Partner Support - The Critical Link to Successful Breastfeeding
Partner support is the biggest factor influencing a mother’s breastfeeding success. In Australia less than 50% babies are still breastfeeding at the age of 2 months. Yes, sore and damaged nipples, low milk supply and other incredibly difficult circumstances have a lot to answer for but partner support, or lack of, can make or break a mother’s efforts to soldier on through her breastfeeding battles.
If you don’t have breasts then you’re not going to be able to help with breastfeeding itself. But your role as partner to a breastfeeding mother and baby is the critical link to long term breastfeeding success. It goes beyond supporting the physical act of breastfeeding. It’s supporting her as she undertakes one of the most important things anyone can do to get your baby’s long term health off to a good start!
Here’s a few key ways you can provide support.
Learn about how breastfeeding works
Frequent feeding is normal! It’s normal for babies to feed 10-18 times a day! Babies have such tiny stomachs that they need to fill them up very frequently. Frequent feeding can be hard going but when you know it’s normal you can reassure your partner and support her to hang in there. As your baby grows and his tummy expands the frequency will settle down.
Understand the benefits
Breastfeeding provides breastmilk – a perfect blend of nutrients, fluid, fats and proteins, immune and growth factors – all available at just the right temperature and the right amount to suit your baby’s appetite.
Breastfeeding is protective against all sorts of infections and respiratory illnesses, promotes good oral health and helps reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity.
The benefits for mum include bonding with baby, helping her body recover from birth and to bounce back to her pre-pregnant shape, as well as other protective factors that reduce the risks of ovarian and breast cancers. These are but a few of the amazing benefits breastfeeding brings to both mother and baby.
Breastfeeding can be really easy but it can also be really hard work
Breastfeeding is a learned skill for mums – it’s easier for some than others and most mums face various obstacles along the way. Learn what to expect by reading about the possible ups and downs of breastfeeding and know how to access your local health nurse or lactation consultant for breastfeeding support when you need it.
Nurture mum as she nourishes your baby
Meals and fluids – Breastfeeding is both physically and emotionally demanding. Making milk and the act of breastfeeding requires 2,000–3,000 more calories than normal every single day! So a key role you can play is ensure that she has regular meals, snacks and plenty of water each day.
Cheer her on – Let her know how much you admire her efforts. A breastfeeding mum is a bundle of hormones and emotion. She will likely be feeling tiredness, breast and nipple pain, self doubt and concern that she’s doing everything right for your baby. Breastfeeding is a 24/7, unpredictable gig. Just sitting beside her now and then whilst she feeds is a simple way to show your support.
Let her nap when baby sleeps – Just a half hour nap here and there can make the world of difference to a breastfeeding mum. Breastfeeding has an inbuilt protective mechanism against sleep deprivation so a nap or two each day can be enough for her to keep going through the night!
Help her to feel comfortable and confident
Help create a comfortable breastfeeding space – Comfort is important for breastfeeding, whether it’s a cosy corner in your nursery or a place on the couch. Each feed is likely to be between 30–60 mins so having everything at arm’s reach and ‘just-so’ is helpful. Back support with cushions and a small foot stool. A glass of water within reach. It’s the little things that make a difference.
Help her get the help she needs
One of the hardest things to do is stand by and watch a loved one struggle. When breastfeeding is not going as planned, help her get the right support to address her concerns and breastfeeding needs – contact your local breastfeeding helpline, prepare a list of questions for your health nurse , or contact a Lactation Consultant.
Take charge of the non-feeding stuff to create your own bonding time
Breastfeeding is exclusively a mother-baby relationship. But feeding is just one of your baby’s needs.
Burping and settling after feeds is a great way to have skin to skin cuddles and a relaxed, quiet time together.
Nappy changing and dressing is a round the clock task. Taking charge of this is a great way to let your partner know how many wet and dirty nappies you’ve changed to reassure her that she’s got enough milk for your baby.
Bathing can be a really soothing and calming time for everyone. Consider taking a bath with your baby and enjoy a special daily closeness.
Take photos of mum and baby together. You’d be surprised at how few photos taken in the early weeks actually have mum in them!
Accept offers of help. Never say no to someone dropping a meal on your doorstep, or picking up supplies.
Look after yourself so that you can be more available
One of the many magical things about breastfeeding is that it contains a hormone (cholecystokinin) that protects breastfeeding mums from severe sleep deprivation. This hormone also helps mums maximise the few hours of sleep she gets each day so although she has had just a few hours, her body feels as though she’s had a lot more sleep. This hormone passes through the breast milk to baby which is where he gets his beautiful ‘milk drunk’ look after a feed.
This ‘wonder drug’ hormone is exclusive to breastfeeding mums and bubs – Partners can’t get it! But partners can get exhausted from lack of sleep. If you have only had a few hours’ sleep in the past few days then that’s all your weary body has to function on. So it’s okay, and actually a really good idea, to catch up on sleep when you can during the day and it’s also OK to leave the breastfeeding to mum overnight and get as much sleep as you can. When you’re rested you’re a much better help than if you’re exhausted.