If you’ve decided that you’re going to breastfeed your baby, it might seem like it’s a one-person job. Because probably only one of you is lactating at the moment, and that person gets the job of on-demand nursing of your newborn. So how can dads or partners help with breastfeeding? Although it might seem like the responsibility is all on you, if you’re groggily asking yourself how your partner can help with breastfeeding, they definitely can — and should.
“Breastfeeding can be intimidating for moms and for partners, especially if neither have done it before,” Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician tells Romper. “And every infant is different, so your experience breastfeeding one of your children may differ from another. Still, there are multiple ways that partners can help breastfeeding parents during the day and at nighttime.” The trick is to try to figure out feeding duties before you have a wailing newborn, if possible. “Don’t wait until the baby is born to have this discussion,” Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a lactation expert says. “Sometimes partners need a little nudge or guidance when they don’t feel that they have anything tangible to contribute to the feed, but there is plenty partners can do.”
How can partners support help breastfeeding moms at night?
Feeding your baby involves so much more than whipping out your breasts and offering them to your hungry infant. And that’s where your partner comes into play. “Set mom up for success by getting her water bottle, snacks, diaper changing area set up before bedtime,” nurse and lactation consultant Lilly Schott, RNC, MSN, IBCLC, at Ovia Health tells Romper. “Check in with her before bedtime to give her time to meet her own needs without holding a baby.” You can also honor her request for you to sleep or wake up with her, since breastfeeding a baby when you’re absolutely exhausted (and seeing your partner snoozing away) isn’t going to inspire good feelings.
But it doesn’t stop there. If the baby and breastfeeding parent are still trying to figure out this whole breastfeeding situation out, a partner can be there to act as a cheerleader. “While feeding, a partner can provide emotional support and words of encouragement,” says Cecchini.
And if the nursing parent desperately needs to sleep, a partner can provide nourishment for the newborn by giving them a bottle.“Splitting night feeds is an excellent way to give Mom a much-needed break,” says Levine. “If you’re able to use a Haakaa or milk collected during the day, just collecting 1 oz. may buy Mom an extra hour or two to snooze without affecting her supply.”
How can a partner help with breastfeeding during the day?
A 3 a.m. feed shouldn’t differ dramatically from a 3 p.m. feed, provided both parents are home with the baby. Again, it all comes down to being attuned to the needs of mom first and foremost. “Check in with the breastfeeding parent to make sure they have their supplies for feeds (breastfeeding pillow, footstool, pump supplies),” Chrisie Rosenthal, an IBCLC and Consultant Relations Manager with The Lactation Network explains. “Offer to bring them water and snacks, or wash pump parts and bottles.”
As much as nursing someone so itty bitty (and soaking up that newborn smell) might be heavenly, there might come a point where you feel a little touched out. If that happens, your partner can help by holding the baby, advises Cecchini. “Partners can also provide a bottle feed with breast milk during the day in order to give mom a break,” she says. “They can also provide skin-to-skin contact after the feed to give mom more time to clean up and care for herself.”
Should we be concerned about nipple confusion?
Some new moms might fear their partners providing a bottle to the baby could potentially cause nipple confusion. But is it really an issue? “Giving a breastfed baby a bottle with intention and care can minimize the risk that they would develop a preference for bottle feeding,” Schott says. “Using slow-flow nipples, paced bottle feeding and minimizing bottle use can all help.”
“The concept of nipple confusion is somewhat controversial,” adds Cecchini. “Some studies show that pacifier or bottle use do not significantly impact the success of breastfeeding. But the [World Health Organization] recommends limiting pacifier and bottle use in their 10 steps to successful breastfeeding.” If you’re unsure of how to incorporate a bottle into your breastfeeding schedule (and desperately need your partner to pick up a shift), you can speak with your pediatrician or lactation consultant who can offer advice.
Just because you’re breastfeeding doesn’t mean that you’ll always have to do it alone. Your partner can play a pivotal role in helping you both feed your baby together.
“Effect of restricted pacifier use in breastfeeding term infants for increasing duration of breastfeeding” Sharifah Halimah Jaafar, Jacqueline J Ho, Shayesteh Jahanfar, Mubashir Angolkar, Penang Medical College, August 2016; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8520760/
Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician
Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a lactation expert
Lilly Schott, RNC, MSN & IBCLC at Ovia Health
Chrisie Rosenthal, an IBCLC and Consultant Relations Manager with The Lactation Network