It sounds like a mom-only arena, the world of breastfeeding, but there’s a lot that dad can do to help with this important, special and sometimes exhausting activity.
Dad might be inclined to feel like breastfeeding is mom’s job and a time for dad to just relax, but, as much as possible, this can be a team effort and a bonding experience for both parents.
The most important thing dad can do to help with breastfeeding is to give mom all of the love, emotional and spiritual support she needs. Breastfeeding isn’t an easy thing to master and may not be possible for some families. Whatever the experience may turn out to be, dad can be there to talk about things openly, give loving encouragement and assure mom that she’s doing an amazing job, regardless of the outcome.
Whatever your prep routine may be, dad can take on these duties. For our daughter, I get her undressed and change her diaper before feeding. This gets her awake, alert and ready to feed. It also saves us from changing her diaper after the feeding, when she’s happily ready to fall asleep.
A proper latch might be the single most important aspect of breastfeeding. If done right, breastfeeding will be painless and more milk will be drawn than if the latch is too shallow. What I do to help with this is support our baby’s positioning. She likes to keep her hands and arms near her mouth, which obstructs feeding. I move her arms into a good position so mom can work on getting her latched. Sometimes I’ll help support her neck so we can push her into the breast properly when she opens her mouth. I also have a better view of the latch, so I can give mom some feedback.
Babies may be brand new to the world, but they already respond to encouragement. Sometimes our daughter may pull away from a good, deep latch, preferring a shallow one. I find that if we encourage her, telling her she’s doing a good job, she stays latched properly. Of course she doesn’t understand what we’re saying, but hearing the positive tones with which we’re speaking guides her actions.
Another way dad can offer support is keeping baby awake during feeding. It’s normal for babies to get tired and head toward a “milk coma” as they feel satisfied from their meal. But if they haven’t fed enough, dad can help keep them awake. I do different things, like stroking baby’s cheek, tickling her feet or hipbone, or playing tug o’ war with one of her arms.
It’s important for mom to stay hydrated while she’s breastfeeding. I like to make sure she’s got her water cup filled (one with a straw is helpful with her hands being full). Sometimes, especially during growth spurts, mom is just constantly under baby. In those times, dad can help by bringing in snacks and making sure mom eats while baby does the same!
When it’s all over and done, dad can be a big help by picking up a hopefully satisfied and sleepy baby, swaddling her or wrapping her in a blanket and laying her down to sleep. If our daughter isn’t sleepy at this point, I might spend a little time swinging, rocking or humming until she gets sleepy. Or if she just wants to be awake for a bit, we’ll spend a little time playing. I might spend some time moving her arms and legs around for exercise, or I might give her a little tummy time.
If mom is pumping, a final item for dad is to help with cleanup. Sometimes I’ll take all the pump parts, wash them and get them ready for the next session. Then I’ll gather the milk containers and place them in the fridge.
There’s a lot to breastfeeding and getting it right is important. It takes a lot out of mom (her body is working hard to produce milk) so she’ll appreciate the help from dad. Plus, it’s a great way for dad to bond with baby during feedings. There aren’t many dads that have the time away from work to be there at all or most nursing sessions; but being there at times when it is possible will still make a world of difference.
This post originally appeared on The Dad Dynamic, a community for modern dads.