Fathers have the potential to be the most important support system for the mom and their baby. He is there during the hospital stay, to let everyone know all is well when they can visit and to fetch those important things that were not packed in the hospital bag. And then at home, he is the first to see when mom & baby need help. He sees how little sleep mom has had, how the feeding is going, and the difficulties as they happen. This is when a father can step in and be such a support system.
He can be prepared by attending antenatal classes, learn as much about breastfeeding as possible. The more he knows about breastfeeding the better he can help his partner and also realise if she needs professional help like a lactation consultant. Once the baby is born his role is to look after the family.
Take the pressure off. In the first few weeks, all his family needs are to focus on each other and not worry about work and other issues. Reduce the number of household responsibilities his partner has. Organize help or wash the dishes and tidy the house himself. Limit the number of visitors and don’t let them stay too long. It is great to have visitors but it can take a toll on a new mother as visits can eat into her sleep or feeding time. Let visitors know when is the best time to visit and ask them not to stay too long and that arriving with pre-cooked meals is always welcome.
Get help if she needs it. Watch his partner and talk to her about how everything is going. If she is battling, reassure her that it is OK to get help. Often the sooner the better.
Learn from those that help his partner. If his partner uses a lactation consultant, be part of the consult. Ask questions and watch how she is helped so that he can help her afterward.
Talk to other fathers. Find out what worked for them.
All of this makes him a part of the breastfeeding. Ways that you can help her while she is breasting are:
- Learn your baby’s hunger cues. You can help to make the breastfeeding experience more enjoyable if you start feeding when the baby shows signs of early hunger cues rather than waiting until the baby is screaming. It is much harder to feed then. (Early hunger cues are: sucking sounds, moving around, tongue and hand to mouth movements. As soon as you see these take the baby to your partner). Help her get comfortable for feeds. Make sure that her back and arms have enough support. If necessary to help her hold and latch your baby. Help her to stay hydrated and well-nourished. Bring her something to drink during feeds and make sure that she has a snack at hand if she needs it.
After the feed, you can burp or change your baby’s nappy.
There are great ways to bond with your baby. You can:
- Hold your baby, even provide skin to skin.
- Sing and talk to your baby. He already knows what your voice sounds like.
- Take your baby for a walk
- Bath your baby
- Play with your baby
- Read a book to your baby (yes you can start from birth)
- Feed expressed breast milk in a bottle.
There are so many opportunities for dads to be there for both partner and baby It is up to you to find your family’s balance and work hard at helping them.