Many lactation consultants hear moms say, “I’m going to pump sometimes so my husband has a chance to feed the baby.” But there are myriad other ways partners can help apart from feeding the baby. Research shows when her significant other supports her, a woman is more likely to start breastfeeding and to stick with it longer. So, if you can’t feed the baby, what can you do to support mom?
- Learn what you can before the birth: Read about infant feeding, and consider taking a breastfeeding class while mom is still pregnant. When you know babies need to nurse often in the early days and weeks, you’re unlikely to undermine mom’s confidence by suggesting baby isn’t getting enough. And you’ll be prepared to let her know how you know baby is getting plenty – wet and dirty diapers, weight gain, signs of milk transfer, and more.
- Don’t feel like you need to be the expert, though: If she’s having trouble feeding baby, help her get the help she needs. Learn how to find local support – lactation consultants, peer counselors and mother-to-mother breastfeeding support groups are all great options. Mom may not have the energy to track these people down, but you can do the legwork for her.
- Find other ways to bond with baby: You can change diapers, give baths, or become the burping expert. Your baby knows the sound of your voice, and will love cuddling with you for going to sleep. Talk to your baby, take him for walks and spend time playing with him.
- Take on more of the household tasks: Be the main toilet-cleaner, laundry folder, and grocery shopper. By taking on a larger share of this work, you will give mom the opportunity to focus on baby without worrying about all the work piling up.
- Feed her: Well, not by physically putting food in her mouth, but by preparing snacks or bringing a drink while she’s nursing. Moms tend to be hungrier and thirstier than normal, but they have less time for food prep. Not to mention, holding baby in one hand and trying to prepare and eat with the other can sometimes be complicated (and sometimes comical!).
- Block the negativity: You can be her shield from those pessimists who think breastfeeding is doomed to failure. Learning to counter negative comments with ‘This is working for us now’ or ‘our doctor recommends …’ will stop people from sabotaging breastfeeding for your family.
- Believe in her: Simple words of encouragement go a long way to making mom feel well supported in her mothering. Saying ‘You’ve got this’ lets her know that you believe in her. Telling her ‘I love seeing you nursing our baby’ allows her to feel your appreciation.
- Keep the lines of communication open: Talk about what you’re feeling, and listen when she wants to talk about how she’s feeling. Caring for a baby isn’t a simple task, and both of you are affected by everything that is going on. Your relationship will shift and adjust best if you’re gently honest with each other.
- Notice her emotions: Women who develop postpartum depression often don’t see it happening themselves. Most times, it’s the partner who notices it first. So if she seems unhappy all the time or she seems especially anxious or detached, help her to get the professional support she needs.