It’s not uncommon for new parents to be nervous about all of the new responsibilities they’ll be taking on. The biological experience of pregnancy helps mothers to adjust to their new role. However, their partners may feel they’ve been dropped into the deep end when the baby arrives. It can be difficult to know how to help, and this is particularly common when mom is breastfeeding.
Some obstacles to partner support
After delivery, mom may be too tired to explain what she needs to her partner. She may not even be entirely sure what she needs. On the other hand, her partner may feel left out of the experience or even a little jealous. They might also feel powerless to do much to help or nervous about interfering with breastfeeding and mama-baby bonding.
Why supporting breastfeeding is important
Just like anyone doing something for the first time, a new mom needs support when she begins breastfeeding. It may seem that breastfeeding should come naturally. After all, women have been doing it for millennia. However, the truth is she’s probably just as nervous as her partner. She may also be worried that she’s doing something wrong. And let’s not forget that she’s tired. Really tired. Guaranteed.
But breast milk is the very best nourishment that a newborn can have. Nothing is more nutrient-rich or offers more health benefits – both long- and short-term – for babies. Breastfeeding is even good for mom, releasing feel good hormones like oxytocin and prolactin that help to reduce her stress levels and encourage faster recovery from childbirth. Plus, women who breastfeed have reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer as well as other chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Breastfeeding also helps mom bond with her newborn, and it can enhance the social and emotional development of babies.
At the community level, no other form of nourishment is as sustainable as breastfeeding. It’s totally green, which benefits our environment, and healthier babies grow up to be healthier, happier, more productive community members.
How partners and other family members can help mom
Help around the house
Often, one person in a partnership is the cleaner upper. Usually, it’s the person who cares the most about a tidy, comfortable home. Unfortunately, that often tends to be the mom. When she’s breastfeeding, however, she may not have the energy to clean up. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t care or that a house gradually falling into disarray doesn’t bother her. One of the biggest ways a partner can help is by picking up the slack around the house.
Let mom sleep through the night
A good night’s sleep is critical to a recovering mom’s health, and her health is critical to her milk supply. Therefore, mama needs a good night’s sleep every once in a while. If she’s pumping, step in at night to feed the baby so that she can have the uninterrupted rest her body needs.
Be supportive of breastfeeding in public
As difficult as it is to understand, there’s still lingering controversy around breastfeeding in public. I have a mom friend in New Orleans whose mother-in-law nearly crawled under the bench in embarrassment when her daughter-in-law breastfed her hungry baby in a park. Fortunately, my friend’s husband pointed out to his mother that the worst that could happen in the Big Easy is someone throwing beads at the new mom. That’s how you support your partner when she’s breastfeeding.
Know your way around a breast pump
A breast pump can really level the playing field for parents when mom is breastfeeding. It means that she doesn’t have to be the only person feeding the baby in the middle of the night, for example. However, breast pumps are a little more work than breastfeeding. But for partners who enjoy a gadget to fiddle with, breast pump support can be the perfect job. Pumps and bottles need to be cleaned regularly, and pumps also need to be assembled after cleaning. If the pump and bottles are always at the ready for mom, her life is that much easier.
Get involved in breast pump logistics
Here’s an idea. When the mother-to-be is shopping for a breast pump, participate. Show as much interest as you might show in the search for a new computer or a new car. Breast pumps are pretty amazing machines, and they make it possible for partners to share more responsibility with breastfeeding. Take some time to read up on the best models and to learn how they work. We’ve got plenty of articles here to start with, and of course, our experts are on hand to answer all of your breast pump questions.