How do I know fathers make a difference to breastfeeding? I have 3 ways:
1. Statistics say…
2. I work with moms as a lactation consultant
3. My husband made a difference
(a few of many)
Prenatal education for fathers increased likelihood of continued breastfeeding at 6 weeks 2013: Maycock, B, et al.
Predictors of exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months 2010: Rempel, L & Rempel, J.
Implicit and explicit partner support improves breastfeeding longevity 2010: Yeon B, et al.
Father’s role in breastfeeding promotion 2005: Piscane, M, et al.
Prenatal education for fathers increased breastfeeding initiation rate 2004: Wolfberg, A, et al.
2. As a lactation consultant
Dads and moms and babies interact in subtle ways that aren’t always easy to describe. Babies have listened to Mom and Dad for months before birth. We expect Mom’s voice to be soothing to a baby; for some it is a surprise that the baby knows Dad’s voice too. I have watched newborns look toward a dad when he began speaking. I’ve had mother’s tell me of watching their newborn turn to look toward dad. It isn’t coincidence. There’s familiarity there.
I often get asked what a dad can do to support a mother’s breastfeeding. I can (and will) give a list of some specific things that can be helpful. But before I do that, I have to say that the sum is greater than the parts. The list of things is nice, but the unquantifiable knowledge that her spouse is on her side, has her back and is supporting in thought and word is incredible.
I want dads to know they are important, special, valuable, a piece of their baby’s system….just by being. Believe and enjoy that.
Now for the list, if you are looking for ideas. These are all things that anticipate mom’s needs. Everyone is focused on baby, but having someone intent on taking care of mom is a huge boost.
• Shoo the visitors out or intercept phone calls when mom and/or baby are tired. (She will be too polite to do it.)
• Do the burping.
• Do the diapering (hint: do it lots at the beginning and enjoy it while diapers don’t smell bad).
• Make sure mom has water available within reach of her favorite places to nurse.
• Arrange for meals (friends? delivery?), so mom doesn’t have to think about it.
• If mom is doing lots of pumping, sit with her. (Pumping is not exactly fun.)
• If baby is fussy, let the baby suck on your finger…the human contact is nicer than a pacifier.
• Make an appointment to see a lactation consultant if things aren’t going smoothly.
• Ask her what you can do to help…right now.
• Learn how to wear the baby in a front carrier.
• Hold the baby skin-to-skin. (You don’t have the milk, but you are warm, breathe and have a heartbeat, all things the baby loves.)
• Offer to take over with the baby so mom can get a shower (i.e. a little alone time she may have trouble finding for herself).
• Prepare snacks or mini-meals, even just a basket of fruit or granola bars. Even if you have to go back to work, you can leave a pre-made sandwich or peeled hard boiled eggs in the refrigerator.
• Take pictures of your wife and baby together, nursing and not. She will treasure them even more later on.
• Help with positioning if breastfeeding is not going smoothly. You can see angles mom can’t see. Get a stool or box to raise her feet. Add a pillow under her arm or behind her back.
• Give her a hug (gently!) and congratulate her for doing her best.
• Know the process. If you understand and trust her ability to make plenty of milk for baby, your wife will too.
For those dads who are afraid of feeling left out, remember: Love doesn’t always have to be about food.
3. My experience
Oh yes, my third reason I know dads do make a difference: my husband was a fan of breastfeeding and I knew it. “We” were breastfeeding in the early ’70’s when nobody knew breastfeeding was so healthy. He was the one explaining and educating our friends and family. And he was the one who got up in the night and brought the baby into our bed so I could nurse.
Happy Father’s Day!