Recently I received an e-mail from a young first-time father who was beside himself with worry because his wife was not having a good experience with breastfeeding their first baby. He wanted to know how he could find the help his wife needed and what he could do to make the breastfeeding experience better for her. They both had read the research on the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby and desperately wanted to be successful in the effort.
After suggesting that they call a relative who had been successful at breastfeeding, contact their local La Leche League chapter, or talk to a lactation consultant recommended by her OB-GYN, we talked about what he could do as a dad of a breastfeeding baby to be of help.
So here are a few of the ideas I shared with my friend to help him help her and to help him feel a part of the whole breastfeeding experience.
- Be patient and keep trying. Often, the first few days to a couple of weeks are the hardest part of the whole experience. Reassuring her that she and the baby will get this system down can be a big help in getting over the early challenges.
- Offer to find help. If the mom's mom or other relatives had a good experience breastfeeding, the relative can often help. As I suggested to my friend, a lactation consultant who deals with breastfeeding challenges all the time can be a big source of help. In addition, La Leche League, a breastfeeding advocacy and support group, has chapters all over the world where nursing mothers meet for support. Their website has a searchable directory of local chapters along with contact information for a local leader. Helping make it work for her to attend a chapter meeting and connect with other nursing moms can be a big help.
- Connect with the baby. There are lots of times when a nursing mom will be tired and need rest. Rather than feeling a little jealous over the closeness mom and baby may experience while breastfeeding, you can take the baby at opportune times to bond with her. Babies usually like skin-to-skin contact and putting a diaper-clad baby on your bare chest can be quite reassuring to the baby and help you bond better with her.
- Help mom sleep. I mentioned earlier that nursing takes a lot of energy from an already tired new mother. They need a break where possible to sleep. In addition, mom cannot produce milk if she is not getting enough rest. So consider getting up in the middle of the night for a changing and then bring the baby to mom to nurse. Just that few minutes a few times a night will make a big difference in the quality of the breastfeeding experience for all concerned.
- Help through the challenges. Often moms will have challenges with engorgement as she and the baby adapt to each other's needs and a moist, hot towel can really relieve the pressure for her. If she develops a plugged duct, a nice, long hot shower can really feel good and make the treatment for the infection work even better.
- Be a human shield in public. When you are with mom and baby in public and the baby needs to nurse, you will need to help mom find a discrete way to handle the baby's need. Sometimes mothers' rooms are available where she and the baby can be peaceful, quiet and private. Many moms will prefer to nurse in a more public setting and may use a cover-up or other strategy to stay modest. At times like this, dad can help keep her protected from prying eyes or curious onlookers just by how he sits or stands near her.
Dads can be a big help and in many ways may determine how successful mom and baby are in the breastfeeding process. Being supportive, taking tasks away from mom, helping her sleep and deal with the challenges and becoming a bonded dad with baby will all help ensure that the baby has the advantages of being breastfed and will help mom feel good about her experience.