This short guide is meant for new Dads / Partners to learn about the basics of breastfeeding / lactation and how they can create a supportive environment for mother and newborn(s).
Newborns should be offered the breast anytime (s)he shows hunger cues. There is no “normal” timeframe, every baby will be different. 8-12 feeding times throughout a day is typical.
Even if the newborn is not signaling the desire to feed at the moment, keeping the newborn on the mother’s chest, with skin-to-skin contact, has its own benefits. Skin-to-skin contact can help to regulate a baby’s temperature and also the baby’s heart rate and breathing, helping them to adapt outside of the womb. It can also help to stimulate digestion and an interest in feeding, while also releasing hormones to support breastfeeding. So, keeping the newborn near the breast is a worthwhile idea.
It can be tough to understand how much milk a baby is likely to need as (s)he grows. Below is a comparison of a baby’s stomach size to popular foods. Underneath the foods are average amounts of milk a baby is likely to consume in each feeding.
One of the most difficult aspects of breastfeeding is teaching the newborn (and mother) how to secure a proper latch. If the latch is inadequate, then the newborn might struggle to consume enough milk while discomfort / pain can occur for the mother.
We recommend learning about what a proper latch looks like and how to support your partner in learning a proper latch, which is critical for both the newborn and mother. Here is an excellent video (about 20 minutes long) from the Stanford Medical School on breastfeeding basics and training on how to obtain a proper latch.
Breastfeeding success depends a lot on the support from a significant other. It takes time and effort, both physical and mental. Moms can burn 500 calories per day to create the nourishing milk for your baby. One of the best ways to help and “give back” for her efforts is by taking care of her, the household, and any of its occupants.
Taking care of the day-to-day activities, while she is nursing, is a big help. Help with chores, run errands, cook meals, clean, do laundry, and take care of the needs of any other kids in the household, so your partner can focus her efforts on breastfeeding. Supporting your partner with quality food and prenatal vitamins are key to your baby’s development and mom’s recovery. Yes, nursing moms will continue taking pre-natal vitamins while breastfeeding. How can you help your partner prepare and eat balanced meals?
If she needs something, offer to get it for her. Give her a shoulder rub / back massage. While feeding, bring her a glass of water, box of tissues, cold compress, nursing pads, extra pillows, lanolin cream, or anything else that she might need to be more comfortable. Early on in the baby’s life, try to limit distractions, such as limiting the number of guests that come over, keeping any pets out of the way, or asking other children for some extra space and peace and quiet to give the mom time to rest. If others are speaking negatively towards breastfeeding or being less-than-helpful, step-in and separate them from the mother as to keep a supportive environment.
Take turns caring for the baby’s well-being too. Try getting up for and sharing in the nighttime feedings to offer assistance. It shouldn’t all be up to the mother. Don’t worry about who fed the baby the last time or about “keeping score.” Bring the baby from the bassinet to the mother. Soothe the baby. Change the baby’s diaper and the sheets. Bathe the baby. Massage the baby. Dress him/her, and hand the baby over to the mother. During the feedings, burp the baby.
If Mom is pumping and bottle feeding, you should offer to take a few feedings throughout the night. Have the bottle warmer set up, so all you need to do is warm the bottle, feed the little one, burp him/her, and then pat them back to sleep.
After the feeding finishes, put the baby back in the bassinet. Read to the baby. Put the baby in a sling or stroller and go for a walk around the neighborhood so that mom can get some alone-time to take care of herself. These small efforts add up and lets mom stay mostly in bed and rest instead of continuing to exert herself.
Besides helping with tasks, offer her words of encouragement. Tell her how proud of her you are, and that she’s doing a great job providing nourishment for the baby. Shower her with compliments and positive reinforcement. Keep a positive tone, attitude, and overall atmosphere. Tell jokes, get her to laugh, and find the funny in everyday situations. Try to do something special for her to show your appreciation for the hard work she’s putting in. Make sure to compliment the physical support with emotional support as well. She’s likely anxious about how others perceive her and she wants to be seen as a good mother. She might lack confidence in her abilities to feed a helpless newborn. Words of encouragement will help put her mind more at ease.
