Author Catherynne Valente discovered a passage in New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding — a book written in 2002, not 1952, mind you — that reads: “Fathers, if your wife is having trouble or pain, step in and adjust her technique, reminding her that successful breastfeeding is a priority for the development of the child and the formation of your new family!” Her reaction? No.
Book on breastfeeding: Fathers, if your wife is having trouble or pain, step in & adjust her technique, reminding her that successful breastfeeding is a priority for the development of the child & the formation of your new family!
Me: Book, why you trying to get dads murdered?
— Catherynne Valente (@catvalente) July 19, 2018
Dads and partners are a critical part of breastfeeding success — truly. But the ways in which you offer support can make a huge difference. Here’s how you can really help a breastfeeding mum (and live to tell about it).
Know her goals
I, like many new mums, had a hard time breastfeeding. My daughter wouldn’t latch and I had to wear nipple shields, which made me think my nipples were inadequate. And we kept having to supplement with formula, which I knew wasn’t a big deal (seriously, thank goodness for formula), but it felt hugely disappointing in the moment.
That feeling of failure returned every two to three hours, every time my baby needed to eat. I cried a lot.
My husband, of course, didn’t want to see me hurting and kept telling me I could quit. I know his reminders came out of concern, but they felt more discouraging than helpful. I’d say, “I told myself I’d keep trying for a month, so that is what I’m going to do.” (I finally got the hang of it after five weeks and ended up breastfeeding for 20 months.)
My colleague Beth put it this way: “Do you go to marathons and shout, ‘Don’t do this! You might as well drive!’?” Know your partner’s breastfeeding goals, so that when things get hard, you can support her original intention. (Of course, issues do arise and you’ll often have to reroute as needed, but you get the idea, right?)
Be the utility player
Even though you don’t carry the feeding supply, you are not useless — far from it. As a dad named James, a member of Lifehacker's parenting Facebook group, explains: “Like a utility player in baseball, you don’t have to make the play but help to facilitate the play.”
That means helping create a comfortable setting for Mum (propping her up with pillows, rotating her heat and ice packs, massaging her breasts if she has plugged ducts or mastitis), refilling her water cup and snack supply before she asks, washing bottles and pump parts, taking the baby out when she isn’t breastfeeding (put the kid in a sling and go for a walk if it’s a nice day), and keeping the house in order.
Then when it’s time for a feed, bring the baby to her.
Connect her with helpful resources
There may be times when your partner needs outside help, so make it easy for her to get it. Have the number of the lactation consultant, doula or midwife on your phone, and if she’s struggling, ask her, “Would you like me to make a phone call?”
It can also be helpful for her to talk to (or sob to) a female friend, someone who knows how hard breastfeeding can be, so remind her about that person. (Online breastfeeding communities can be wonderful, too, though in my experience it’s hard to find a group that’s truly non-judgemental about your choices.)
Basically, let her know that she is not alone.
Being with her in this experience means being educated and capable of talking to her or outside professionals about the many issues that come along with it.
Oftentimes, the thing a breastfeeding mum needs most is for you to simply be there and listen. You don’t need to say “think positive” or “you’ve got this!” or “your boobs look huge”.
Listen to her, rub her neck, and tell her that she is doing a great job and that you are here for her and that you love her. Then, take the baby once again and let her take a nap.