Breastfeeding is an incredible bonding time for mother and baby, but while dads often want to be a part of the process, that's challenging for obvious reasons. Partner support throughout is important, but it's especially vital during weaning. At this time, dads can help breastfeeding moms wean. The end of a mom's breastfeeding journey will likely be a bundle of emotions, and feeling supported will go a long way to ensuring a smooth and peaceful process in the next steps of baby's growth.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding up until 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding (along with appropriate complementary foods) up to 2 years of age or beyond. That is in an ideal world, of course, and as a new mother, you should do what is best for you and your family when it comes to weaning. In an interview with Romper, Megan Davidson, PhD, doula and author of Your Birth Plan, shares how partners can engage and be supportive, recognizing that until now, feeding has primarily been the mother's responsibility.
"The burden of chest/breastfeeding usually falls to one parent, but partners can be critical in supporting the nursing dyad, which refers to both partners being involved. This creates a deeper sense of equity on parenting an infant. Partners can educate themselves in the basics of chest/breastfeeding in order to help remind their partner of what is normal and when it might be useful to get help," Davidson writes.
When it comes to weaning, Davidson says, "Partners can support the lactating person with food, drinks, shoulder rubs, and kind words to help bolster them during the hours spent nursing. Partners can be attentive and listen to what would be helpful — every nursing person has different needs and being flexible to their feedback is the most helpful type of support." To all those starting the weaning process: send this post link to your partner with the heading "waiter service and shoulder rubs, please." No need to be subtle, this is great advice.
During the weaning process, Davidson writes, "It is often helpful to have an active partner who can help with feeding, distracting, and comforting the baby in the transition away from breast/chest feeding. The specifics of how best to be supportive will depend both on how old the nursing child is and how central nursing is to their current day-to-day experience, but having a plan for how to work together through the transition is always helpful." Davidson's advice makes a lot of sense. Once again, the way to effectively parent (or have a solid relationship to begin with) is through communication, and letting your partner know what it is you need to make this as smooth a transition as possible. (Also, all the distractions please. Nothing is worse than a baby that wants your boobs just for the sake of having them when you'd rather not.)
The nuts and bolts of day versus night weaning are also explored in a recent post on Fatherly. While dropping day feedings may be harder, that's dad's opportunity to take over and distract baby with play and a new, interesting food to taste. Keeping the baby physically close with lots of hugs and cuddling helps replace the closeness they lose from breastfeeding. At night, dads can be in charge of a nighttime bottle and soothe baby when they wake for a middle-of-the-night snack (save the silly voices and games for during the day, however). Keep in mind that weaning is a gradual process ,and the next stage of your baby's food interests is just around the corner. As with all challenging parts of raising a child, the phrase "this too shall pass" comes to mind. Good luck.