Breastfeeding is not always easy. It takes work and mom can’t take a day off from nourishing the baby. Extra patience with your significant other is important. Imagine how you’d feel if you were needed every 45 minutes to 3 hours, throughout the day, every day? It can feel like a never-ending responsibility. Be kind and gentle with mom.
Sleep whenever possible. Mom and you will be sleep-deprived from the constant feedings throughout the day and night. That’s a fact. Naps help bridge the gaps. Whenever you can, take care of the baby so that mom can catch a nap. If you act in ways to conserve time and help mom sleep, you’re helping to be supportive! Let your partner get a better night’s rest by taking over anything that does not involve actually feeding the baby. Also take time to nap yourself whenever the baby is napping so you can catch up for yourself.
Lactation is a hormone-driven response and mom’s body and consequently, her libido, are affected. Intimacy is multi-faceted and physical expressions of love should be fluid at this time. A woman’s body has been through a demanding journey and gone through substantial changes during and after pregnancy. Appreciate it and understand that it will take time for mom’s mind and body to recover. Be flexible and don’t have any expectations of a timeline for intimacy (despite when her doctor may tell her it is “okay” to resume sexual activity). She might not want to be touched very often after being in constant contact with her newborn almost all the time. If you do become intimate, vaginal dryness is common post-birth, and lubrication might be needed.
Postpartum depression can manifest in many ways. According to postpartumdepression.org, 1 in 7 women may experience postpartum depression and 70-80% may experience the ‘baby blues.’ Be understanding and keep on the lookout for postpartum depression. If you notice it taking hold, get some help for mom, if needed.
Mental changes are not just common for the mothers, but for the partners too. While mom is breastfeeding, you might go through a mix of emotions yourself, such as nervousness, feelings of inadequacy or powerlessness. While mom is constantly supporting the newborn, you might feel excluded / left out and develop jealous thoughts or even resentment towards the baby for coming between you and your partner. These feelings are perfectly natural and it’s best to acknowledge them rather than fight them. Feel free to discuss them with your partner if you wish, but only if it’s unlikely to upset her or make her feel uncomfortable. In the end, it’s a personal issue that you need to work towards overcoming and finding a way past it for the sake of your family.
Maybe mom is going back to work. Maybe she just doesn’t want to be the only one that can feed the baby anymore. Enter the breast pump! They come in all sorts of shapes and designs, and they all need to be cleaned after each use. Give your help in this area by cleaning the bottles and pump parts.
When helping with the bottle feeding, find a comfortable position before starting. Make sure your baby is upright and his/her head is tilted back while being supported. Over time, you will find that your baby gets into a feeding rhythm when put in certain positions. Make sure to take breaks to burp the baby! The baby might act like they don’t want more milk, but in actuality, they just need to be burped in order to make room for more milk.
Warming a bottle can be time-consuming and a challenging skill to master. Your newborn is used to getting warm milk direct from the source (Mom). Get a head-start and start thawing milk before your baby wakes up. Save time and create a consistently warm bottle with a baby bottle warmer, such as the Kiinde Kozii product.
Babies will often feed for similar amounts of milk for each meal. Pay attention to the details of how much milk is likely required during a feeding. It can be stressful to run out of milk in the bottle during a feeding when you think they might want a little more.
While breastfeeding can no doubt be challenging, try to have fun! Over time, as you get more comfortable with the routine, breastfeeding can evolve into a fun and light-hearted activity.
Enjoy the journey and laugh about it; before you know it, this time will have come and passed! When you are in a place to look back, you won’t believe how quickly it went. Breastfeeding is a new journey that you are on that won’t always be smooth sailing. Know that your newborn feeds off of your energy. They can sense everything around them and are constantly learning from you and picking up on your cues. Happy and relaxed parents feed into happy and relaxed babies.