Breastfeeding is amazing. It is the best, most enjoyable, hardest, most beautiful, frustrating thing I’ve ever done. There’s no better feeling in the world than knowing that only you can provide your baby exactly what they need. But, we need support.
Before baby made her big arrival, I passive-aggressively sent my husband some blogs on ways he can help with breastfeeding—only they were all loaded with non-specific crap about how the best way for dad to help is to be “supportive.” This is absolutely true, but support can (and should) be more than just moral. There are actual helpful and productive ways dad can be a breastfeeding/pumping hero.
I’ve leaned on my own experience so you too can now have something to passive-aggressively share with your baby daddy.
At The Hospital
1. Be the protector.
If this is your first child, Mommy’s “privates” haven’t yet become “publics,” so there’s a good chance she doesn’t want visitors in on the peep show. My milk came in while we were still in the hospital. I was incredibly uncomfortable and our baby had no idea what to latch on to (imagine trying to nurse on a basketball). I tried to use a nursing cover while we had a room full of visitors, which was incredibly frustrating and just not happening. It wasn’t just a privacy issue, but a pride issue. I didn’t want people to see that I had no idea what I was doing.
Get some kind of signal and discuss beforehand what you’ll do if you need to nurse while you have guests in your room. Even if mom isn’t uncomfortable with people around, nursing should be an opportunity for quiet time and intimacy for your little family of three.
Dad, if Mom says “I think baby’s hungry” and looks at you, that’s your cue to move everyone out of the room. Let them know it’s time to go.
2. Ask her what side she’d like baby on.
I’m starting with the most simple and obvious way Dad can help (that requires no extra work). At the beginning, breastfeeding isn’t always comfortable. You’re still trying to figure out the easiest way for you to sit, hold baby, cup your breast, and drink your cold coffee—all at the same time. And in those first couple of months, baby requires a little extra support. It can be both difficult and nerve-wrecking to have to rotate baby’s flimsy, floppy neck and body (especially while trying to shield the stream of milk shooting from your engorged breast).
Dad, if you’re holding baby while Mom is situating herself, ask what side she’d like to nurse on and help present baby accordingly.
3. Identify what she needs and bring it to her.
The second you get comfortable and baby’s hard at work shredding your nipple, you realize all of the things are out of arm’s reach and you suddenly have an insatiable thirst.
I’m an independent woman and don’t enjoy acting like a queen (just kidding). I just always feel guilty asking my husband to serve me when I know I should have been better prepared. But for God’s sake, I wore adult diapers for my first few weeks postpartum. Getting up off the couch is hard. You deserve to be served.
Dad, make note of the things Mom likes to have handy while nursing and take inventory each time you give baby to her. Phone? Water bottle? TV remote? Ice pack for the baby-maker?
4. Offer to heat up her cold coffee.
Even if it’s the fourth time this cup has seen the microwave. She’s not finished yet.
5. Don’t comment on mom’s choice of beverage.
My husband has been great about this one and quickly jumps to my defense when we’re out, tackling the, “Oh, are you allowed to drink wine while you’re nursing?” questions.
Am I “allowed” to drink [insert beverage here]? What does that even mean? And who’s enforcing these laws if I’m not?
Dad, don’t question how many cups of coffee she’s had and if that’s okay for baby. Don’t give side-eye when she pours herself a second glass of wine. In fact, offer her the second glass of wine.
6. Burp baby.
This is a great way for Dad to participate in feeding time. You’ll get your time to hold and interact with baby, but you’ll also get to be the proud hero who worked out that big baby belch.
7. Take care of night-time diaper changes.
If Mom is nursing in the middle of the night, there’s not much you’re able to do with your stupid, worthless nipples. But striking a deal with mom that you’ll take care of diaper changes can be a big help.
My husband made it clear that he wanted to participate in this way—and I’m glad he did. I sleep with baby on my side of the bed, so I’m the one who wakes up when she does. My husband (the heavy sleeper) needs me to wake him up for these special times.
Dad, ask mom to wake you up when she wakes up at night. Even if baby doesn’t need a diaper change, see what you can do to help (Refill her water bottle? Retrieve some painkillers?). The answer will most likely be nothing, but a simple offer can make Mom feel a little less resentful when she’s watching you snooze while she’s awake at 3 a.m.
When Mom Goes Back to Work
8. Roll with the emotional punches.
No one prepared me for how emotionally draining pumping at work would be. I had used my pump before, but I was still getting to hold my baby (or at least be in the same room as her) while doing so. I wasn’t prepared for the release of hormones that would have nothing to grab on to. Knowing someone else is holding and feeding baby while you’re pumping alone in a closet (sorry, “nursing room”) is actually depressing.
Dad, Mom is likely going to be overly sensitive and emotional when she goes back to work. Be supportive and help lift her up (chocolate helps). Print off her favorite picture of baby for her desk (this helps with pumping). Just let her emotions run their course.
9. Clean the pump pieces.
Pumping sucks. It just sucks. I have never felt less sexy in my entire life than I do when I’m sitting at home strapped up and plugged into the wall like a dairy cow. I pump just before I go to bed, which means the house is turned off and everyone is laying down for the night but me. I gather all the little pieces, start pumping (usually sitting in bed), then finish. Exhausted, get up, sanitize the pump pieces, package and label the milk bags, and get my pump back in my work bag.
My husband and I have a similar deal with our meals. One person cooks, the other cleans. If Mom is making baby dinner, Dad can help clean up.
Dad, when you hear the pump turn off, take it from her and clean the pieces.
10. Take over some feedings.
This is the fun part for dad. When mom starts pumping more than she’s nursing, it’s a chance for dad to get some one-on-one time with baby. Feeding baby is so intimate, and it’s really important for Dad to get his chance to participate.
Dad, wake up a little earlier in the morning so you can give baby their first bottle of the day. This will save mom some time while she’s trying to get ready for work, and it’ll also give you an opportunity to bond with baby.
As moms, the most important thing we can do during this process is be open and honest with Dad. If there are other ways for him to help, talk to him. In my experience, my (awesome, supportive, handsome) husband is happy and eager to do anything he can.
Dad wants to help. He just may need to be told how.