Guide to Breastfeeding for Dads

Mom and dad with newborn baby
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Dads don’t always realize just how important their role is when it comes to breastfeeding and newborn care. They may even feel a little bit left out since mom is the only one who can breastfeed the baby. But, dads have a profound effect on breastfeeding and the well-being of both their partner and their child.

The loving support of a partner is one of the most important factors in a woman's decision to breastfeed. Research shows that when a mother has the support and encouragement of her partner, she’s more likely to be successful at breastfeeding and breastfeed for a longer duration of time. Having support makes it easier to stick it out even when she’s exhausted. Plus, support is invaluable for getting through difficult or painful breastfeeding problems should they arise.

The longer your baby breastfeeds, the greater the health benefits will be for him as well as for your wife. So, by becoming a partner in breastfeeding, you are investing in your family’s long-term health. Here are ways you can encourage breastfeeding and care for your partner and baby.

How to Participate in Breastfeeding

As a partner, you may think there's not much you can do to participate in breastfeeding. But, there are so many ways you can join in and lend a hand. Here are some of the things you can do to be a part of the experience:

  • Be Prepared: Prepare for breastfeeding by reading about it and learning all you can. Find out how breastfeeding benefits your baby, your wife, and your family. Sign up for a breastfeeding class with your partner, buy a few books or borrow them from your local library, go online to find out all the information you can, and go to the doctor with your partner. The more you know about breastfeeding, the more you will be able to help your partner.
  • Be Supportive: Join your wife in the decision to breastfeed. Tell her that you believe in breastfeeding, and you want to help her do what’s best for your child. Keep in mind that breastfeeding is a learning experience, especially for first-time moms. On the days when breastfeeding is rough, some gentle encouragement from you can mean everything to your partner. Having you by her side can give her the confidence she needs to get breastfeeding off to a good start and continue to breastfeed even when things are tough.
  • Be Available: If you can, take a vacation from work once your baby is born. While you’re in the hospital, you can watch the nurses and ask questions. Then, when you get home, assist your wife and spend time with her as she adjusts to becoming a new mother with new responsibilities.
  • Be Helpful: Help your wife with the housework, cooking, and older children. She may be tired and overwhelmed by all that she needs to do. Plus, she will still be healing from the birth, especially if she had a c-section. Encourage her to take a nap to catch up on her rest. You can also keep the phone numbers of the doctor, a lactation consultant, and the local breastfeeding group available in case she needs assistance or she encounters some of the common problems of breastfeeding.
  • Be Caring and Thoughtful: Bring the baby to your wife when it’s time to breastfeed. Grab the nursing pillow and help the two of them get into a comfortable position. Place a glass of water and a snack next to your partner and ask if there is anything else you can do. When she’s feeling comfortable and relaxed, it will help her milk to let down. If you stay to keep your wife company, you can have an enjoyable conversation with her while you help to keep the baby awake for the feeding.
  • Be a Loving Partner: Tell your wife that you love her. Give her plenty of affection and attention. And, be patient if she doesn’t seem interested in being intimate for a while. Give her the time she needs to heal and get used to her new responsibilities.

    How to Bond With Your Breastfed Baby

    Sometimes dads worry that they'll feel left out if their partner decides to breastfeed. But, taking care of a baby involves much more than just feeding. There are many other ways to care for and bond with your child. By spending time with your new baby, you can enjoy getting to know her while giving your wife a chance to rest. And, the more time you devote to your child, the more confident you will become in your parenting skills. Here are some ways dads can bond with a breastfed baby.

    • Holding: Pick your child up and talk to her while she’s awake and alert. At bedtime or naptime, you can rock her gently until she drifts off to sleep. When she’s sleeping, you can just sit and hold her in your arms.
    • Skin-to-Skin Contact: Direct skin-to-skin contact (kangaroo care) promotes a deep connection. When you place your newborn on your bare chest and snuggle together while your skin is touching, it stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is responsible for love and bonding. It helps forge a close relationship between you and your child.
    • Providing Daily Infant Care: Before, during, and after breastfeeding, there will be plenty of diapers to change. Between switching breasts or after feedings, you can try to get a burp out of the baby. You can also be in charge of bath-time which may be enjoyable and soothing for both of you.
    • Having Some Fun: It’s good for you and your child to spend time playing together. When your child is a newborn or infant, you can get on the floor for a little tummy time, shake a rattle, try peek-a-boo, sing a song, or make some funny faces and noises. As your baby grows, playtime will become even more exciting.
    • Getting Out of the House: Put your baby in a sling, baby carrier, or stroller and go out for a walk. The fresh air and movement are calming, especially if the baby is fussy.

