Traditionally, breastfeeding has been viewed as “women’s business.” Women learned the basics from their own mothers, or spoke with other moms, older sisters or lactation consultants. In the old days, breastfeeding education was the responsibility of wet nurses. Fathers were left out of the breastfeeding discussion, and most dads were happy to keep it that way.
Today, there is a trend toward a more collaborative parenting style, and an equality between women and men offers the opportunity for shared responsibility. In fact, most dads today want to know more about breastfeeding. However, even the most liberated modern father does not understand what breastfeeding involves, and the emotional and physical things that a mother goes through. There is also a lot of complexity for men as well, as they experience role changes. For nine months, the man is the “hunter”, bringing food and drink (and late night chocolate ice cream) to his wife. He is the supplier and provider, and as soon as the baby is born, he cannot do this anymore. Mom is a nurturer and many men find it hard to cope.
It is important for dads to understand how breastfeeding actually works. The truth is, despite the many breastfeeding myths and misunderstandings, there are many health benefits for baby and mom – and dad too! However, it is not always easy for dads to get reliable information about breastfeeding. He can read a book, but moms are so busy worrying about coping themselves, and doing the day-to-day efforts of feeding the baby that they often do not think husbands are interested.
With the interests of dads like you in mind, we have created this short “New Dads’ Survival Guide” – but first the most important question – how does breastfeeding work?
1. Know How Breastfeeding Works
First, it is important to understand that with breastfeeding, there is no such thing as “normal.” Some babies might be infrequent feeders and some frequent feeders, sometimes for as long as 20 minutes or an hour at a time. Babies are very efficient feeders who naturally have the ability to get what they need. After an initial learning curve, babies and mothers tend to get used to each other and respond to what the other needs – moms get better at nursing, and babies get better at latching on and suckling efficiently. You can get help from a lactation consultant if needed.
Get to know a few of the key terms of breastfeeding:
- Latching the act of the baby fully connecting with its mouth onto to the nipple and areola.
- Let down: The process of the mother’s body fully engaging in releasing breastmilk - that ‘gush’ of milk that happens a few moments after the baby starts feeding.
- Colostrum: The early-stage breastmilk that comes during the first few days after the baby’s birth – this milk has special nutrients that are ideal for a newborn
- Nipple Shield: A breastfeeding accessory to help babies get a better latch if the moms nipples are inverted or small, and to help mom recover from sore or cracked nipples
2. Understand Common Problems that Breastfeeding Moms Face
Breastfeeding is not always “easy,” especially at first! Many moms feel confused because breastfeeding is often thought of as being the most “natural” thing to do. However, the truth is, that even the most dedicated breastfeeding moms sometimes experience some challenges along the way, such as sore nipples, bottle and breast confusion. They often are afraid of being bitten by the baby (as described in this article of advice from Medela moms). Be ready to listen to your partner and offer support for situations that you might never have imagined being part of your life before! Understand that she is learning as she goes and the more you can be educated about her experiences the better.
3. Know How Breast Pumping Works
If your wife is going back to work full-time, or even if you just want to have some additional flexibility to feed your baby breastmilk from a bottle, getting a breastpump might be part of your life as the father of a breastfeeding baby. You should check out on choosing the best breastpump for your lifestyle, depending on your work schedules and feeding preferences. Learning more about breastpump can teach you a lot of valuable information such as:
- What is a double pump vs. a single pump?
- How does a breastpump work?
- What is two-phase expression?
- How can you clean a breastpump?
- Where to buy replacement parts?
4. Know How to Store, Freeze and Thaw Breastmilk
Moms are the only ones who can breastfeed, but dads can be a big help by successfully storing, freezing, and thawing pumped breastmilk. Check out our blog on everything you need to know to help store, freeze and warm breastmilk for your baby.
5. Know When to Introduce a Bottle
Breastfeeding should be well established before a bottle is introduced as some babies can get confused or develop a preference for the bottle. This is because the sucking action required to feed from a bottle is different to that used to feed from the breast, and ideally, the baby should prefer the nipple instead of the bottle. It is best to keep the baby exclusively breastfed during the first 6 to 8 weeks of life.
6. How to Help in Practical Ways
Many dads feel out of place when their spouse starts breastfeeding – but the truth is, there are many ways for you to be actively involved and make a valuable contribution to the breastfeeding experience. Your partner will love you if you change your baby’s diaper, carry your baby in a sling, give your baby a massage, bathe, talk to, read and sing to your baby. You can take even charge of holding and soothing the baby at bedtime to help the baby go to sleep. There are many ways for dads to bond with babies, you just have to find your own unique style – your baby will love you for it!
7. How to Become an Expert on Breastfeeding
Just because you are a man doesn’t mean you can’t be an enthusiastic advocate for your wife as she breastfeeds. Go to a class and become her research partner. Be proactive and read up about breastfeeding in books, magazine articles and online. Your wife is likely researching as well, but when issues come up and she is juggling the baby, if you are well informed and active in supporting her breastfeeding, you can check your resources for high-priority info she needs ASAP. Go with your wife to a breastfeeding support group so you know more about what to expect and you can offer her your support when the time comes, just as with prenatal classes.
With empathy, understanding, and lots of love and hard work, you can help your spouse get through the challenges of breastfeeding – and come out on the other side as a stronger, happier family than ever before.
What questions about breastfeeding do you have as a new dad? Join the conversation at our Medela page on Facebook!