In our third and final "quick guide" mini-series this week, we celebrate fathers for Father's Day by providing some of the most important tips to prepare for, understand, and support breastfeeding. While fathers aren't doing the breastfeeding (in most cases, though there are exceptions!), they can play a very important role in a mother's breastfeeding experience. Our quick-tip guide shares ways in which dads can help prepare and educate themselves for breastfeeding prior to birth and offer the best breastfeeding support afterward.
Dad's Quick-Tips Guide to Breastfeeding
Education - As with most topics surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and beyond, taking a class and reading quality books will provide a solid foundation to help you better understand the how, why, and what of breastfeeding. If you understand the mechanics of latch and newborn stomach size and emptying, for example, you will be better prepared for what to expect in terms of feeding frequency and potential breastfeeding difficulties. Many hospitals offer breastfeeding-specific classes, and often, local childbirth educators will teach breastfeeding as part of their childbirth preparation curriculum, or offer a separate class.
Bonding - Dads often wonder what their role will be if they can't feed the baby. Not to worry -- there will be plenty of other opportunities bond with your baby! Holding, rocking, burping, bathing, and diapering are all part of baby's essential care needs. Spending time skin-to-skin with your baby (as in undressing baby down to a diaper and placing him skin-to-skin on dad's bare chest) also is a key ingredient for short and long-term mental, emotional, and cognitive development, and enhances your bonding with baby, too.
Encouragement - Breastfeeding can be challenging. Like learning and doing anything new, it takes time and effort to master. And of course, you're also dealing with a significant lack of sleep, which makes everything more difficult. It's important to offer words of praise and general encouragement to your partner. Saying things like, "you're doing a great job with breastfeeding," "I will support you in any way I can," or even simply, "thank you, honey," can go a long way.
Understanding & Patience - Breastfeeding can be a slow process -- both the individual feedings themselves and the time it takes to get it down and feed with confidence. Your partner will likely feel anxious about breastfeeding at some point or another (or frequently). It will help for you to provide a calm, understanding, and patient presence to counteract and calm her worries.
Knowing when to call in help - It's common to need outside help and support with breastfeeding. Talk with your partner -- before birth -- about who you will call if you need help. If you're giving birth in a hospital, often there is a free outpatient breastfeeding consultation service you can call for help after you go home. Make sure you also have the name of a reputable local certified lactation consultant. You would call in for support if you have difficulty latching, questions with feeding, or any general or more complicated issues with breastfeeding. It's better to call on help at the initial sign of difficulty instead of the "wait and see" approach.
Picking up the slack - Breastfeeding a newborn takes up a LOT of time. Your partner will appreciate your help stepping in with other areas of household management where she cannot. Look around and take notice -- what needs done? Where can you fill a hole? Or, ask your partner about what kinds of things need your help. It may be that she's in charge of things that you weren't aware and they now need attention.
Sex, intimacy, and breastfeeding - Breastfeeding, by its nature, involves a lot of closeness between mom and baby. Many moms report feeling "touched out" at the end of a day and in need of a break. Often, the last thing they want is more touching. Be aware of your partner's need for physical space and don't take it personally. Breastfeeding can also cause vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse painful. If your partner is ready for intercourse, it will likely help to have a personal lubricant on hand. If your partner is not ready for sexual intimacy, that's normal. There is a lot happening emotionally and physically, and it may take time to come around to the place of feeling sexual again. Her sexual desire will likely eventually return and in the meantime, you can fulfill both of your needs for intimacy in ways other than through sex. Keep the lines of communication open with each other and take time to discuss what each other is feeling while reserving judgement and pressure.