But My Partner is Breastfeeding, So What Can I Do?

Mother holding baby

Picture it..

You deliver your first beautiful baby and you want to exclusively breastfeed. Everything is going according to plan and baby is a champion nurser. You'll just feed the baby every 3 hours on the dot during the day, and my partner can give the baby a bottle of breast milk at night, right? Ahh, 8 hours of blissful sleep while my partner is on duty.

Enter reality..

You're beautiful brand new baby is at your breast constantly, your nipples are sore, your breasts are engorged, you're starving, thirsty and exhausted and your partner has no idea how to help you.

Moms, breastfeeding your newborn baby is a 24 hour job, but rest assured its all part of the plan. Yes, there is some nipple soreness. Yes, you do feel like a milk machine sometimes. Yes, sometimes it feels like you're the only one doing anything for baby. But it doesn't have to be that way!

Science tells us that breastfeeding works on a system of demand and supply. Baby communicates the demand for milk by suckling at the breast... frequently! And when I say frequently, I mean 10 or more times in 24 hours. I'm exhausted just thinking about it! This constant stimulation tells our bodies to make more of that delicious elixir. In short, the more you  nurse right from the get-go, the more milk you make and this promotes a healthy milk supply to feed baby for the first 12 months of life. 

So what does this mean for those first wonderful 6 weeks? Sigh..it means you will be the only person giving your baby milk, day and night. Sorry to burst your bubbles, but partners won't be giving the baby a bottle at night if you're breastfeeding. I know what you're thinking.. “But can't I just pump and have my partner offer baby the bottle of breast milk at night?” Good question, but the answer is “not yet” for a few good reasons. First, pumping is another means of telling your body to make more milk. If you are putting baby to breast AND pumping, your body may begin to make more milk than baby actually needs. Cue the constant leaking, feeling overly full, clogged ducts or even breast infections. Not good. Second, establishing a healthy supply means avoiding introducing bottles or pacifiers (unless mom and baby are separated for an extended period of time) for the first 4-6 weeks. If baby is sucking on a bottle or a pacifier, then baby isn't sucking on your nipple and that means decreased demand and therefore decreased supply. (Note: There is evidence, however, that pacifiers at night when baby is sleeping can help prevent SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome, so talk to your pediatrician about what they recommend!) Finally, even though you are exhausted, your breasts can't tell time. They are designed to feed that baby on demand even at 2am. So even if your perfect angel is sleeping blissfully or partner is offering a bottle, your breasts will likely wake you up reporting for duty and ready to perform.

But don't worry moms. Help is on the way! There are so many other things your partner can do the help take some of the pressure off of you in these first few wonderful but stressful and tiring weeks.

Partners, here is your list of “Do's” for your breastfeeding counterpart:

  1. Feed the baby, feed the mama! Breastfeeding means an extra 500 calories of intake for moms to make milk. That means mom is hungrier and thirstier than she's ever been before! When mom is feeding baby, bring her a healthy snack and a large glass of water!
  2. Offer hand, foot and shoulder massages! Fluid shifts in the immediate postpartum period and holding feeding positions for 20 minutes or more at a time can lead to really sore and achy shoulders, backs, wrists and feet.
  3. Manage visitors! This one is crucial. Mom is trying to learn the art of breastfeeding and physically recover from birth. Visitors mean well, but there is a time and place. If mom is overwhelmed, you need to be the bad cop and tell them to reschedule.
  4. Be the hero at night! When that baby cries for mom's milk, be the one to get out of bed. Get baby out of the bassinet, change baby's diaper, hand baby to mom, ensure she is comfortable, get your obligatory snack and water, then ask if there is anything else she needs. When the feed is done, take baby from mom and swaddle, shush and lay back down to sleep. Just because she's the one doing the feeding doesn't mean she needs to be the only one getting up!
  5. Manage the housework! Whether you're handling the cleaning and meals by yourself or you delegate those tasks to other support persons, mom shouldn't be thinking about this. She's got enough to worry about!
  6. Provide the skin to skin! Science tells us newborn babies get so much benefit from skin to skin contact, and especially when breastfeeding is being established. Offer to keep baby skin to skin while mom takes a nap between feedings. You'll get the benefit of the priceless bonding time too!
  7. Give her the “Golden Hour”! Make sure mom gets 1 full hour every day to herself. Whether she takes a walk, takes a shower or vegges out with Netflix in tow, remember she needs time to decompress. Couple time is important too, so don't forget to arrange baby care for 1 hour every week for the two of you to spend together.
  8. Offer endless words of encouragement! I can tell you that I've never felt more insecure than when learning to breastfeed my baby. It's a learned skill and sometimes the going gets tough. That constant positive reinforcement goes a long way in developing her confidence.
  9. Know when to call in reinforcements! Words of encouragement are awesome but when you're getting the feeling that she needs more, have a list available and reach out for help. Whether its a lactation consultant, her mom, sister or “breast friend”, back-up support is often needed.
  10. Watch for signs of Postpartum Depression! This is never a fun topic to discuss but it can be life saving. And you can be the life saver. If mom's feelings have gone from weepy baby blues to despair; if she's having trouble caring for herself or the baby; if she expresses feelings of hopelessness or trouble connecting to baby, get help. Call her obstetrician immediately.

Partners are critical to breastfeeding success for many reasons, whether its your husband or wife, life partner, mother, sister or friend. While they can't provide the baby with that amazing liquid gold like you can, there is so much they can offer not only to assist you on your breastfeeding journey, but also to be a part of the journey themselves.

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