Feeding

How to Best Support Your Breastfeeding Partner

written by KATIE MCCANN
Source: Canva
Source: Canva

As an expectant parent or new dad, you may feel overwhelmed by the breastfeeding journey. So much of caring for a newborn feels reliant on your partner—those endless hours of nursing, the omnipresent exhaustion, emotions running high. While you’ll do anything for the mother of your child, you may be feeling somewhat helpless about this huge life transition, especially when it comes to breastfeeding support.

While feeling uncertainty about your role is normal, know that your unwavering support as a partner is truly invaluable, especially considering that 60 percent of mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than they planned to. Whether it’s bringing snacks during marathon breastfeeding sessions or taking the baby for a walk to give mom a break, you have an opportunity to be her rock during a physically and emotionally taxing time.

Breastfeeding is a team activity where all members of the team matter. And despite what you may have heard, bonding isn’t just reserved for mom and baby. The precious first weeks after the baby is born are about solidifying the family unit. However, partners can feel a little left out in the cold, excluded from the sacred mom/baby skin-to-skin moments that come with breastfeeding. But nothing could be further from the truth. Both parents are crucial to nurturing your baby at this pivotal time. Here are some ways non-lactating partners can provide breastfeeding support.

How to Best Support Your Breastfeeding Partner

When I was a breastfeeding mom, I was so grateful for the irreplaceable support my husband gave me. Now, as both a breastfeeding counselor and a mom who’s been there, I want to pay it forward through this guide. We’ll tackle everything from achieving the perfect latch to making sure mom feels supported through her breastfeeding journey. So, for dads and non-lactating partners, here’s how to best support a breastfeeding mom:

1. First things first: Make sure you are on the same page about breastfeeding

Before your baby arrives, take time to discuss your partner’s breastfeeding goals and preferences. Is she hoping to exclusively breastfeed? Or open to formula and pumping if needed? This allows you to understand where her head is at and how best to support her if challenges arise.

My husband and I made a loose “breastfeeding plan” to exclusively nurse for six months and then reassess. But that was before we learned of the joys of tongue tie, which made breastfeeding a challenge. So, we adapted and pivoted our plan together. Because we’d discussed contingencies, it didn’t feel like we were veering “off course.”

2. Attend breastfeeding classes and appointments together

The key is establishing open communication from the start. That way, if her breastfeeding intentions or ability changes once your baby arrives, you’re ready to adapt and remain unconditionally supportive of her decisions. Your job is making this easier for her, not harder. Sure, going to yet another baby class may not sound fun, but consider it an act of solidarity with the mother of your child. Plop down in that tiny chair, sip the bad coffee, and learn about the mechanics of breastfeeding—or consider an online breastfeeding class you can take together.

From learning about proper positioning to ensuring a good latch, understanding the basics will make you able to provide the best breastfeeding support. Take good notes—and maybe throw in a few sympathetic grimaces on her behalf when learning about cracked nipples. Ouch!

3. Get educated on pumps and other gear

Take one item off her baby prep list and research the latest breastfeeding tech. Figure out which pump is the most efficient or what nursing bra is most practical. I had to laugh when my husband created an elaborate pro/con list comparing two popular pumps. But thanks to him, I had the best gear possible to keep my supply steady.

4. Help achieve the perfect latch

When you’ve got an engorged boob pressing against a newborn’s face while both of you are deliriously exhausted… it can be nearly impossible to tell if that latch is right. That’s where a partner can provide valuable support since they have the benefit of distance and a bird’s eye view. Get in there and check for cues of proper latch like a wide open mouth, chin firmly planted on breast, and lips turned outward.

If that first attempt doesn’t seem right, suggest taking a break and trying again. Remind your partner it takes time and practice—for both her and your baby. My husband used to calm fussy latching sessions by playing Bob Marley and doing a little bounce-sway dance with our newborn. Maybe find your own soothing go-to jam?

5. Have endless empathy for soreness

Breastfeeding can be physically grueling and, at times, painful. From clogged ducts to nipple fissures, discomfort is unfortunately common in the early days. It’s difficult to overstate the agony of rock-solid engorged boobs or cracked nipples. During this period, her breasts are working overtime to nourish your child, so affectionate touch may be the last thing she wants.

Instead, offer your unconditional empathy. Ask how you can reasonably make her more comfortable—perhaps a warm compress, keeping the house cooler, or giving a gentle foot massage. Validation goes a long way, too—a simple ‘you’re doing an amazing job’ speaks volumes. 

6. Give her a break by bottle-feeding

If pumping or formula is part of your feeding plan, offer to give your baby a bottle, especially in those hazy midnight hours. Not only will you help give her a break, but you get bonus snuggles with your baby. My husband lovingly called his 2 a.m. shift ‘having milk with the milkman.’ And I got a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Want extra brownie points? Volunteer, don’t wait to be asked.

dad bottle feeding baby
Source: Canva

7. Become the gatekeeper with visitors

When loved ones come flocking to meet the baby, regulating visitors helps optimize those precious early weeks of establishing breastfeeding. Discuss with your partner if she wants privacy while feeding and would prefer guests to step out. This allows her to nurse comfortably without feeling rushed or intruded upon.

