Although my own breastfeeding journey was short-lived, my husband was practically a saint during the time that I was trying to get the hang of nursing our son. He made sure I was hydrated and well-fed, was hands-on with diaper changes, and was a pro at swaddling our newborn. I was blessed with a doting husband, so all I had to think about was recovering from a C-section and attempting to keep my milk supply up, but not every dad instinctively knows to do these things. So, I asked lactation experts what can dads do to help with breastfeeding and their responses did not disappoint.
"As an excited, nervous and eager dad to a sweet new baby, a question that often is asked is 'When can I start helping with feedings,' and the mom might ask the same or say things like 'I want him to get to bond with baby too.' These are very valid questions and feelings," nurse and lactation consultant Angie Natero tells Romper. "What I will say is that there are so many things a dad can do to help with baby and support both mommy and baby other than giving bottles."
The act of helping with breastfeeding is often provided by dads in the form of support for moms. Natero says that dads can do things like "bring baby to mom as mom recovers from birth, make mom meals and bring her fresh cold water at feeds, help with household chores, and watch baby for short periods for mom to do things like shower, go on a coffee run, shop, or get her nails done." All of these support activities are great ways to help take some of the burden off of mom while she goes through the nursing process and serves as the sole nutritional source for the baby.
"It takes a village to raise a baby. It’s really important to recognize your village and let people help," says nurse and lactation consultant Tera Hamann. Although Hamann does acknowledge that there is not always a dad to fulfill this role, moms can lean on those closest to her for support, which doesn't have to just come in the form of giving feeding breaks. "Many families talk about pumping and bottle feeding just so the support person can be included. Mom is the source of nutrition, but there are plenty of other things to do to bond. In my house, I had 'ins' and my partner had 'outs'. He did all of the diaper changes."
Hamann stresses that keeping an open line of communication with your support person is key while receiving help breastfeeding. "The most important thing to remember is to keep communication open with your partner. Having a baby changes everything," she says. "We live in a society where social media paints the picture that moms are expected to do it all and dads are made fun of for being lazy and not helping. In many cases it’s just a lack of communication. The partner wants to help, but doesn’t know what to do. The mom needs help, but is afraid to ask. Knowing that and keeping communication open can make life easier for everyone."
Many dads will have a desire to feed their baby at some point, even if mom is breastfeeding. And in order for mom to leave baby to have a bit of time to herself, it may be necessary to introduce a bottle of pumped milk. "I recommend if all is going well with breastfeeding to allow mom and baby to breastfeed exclusively the first three to four weeks and then around that time, mom can usually introduce pumping and if breastfeeding is well established. Then, dads can start offering very occasional bottles to give mom a brief break for outings and to assure baby will accept a bottle when necessary," says Natero.
Natero and Hamann both recommend that above and beyond helping with support activities while mom nurses or feeding a pumped bottle, dads engage in activities to bond with their baby. Natero says dads can "do skin-to-skin with baby in between feeds, change diapers, rock baby, give baths, read to baby, walk baby around and show baby the environment, and play with baby as they get older." All of these activities can help support a baby's development while leaving the nutritional act of breastfeeding to mom.
"Infancy and the newborn phase especially is such short season and as the child grows they are forming a wonderful bond with a loving involved father," Natero says.