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New Dads: Breastfeeding

October 18, 2013

The “New Dads” feature is a collection of posts about becoming a new dad.  It offers tips, resources, and stories about early parenting from a dad’s perspective. 

You’ve likely read the myriad of information on why breastfeeding is beneficial to your baby and your wife.  If not, that link should get you caught up.

What is harder to come by is how we dads fit into this breastfeeding hullabaloo.   Try as you may, the nips you got won’t do you a damn bit of good (and don’t try!).  An no, chances are your wife won’t let you hand express for her.  So what is a dad to do?  Give up and watch Sports Center?  Play some xbox?  Nap?  How’bout no…

Believe it or not, if your wife is open to it, dad’s can have a significant impact on a nursing mom and through supporting her you will be able to bond with baby and mom in a very fulfilling way.  This post will give you some pointers on how.

How can dads help?

By and far, the most important aspect of supporting the mom is through what fashion magazines call the “hand bra.” Using your hands to boost her up is fun and cheaper than buying nursing bras.  Ok, that’s not at all true.  Before we go on, you should know, during the first few weeks, it’ll likely be “hands off pal”.  They will be sensitive and the word “engorged” will be bandied about, so just step back from the boobies.

So your bustier support won’t be needed, but your emotional support is critical.  It’s her decision on whether she wants to breastfeed, but you need to support her decision fully.  She may want your opinion, so make sure you have one.  Do your best to understand nursing so you can talk intelligently to her.  You don’t need to know what an overactive letdown is and you may not want to know what the various problems can be but at least know the basics.

Mr Obvious says: avoid whining and complaining about losing access to her boobs, don’t say anything stupid like you won’t want to go near them once they become a food source, don’t ponder if they will be saggy when she’s done, and just generally be positive about the idea.  I am not saying you won’t feel that way at times and I am not saying they won’t change, but allow yourself to be impressed that your wife is using her breasts to give your child exactly what they need and to keep your child alive and flourishing.

Before the Delivery

Most hospitals offer a breastfeeding class that teaches women the ins and out of nursing babies.  Encourage her to go.  Nursing can be WAY harder than it looks.  Don’t stop at encouraging her though, go with her man.  She will likely appreciate the moral support, plus there are some things you will learn that could come in handy down the line.  If you are lucky you will see the video we saw.  It was apparently made in 1983, and in the audition they must have said “Be famous!  Looking for the most disgusting breasts on the planet to show thousands of people.”

At the Hospital

When she nurses the baby in the hospital, get your ass up and stand next to her as she tries.  Ask the nurse how you can help her position the pillows to make it easier, gently lay your hand on your wife’s leg, talk to her about what she’s doing.  Do NOT leave the room and do NOT hide in a corner.  Let her know you aren’t afraid of seeing her nourish your child.  And be ready, lots of people are going to see your wife topless in the hospital, and elsewhere, get used to it.

At Home

There could be tears.  Look, your wife is most likely not used to having a moist vacuum cleaner on her breast for hours at a time, so unless she has callouses for nipples. it is going to hurt.  Her nipples will chafe, they could crack, they could bleed.  Do yourself a favor, wash your hands real well and stick your finger in the baby’s mouth, you will be shocked at the pressure.  So offer supporting words, listen to her thoughts, talk with her if she’s worried.  Know what a nipple shield is in case you need to run out and by one in an emergency.

Get her water.  Nursing women need more liquid, therefore the “lactation consultant” will suggest that she drink a glass of water ever time she nurses.  That is one way you can feel involved, by rushing to get her a glass of water as she prepares to nurse.  Seems silly, but if you are reading this you likely want to be involved, you’d be surprised how this will help.

Set her up a lactation station.  We setup a one of those TV dinner trays that slide under the couch for her to keep all her stuff on during long hours nursing.  At first, babies nurse a lot, often falling asleep while they do it, meaning she could be stuck there for an hour or more without getting up.  Make sure your wife has somewhere within half an arm’s reach to put her phone, remote control, water, book, nipple cream, snack, etc.

Other Tips

  • When the baby wakes up to be nursed, get the baby for your wife while she gets setup at her lactation station.  Yes, even in the middle of the night for the first few weeks.  Its a good way to be involved.
  • Burp the baby.  The baby should be burped every ~15 minutes or so.  This is because they swallow air while nursing.  If they get an air bubble trapped early, when that burp comes out, so does a bunch of the precious milk your wife just got in there.  So, take burping duty.  It will give you some baby snuggle time and help you feel involved.
  • Make sure your wife has at least one Boppy pillow and 2 covers.  You will crap your pants at the price, but they are worth every dime.  Don’t make my mistake and complain about the price, trust me.
  • Have her buy nipple cream before the baby is born.  She may not need it, but if she does, it could be the difference between discomfort and blood.

If you remember one thing from this post, its BE SUPPORTIVE.  She will be using her body to nourish your child.  While it may take some of the magic away from your favorite play things, it truly is a beautiful thing.

Tips submitted by readers:

This is an excellent suggestion from jesteram

A specific way to be supportive is to actively compliment her about her breastfeeding, starting wherever the baby is born. Tell anyone else around, in her earshot, that she’s doing great, that she’s amazing, that you’re so proud of her. Tell her this frequently in one-on-one and in public settings (where it would be appropriate to draw attention, of course—don’t make her the center of attention in a restaurant where she’s trying to be discrete). Her hearing your pride in her—whether nursing comes easy or it’s a painful and disheartening challenge—will do wonders.

If you have any questions at all, post them here and I’ll try and help.  I’d also love to hear thoughts from other dads who have been there done that and moms, what did I miss?

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5 Comments
  1. Great post! There are so many good tips here and I think it’s really important for us dads to be talking about breastfeeding and how to best support our partners when they’re feeding. I did a post about this same issue a few weeks ago to coincided with International Breastfeeding Week.

  2. I looked your post up. It was well said. I think I’ll add a “More resources” section at the bottom of these posts and add links to articles such as yours. Seeing the same messages repeated can have a greater impact.

  3. A specific way to be supportive is to actively compliment her about her breastfeeding, starting wherever the baby is born. Tell anyone else around, in her earshot, that she’s doing great, that she’s amazing, that you’re so proud of her. Tell her this frequently in one-on-one and in public settings (where it would be appropriate to draw attention, of course—don’t make her the center of attention in a restaurant where she’s trying to be discrete). Her hearing your pride in her—whether nursing comes easy or it’s a painful and disheartening challenge—will do wonders.

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