Breastfeeding: How to get dads involved

While breastfeeding is only something a mother can do, there are plenty of ways for dads to get involved to help make the process a little easier.

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There’s no doubt that a supportive partner lengthens and strengthens a mother’s breastfeeding experience. Research shows that fathers have a strong influence on a mother’s decision to initiate and continue breastfeeding. However, since breastfeeding is something that only a mother can do, fathers who may support the mother’s plan to breastfeed can often feel left out once their newborn arrives. But don’t worry – there are ways to involve fathers in the feeding process right from the beginning.

1. Take a breastfeeding class together

Research finds that breastfeeding rates are highest among couples who educate themselves together and can even strengthen paternal attachment. Taking a breastfeeding class together is a great way to learn the basics. Bringing dad to class provides a second set of ears and someone to help retain what could seem like an overwhelming amount of information. When fathers understand how breastfeeding works (with all of its benefits, potential problems, and solutions) breastfeeding becomes a shared decision and a team effort.

2. Set realistic goals

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, but that’s not every mother’s goal. Whether breastfeeding lasts for 2 weeks or 8 months, any amount of breast milk a baby receives is beneficial; breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing process. Setting realistic breastfeeding goals and sharing them with your partner can help get you closer to achieving them.

3. Allow time for father-baby bonding

Newborns crave physical contact. Having dads practice skin-to-skin in between feedings, especially during the first few weeks, is extremely beneficial for babies. With skin-to-skin, the baby’s bare torso is placed against the father’s bare chest, thereby stabilizing the baby’s body temperature, heart rate and blood sugar levels. Dads can also “babywear” their tots in a sling or carrier, read and talk to them, take naps with them and change diapers. While these may seem like simple tasks, moms will definitely appreciate the break and dads get to spend time with the baby.

4. Discuss the bottle situation

Many mothers choose to breastfeed exclusively. Other moms are open to pumping and to have dad give the baby a bottle of expressed breast milk once breastfeeding has become fully established (at about three to four weeks). Before a bottle is introduced, though, it’s best to consult with a Lactation Consultant to figure out how to maintain milk production while providing bottles. Regular use of the bottle may interfere with the effort to continue breastfeeding exclusively since the tot can develop a nipple or flow preference. Finding the right balance for your family is what’s most important.

5. Let him know how important his support is

While breastfeeding may be natural, this definitely doesn’t mean it’s easy. Breastfeeding is hard work, so having emotional support and encouragement can make all the difference. Fathers can remind mothers that breastfeeding is one of the most important things she can do for their tot’s health and praise the amazing job she is doing. Encouragement is invaluable, especially when lack of sleep and hormonal changes enter the picture. A father can take on more of the housework, bring mom a pillow or glass of water while she is nursing, or offer to burp and change the baby once the feeding is over. Hands-on support is appreciated too!

The support of a partner is a crucial ingredient for the breastfeeding relationship. When a nursing mom has the support she needs, both she and her tot can get the maximum benefits of breastfeeding.