When our baby was born, I thought I knew all there was to know about breastfeeding as a new dad. What can be easier than pulling your shirt up and letting the baby go to town for 15 minutes or so several times a day?
I was also aware of the different health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. I was supportive of my wife’s decision to breastfeed, without any actual knowledge of what that would entail. I quickly learned that breastfeeding was a lot more difficult than I had imagined. We ran into problems I didn’t expect.
Here are a few tips and hints for the new fathers out there:
- Breastfeeding can be very painful for a new mom
Don’t make the mistake of belittling the amount of pain she could be feeling. After a few days of nursing, my wife was in a world of pain. She cringed and tensed up each time our daughter latched on. My wife often cried through her nursing sessions. I didn’t know how she was feeling, so the best thing I could do was let her cry and ask what I could do to help.
- Know when to seek outside assistance
Our daughter was born on Christmas Eve and no lactation consultants were available at the hospital during the holiday. We got off to a bad start and the baby was latching on wrong. After seeing my wife in so much pain and despair, I encouraged her to reach out to a lactation consultant. The LC came to our house, showed us the correct way to hold the baby, and how to get her to latch on correctly. That was a turning point in our breastfeeding experience and things only got better from there.
- Breastfeeding means immobility for the duration
That means you’re on call for getting water, snacks, the iPad — you name it. With this, it helps to pick up some of the other chores you might not normally do around the house and reanalyze your division of labor.
- Breastfeeding is a team sport for the first several weeks or months
The new mom will find it helpful for you to be available to adjust the baby, hold the baby’s neck, stand by with a blanket, or just provide some company. You can learn together and before long she will be a pro and won’t need as much assistance.
- The feeding continues throughout the night
Be careful not to wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, wow! The baby slept through the night!” Spoiler alert! No, the baby didn’t. Either your wife didn’t wake you or you were in too deep of a sleep to hear anything. It also helps to pretend you’re sleepy too, nothing will make her madder than a well-rested husband!
- A few days after the baby is born, your wife’s milk will come in and her breasts will be engorged
Ignore every male instinct that is telling you to touch them. Do not touch! My wife was in so much pain and my attempts at copping a feel were met with a quick slap to the hand. It’s depressing, I know, but two of your favorite tracks of land have been time shared with your newborn child. You won’t even have visitation for the first few months, at least.
- There may be times when she feels like she wants to quit
Show her that you are very supportive and let her make the decision that is best for her and the baby.
It may take a couple of months but eventually your new, bigger family will get into the swing of things. The best teacher is always experience. The important thing is to not be afraid to give it a go.
When reading up on breastfeeding before the baby was born, I thought it was a no-brainer — when in actuality the application can be very difficult. Watching my wife as a new mom learning how to nurse, I can absolutely respect those who choose not to do it. It takes dedication and support from both the mother and the father (a cooperative kid helps too).
What would you add to the list?
Don Mills is the husband of Brigid and an officer in the U.S. Navy. When he’s not spending time with his wife and their toddler, he can be found doing home improvement projects, tending to his vegetable garden, or brewing cider.