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Partner support essential for breastfeeding moms

Natalie McCullen

WILLIAMSPORT — Congratulations, on welcoming your bundle of joy into your family. The pride, joy, and delight you feel is likely mixed with fear and nervousness. After all, your new role as parents will last for decades to come.

Breastfeeding is often thought of as a gift between mother and baby. Not only does it provide bonding time, but the health benefits for both baby and mom are undeniable. However, breastfeeding is really a family affair.

Evidence is growing that even a minimal amount of support from dad/partner can make a significant difference to the rate of breastfeeding at six weeks and beyond. It takes time, practice, patience, and teamwork and you, as the mother’s partner, play an important role.

What Can Partners Do to Help After Birth?

Here are ways you can offer support, encouragement, and be involved every step of the breastfeeding journey:

— Set goals. Work with your partner to come up with a birth plan and breastfeeding goals. This will help you get on the same page about what breastfeeding success looks like.

— Arrange for extra help. You’re not alone as a new mother and parent and you’ll need lots of support. As a partner, you’re mom’s closest support system. It’s important you learn about breastfeeding. It is easy to support your partner when you believe in what she is doing. She’ll love you for it.

— Watch and learn. Your partner will need help in learning to breastfeed and pump. Learn from the people who help her. Attend classes with her and ask questions.

— Help take care of your baby and partner. When mom isn’t breastfeeding, you can soothe, bathe, change, dress, cuddle, and burp your baby. You can also keep your partner company during feedings and make sure that she has plenty to eat and drink.

— Limit visitors. What your partner needs most now is rest, help, and time with your baby. If family and friends are offering support, consider having them help with household duties, running errands, or cooking meals early on until you, mom, and baby develop your routine.

— Know who to contact with breastfeeding questions. The birthing center at your hospital is a great resource to start with. Many hospitals have dedicated lactation support staff who can help moms navigate challenges and provide information supporting their breastfeeding journey.

— Be the advocate. Breastfeeding can be challenging and it’s important that mom’s do what they can under the guidance of their providers to follow through on their plan. As a partner, your role is to support mom and the plan you developed and not let others influence your breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding decisions are very personal, and your family needs to make the choices that are best for you.

Will Breastfeeding Make Me a Less-Involved Parent?

Years ago after a baby’s birth, mothers and fathers/partners were expected to take on a set role. Breastfeeding was the mother’s job alone. Today, many partners are more active in baby care and parenting.

If your partner breastfeeds, you can still be an active parent by caring for the baby. There’s a lot on mom’s mind and breastfeeding can be intimidating for new mothers. You can go the extra mile and help with chores, run errands, cook, clean, and do laundry. If mom needs something while she’s breastfeeding, offer to get it for her. If you have other children, take care of them so your partner can focus on breastfeeding. Help eliminate all the other worries mom may have and make the breastfeeding time special. Additionally, when your baby has mastered breastfeeding, you can bottle-feed pumped mother’s milk.

Most importantly, enjoy your new role by actively participating in baby care and parenting. When moms and dad/partners work together to care for their baby, you will both feel supported and satisfied.

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Natalie McCullen, RN, BSN, IBCLC is a lactation consultant with The Birthplace at UPMC Williamsport. She is certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding.

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