    These are just some of the ways you can get involved with the care of your baby. As your baby grows, there will be so much more you will be able to do.

    Feeding Your Breastfed Baby

    At some point, you'll be able to feed your child, too. Depending on your family situation, it may be a few weeks after your child is born or after four to six months of exclusive breastfeeding. The recommendation is to wait about four to six weeks until the breast milk supply is well established and the baby is breastfeeding well. But, it’s up to you and your partner to decide what works best for your family:

    • Your wife may decide that she doesn’t want to breastfeed exclusively, so she may pump breast milk to give to the baby in a bottle or use infant formula for some feedings.
    • After a few weeks, your partner may have to return to work or spend time away from the baby on occasion. You may start bottle feeding at that time.
    • If you and your wife decide she will breastfeed exclusively for the first four to six months, then you’ll get to introduce his first solid foods when he’s ready.

    It may seem like you’re being left out of feedings in the beginning, but it’s only for a short time and the time goes quickly. Before you know it, your child will be eating all sorts of things that you can help prepare and serve.

    How Breastfeeding Is Beneficial for You

    You may already know about the many ways that children and even mothers benefit from breastfeeding. But did you know there are some ways that breastfeeding can be beneficial for you, too? Here are the advantages of breastfeeding for dads that you may not have thought about:

    • Breastfeeding saves you money. If your partner chooses to breastfeed, you do not have to spend thousands of dollars on infant formula, bottles, nipples, and bottle liners.
    • Going out requires less effort. There is less to pack and carry when you leave the house with your family. Breastfed babies do not need as many feeding supplies as bottle-fed babies. Plus, you won’t have to worry about finding someplace to warm a bottle while you are away from home. Breast milk is always available and at the perfect temperature.
    • Night feedings are a breeze. You won’t have to prepare bottles in the middle of the night, and there won’t be any of those late night trips to the store because you're out of infant formula. You may not even have to get up at all.
    • Diaper changes are not that bad. Since the bowel movements of a breastfed baby are usually not as offensive as those of a formula-fed infant, you may not even mind changing the messy ones.
    • Exclusive breastfeeding can be a natural form of birth control. If your partner breastfeeds around the clock, does not supplement with infant formula, and her period has not yet returned, the chances of another pregnancy during the first six months after childbirth are very low.
    • Breastfeeding is a healthy choice for your family. You can feel good knowing that your baby is getting a variety of health and developmental benefits from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding benefits the mother of your child, too. These health benefits last even after breastfeeding has ended. So, you will ultimately have a healthier family and lower overall healthcare costs throughout the years.

    When Breastfeeding Isn’t Working Out

    There’s a difference between encouragement and pushing someone to do something they don’t really want to do. Sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t feel right, or it just doesn’t work out. When your partner has difficulty and is thinking about giving up, it’s OK to encourage her to give it another shot or to take a break and try again later. She may just be exhausted and need a rest, or she may be in pain and need help with the baby’s latch or position.

    However, it may be that she doesn't feel the way she thought she would about breastfeeding. She may have gone along with it to please you and others, and she may feel uncomfortable and not want to continue. Being supportive means that you will try to understand and be there for her whatever she chooses.

    A Word From Verywell

    Breastfeeding is good for your baby and your partner, and your role in breastfeeding is much more significant than you might think. Remember, caring for your child involves so much more than just feeding. By taking an active part in breastfeeding and your child’s everyday care, you are showing support for your wife and encouraging her to be successful at breastfeeding and to breastfeed longer. You’ll also get to spend more time bonding with your baby, building your own special relationship with her, and gaining more confidence in your role as a parent.

    Staying involved, working as a team, and keeping the lines of communication open will not only help you and your wife enjoy the experience of welcoming a new child into your life, but it will also help you grow closer as a couple and a family.

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