought that counts, right?
Even when said with the most golden of intentions, telling someone to "relax" when they're stressed is guaranteed to only increase their level of stress. It'll probably also add the emotions "annoyed" and "angry" to the mix, so it's clearly far from helpful. Breastfeeding can be an anxiety-ridden, exhausting act of love, and those feelings are just as valid as the peaceful, bonding moments breastfeeding can facilitate. While your partner may want to help you by trying to alleviate your stress, what is more helpful is giving you the opportunity to talk about your stress—or simply be stressed—until the feeling passes.
"You Can Always Switch To Formula"
Listen up partners, breastfeeding mothers are well aware of their ability to go to a store and purchase some formula (and others, who don't have that ability, are well aware that formula is expensive, so telling them they can buy something they actually can't isn't helpful). If they're capable of breastfeeding, then they've made that choice and are (probably) more than determined to stick with that choice. Telling a mother that she can quit breastfeeding at any time isn't only redundant, it's not supportive. That's like telling a marathon runner, "Hey, you can start walking. Or just quit altogether."
"I Wish I Could Breastfeed"
While this is an adorable sentiment, it's also unnecessary. A breastfeeding mom knows that her partner can't breastfeed. Trust me. She has probably cursed god or science or both while feeing at 3 am for the ninth consecutive time that night. Instead of offering to do a thing you physically can't do, try offering to do something you actually can: take the baby (once they're fed) so mom can nap. Buy her/make her her favorite meal or pick up around the house so she doesn't have to. That's far more important that reminding her that the burden of breastfeeding falls on her, and her alone.
"Make Sure The Baby Is Getting Enough Milk"
Okay honestly never say this. Like, ever. What is the point? Does anyone actually think that there's a breastfeeding mom out there who can not only (somehow) stop her milk flow and withhold necessary nutrients from her baby, but chooses to do so, just for fun? Yeah, it's not a thing. And while it's wonderful and honestly understandable that a partner would be concerned with the amount of food their baby is getting (I mean, that's a valid worry), they also need to trust in the breastfeeding mother's body and intuition. Undermining her body's ability can lead to stress, anxiety, and self-doubt, which can negatively affect her ability to breastfeed.
"I'll Feed Them A Bottle So You Can Rest"
I'll admit that this can actually be unbelievably helpful. On occasion, I pumped so that my partner could feed our son with a bottle and I could sleep without guilt. Of course, I also woke up with engorged, painful breasts that required additional pumping, so sometimes it didn't necessary feel worth the extra few hours of sleep. However, if a mother insists on breastfeeding, doesn't want to and/or can't pump, or doesn't want their baby to feed from a bottle (which has been known to cause nipple confusion, although reports vary) then offering to do what she adamantly does not want to do is just hurtful. It's about as supportive as parading a cake around someone who is gluten intolerant.
"You Can Bond In Other Ways"
This is a wonderful sentiment that is as true as it is obvious. Most if not all mothers are aware of the multiple ways that they can bond with their babies. Just like their partner doesn't have to breastfeed in order to bond with their son or daughter, a breastfeeding mother can also bond with her baby by co-sleeping, reading, etc. She's aware that there are multiple ways to form a lasting bond with a baby; she is just choosing for one of those ways to be breastfeeding. She should be supported in that choice, not constantly told that it's a choice she doesn't necessarily have to make.
"At Least You Won't Have To Do This Forever"
Breastfeeding mothers are well aware that there's an end-date in the books. What that date ends up being—either seven months like yours truly, or three, four or five years old, like many of my dear friends—is entirely up to the breastfeeding mother and her baby. And while it's perfectly normal to look forward to the day you're no longer breastfeeding, it's also perfectly normal to dread that day, too. Even when it's frustrating and painful and exhausting, many women experience a deep, palpable sadness when their breastfeeding time has come and gone. It's a reminder that their baby is getting older and their baby doesn't need them in the same way anymore and honestly, don't remind a mother of that. It's worth celebrating, sure, but it can be sad.