You can lovingly run interference if needed. Become the gatekeeper regarding visitors during feeds. If your healing wife needs quiet time and space, smile and politely shuffle well-meaning friends and family out. For overnight guests, set some house rules about not interrupting nursing sessions and assign tasks like cooking meals and putting a load of laundry in during those times.

Essentially, be the buffer allowing your partner to focus fully on recovery and breastfeeding these key early weeks.

8. Make sure she’s fully supported during feeds

Breastfeeding is literally a full-time job in those early days. You can expect feeding 8-12 times a day for your newborn (and that’s if your baby gets a full feed each time!) Set your partner up for success by keeping her nursing station fully stocked. Think snacks, large water bottle, nipple cream, burp cloth—I even had a little bell to ring if I was stranded under a milk-drunk baby and really needed something! A veteran mom gave it to me at my baby shower.

Take initiative with household chores, too, so nursing can be her only focus. Essentially, minimize the daily to-do list burden as much as possible.

9. Gently guide, never criticize

Like any new skill, nailing breastfeeding requires patience and practice. If you notice something off with the latch, gently suggest trying a different position instead of criticizing. And ooze encouragement—you’re both learning!

When our first baby struggled with tongue tie affecting her latch, my husband told me, ‘We will sort this out together.’ Sure enough, after a frenotomy, she rapidly improved. And when our second child was born with severe laryngomalacia, he was there every step of the way. Everything is easier when you have a great teammate.

10. Support any purchases that make breastfeeding easier

Fair warning: Your partner’s wardrobe may soon consist of 95 percent nursing-friendly attire. For now, it’s all about breastfeeding functionality and learning what looks good on our new postpartum bodies. If she says she needs another nursing bra or a hands-free pump, trust her, she means it.

breastfeeding support
Source: Canva

11. Make her feel special, not like a dairy cow

Sometimes it’s hard for new moms to feel feminine and sexy when their breasts are constantly utilized for milk. Feeling “touched out” is common with a clingy newborn attached 24/7, so try not to take it personally. The mental and physical burden of breastfeeding leaves many women craving personal space, not physical intimacy.

Don’t take it personally if cuddling is shrugged off and sex is put on an indefinite hold. Offer a listening ear instead or thoughtful gestures. This, too, shall pass, and intimacy will return when she’s ready.

12. Give space when emotions run high

Hormones, exhaustion, feeling touched out—it can boil over fast. If your normally zen partner hits a breaking point, swoop in and give her ten minutes of quiet and space to regroup. Take the baby for some skin-to-skin in another room and let mom de-stress.

I just had to give my husband ‘the look,’ and he would spring into action, whisking my baby away and leaving me in peace. Those precious few minutes of silence were very restoring.

13. Take care of yourself

This may seem obvious, but while supporting your breastfeeding partner, don’t neglect your own self-care. New moms have zero bandwidth for nursing an additional patient!

I’ll never forget my friend telling me her partner broke his leg playing football when their newborn was just two weeks old. Suddenly, she was caring for her healing c-section, a fussy infant, her partner’s injury, plus managing their household solo. Suffice it to say, he got little sympathy.

Joking aside, check in with your mental health, too. This is a huge new chapter in your life. Reach out if you need additional support. It is okay to admit when you aren’t feeling 100 percent. 

14. Have patience about weaning

When your partner starts talking about transitioning away from breastfeeding, tread lightly. While looking out for signs baby is ready (your baby pays more than a passing interest in solid food, can sit with their head steady without support, is over six months old, or is adept at taking a bottle), even more important is trusting your partner’s instincts.

Dads and non-breastfeeding partners can find it difficult to discern between a lack of confidence and a firm gut decision when it comes to weaning from breastfeeding. This is why maintaining open communication is so important during this period. She should be able to talk to you about her doubts knowing she won’t be judged. 

Have her back through the unpredictable process. Also, know that post-weaning depression is real. Be attentive and empathetic if she struggles with emotions around this transition. The end of breastfeeding means the loss of a special bonding period for mothers. You may not fully understand her feelings, but showing unconditional support makes all the difference.

My top tip here: Never call it ‘giving up.’ Those two words can crush and deflate even the most confident mother.

15. Remember, you play a vital role

Sure, you may not lactate. But never underestimate your significance. By supporting your breastfeeding partner, you directly keep your baby healthy and happy. You’re ensuring proper nutrition and bonding during the most critical phase of development.

Breastfeeding is no small feat, but the months quickly fly by when you are in the thick of it. Before you know it, you’ll be that veteran couple with wisdom to share. Pretty soon, the pump parts will get packed up, and nursing bras retired. But you’ll always feel proud of persevering together during that special time nourishing your child. 

Dads and partners, remember that your support means everything. At the end of the day, you’re in it together through this and every parenting phase.

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