Recently I was involved in a heated discussion regarding breastfeeding and supplementing with formula. The exchange was mainly focused on ‘Breast is Best’ vs. ‘Fed is Best’, which is a healthy and ongoing debate, but at one point someone suggested that all of the fathers should stop participating in the discussion, as they weren’t the ones nursing. It’s true, I am lacking vital equipment to breastfeed. It’s true also that I can’t even begin to imagine the struggle and joy that breastfeeding can be. That said breastfeeding isn’t a one act play, a one step process. It takes preparation and support, and I did whatever I could to help. To dismiss my opinion because I’m not lactating isn’t only unfair, it’s also discouraging to fathers trying to change the way society thinks about gender rolls and how they apply to parenting.
With that, here are 10 ways that fathers can be involved in the breastfeeding process:
1) Be a ‘gopher’
Inevitably, the moment your partner sits down to nurse, she will need something. This isn’t because she didn’t plan well before getting comfortable, but rather because there are always circumstance we can’t predict. She may need an extra burp cloth, she may finish the glass of water she had set out, maybe her phone rings. Be ready to go for (get it?) anything she needs. Remember, breastfeeding is like a really good action movie – once you start you just can’t bring yourself to press pause.
2) Be encouraging
Nursing doesn’t always come easily. There are many challenges that your partner may face, each one can be discouraging. Let your partner know you support her, ask what she needs but don’t offer solutions unless she asks.
3) Be informed
Read about positions, challenges, and solutions (You’re here, so that’s a great start!).
4) Be a master of the pedicure
She’ll be sitting for about a half an hour, just enough time to get those toenails painted. Foot massages are nice too.
5) Be prepared
Try to build a ‘nursing kit’: Burp cloths, a fresh diaper and change of clothes for the baby, a full water bottle, lanolin, an easy one-handed snack, etc. Have everything together before she needs it.
No, it’s not directly related to breastfeeding, but for the next half hour you don’t have any baby-related responsibilities. Get the dishwasher done, sweep the floor, wash a mirror, or even just do a quick tidy up. Once she is done nursing, you’ll have more free time to spend with your little one, and give your partner a chance to relax.
Grab a book and read to your partner and child. You’ve got a captive audience, entertain them! I had picked up The Princess Bride as a joke when K wasn’t feeling well during pregnancy, turns out she loved it! We carried the tradition on through nursing as well. Sitting in the dark unable to move or do anything makes a half an hour seem like an eternity, do what you can to make that time go by faster.
Dad’s are part of the breastfeeding process too. Be an active participant so you can tell the world ‘WE breastfed our child’ and mean it.