Breasts. They’re awesome fun pillows. They bounce around on TV ads. They zoom past on the sides of buses. Drive down any major motorway and there’s usually some metre-high boobs bursting out at you in lacy lingerie from a billboard. Ask any guy what they think about boobs and they’ll tell you they’re fantastic.
But what happens when your partner’s breasts go from being sources of pleasure and entertainment to the often sole form of nourishment for your little one? What happens when her breasts are too sore to be touched? What if she simply doesn’t want to be touched because she has a baby hanging off her for hours every day? What if she’s desperately in need of sleep, but has to get up to the baby because she’s breastfeeding?
Your lives have been turned upside down by this tiny little bundle of endless spit, dribble and poo. Your partner has given birth, her hormones are going crazy and you’re both seriously sleep deprived. But what can you do? She’s the mother. She’s breastfeeding. She’s taking care of the baby. It might even feel like she doesn’t need you at all.
It can be just as hard for dads to adjust to their new lives and their new role of fatherhood as it is for mums. Many men are left feeling isolated or ‘useless’. The new baby takes up all your partner’s time and many guys want to help but they’re just not sure what it is they can do.
So what can fathers do to help breastfeeding?
Providing practical and emotional support and working with your partner is the best thing a new dad can do for the wellbeing of his partner, his baby and himself.
You don’t have to move mountains. Many little things add up and are often more helpful and appreciated than the occasional grand gesture.
- Make sure you partner always has water when she’s breastfeeding. It’s incredibly demanding and makes mum very thirsty. The same goes for snacks – make a sandwich, heat up leftovers or buy a muffin, but make sure she eats.
- Sit and chat quietly with your partner while she feeds if that is what she wants. It can be really isolating just sitting and staring for hours on end. Your presence will make her feel secure and supported.
- Cook dinner and clean up afterwards.
- Really simple gestures such as washing up, doing laundry, vacuuming, restocking the change table, changing a nappy or taking bub out for a walk in the pram will all help.
- Getting out of the house with a baby is an absolute mission – do the grocery shopping or organise to have it delivered.
- After your partner breastfeeds you can burp, settle and rock the baby to sleep. Or if you are bottle feeding then work out a system so you both get enough rest.
- Please don’t ever question your partner’s breastfeeding ability. It is not always natural and it takes time and practise. Most women will struggle and you can help by simply listening sympathetically to her worries and concerns. You don’t need to have solutions or offer solutions. Simply listen and if you don’t know what to say then just say, “I can see that this is really hard for you, but I love you both.”
- Read and research breastfeeding so that you can understand and empathise with her.
- Make sure you are home often, being home also with a new baby is often very isolating and challenging, particularly for women who have come from the workforce and are used to being surrounded by people all day.
- Ask her what you can do to help. Many women feel they should be able to handle everything themselves. If she doesn’t tell you then look around and find something.
Info for Dads: The Breastfeeding Basics
- Infants will feed about every two hours for the first few weeks (or more) and this is perfectly normal.
- This means they will wake up a lot for breastfeeds. Babies have small stomachs and cannot hold a lot of milk at one time so they need to feed frequently.
- Babies can breastfeed anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
- Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable at first for many women and it takes some time for both mum and bub to get the hang of it. You partner may get upset and frustrated but this is normal.
- If she is in constant pain or seems to be frequently upset, then seek the advice of a lactation consultant. You can get information on support services from your birth centre, GP or community nurse.
- Sometimes you will be able to settle the baby more easily than your partner because bub can smell breastmilk on mum, and will search for a breast rather than calming down.
- Babies have a ‘feeding frenzy’ for a few hours in the early evening in order to stimulate milk production for the next day. During this time your bub may want to be permanently attached to the boob. These feeding frenzies occur for the first few weeks and will settle down. But during this time your partner will not be able to do anything because a cranky baby will be attached to her breast. If you are able to be home during these times, it will provide great support for her.
- Post-natal depression and anxiety (PANDA) can affect men as well as women. If you or your partner are feeling consistently overwhelmed and down, then please contact the PANDA National Helpline on 1300 726 306 or visit the Gidget Foundation for more information.
Sometimes It might not feel like your efforts are always appreciated, but they are. Remember that it will take a while to adjust; and that is normal for both of you to feel a bit scared, overwhelmed and intimidated by this tiny little tyrant – but that it’s ok, it’ll get easier.
Oh and congratulations – you’re a Dad!