By Pinky McKay
Its ok, you can keep your shirt on! You don’t have to bare your man boobs to help with breastfeeding. But did you know that your impact is the single most crucial factor in your partner’s breastfeeding success? That’s what the research says, so even though you may be feeling that you can’t really be involved because she has the breasts, there are some important ways you can support your lady. The bonus to your efforts is that there is nothing more of a turn on than a partner who nurtures the new mum so she can focus on the intense needs of your newborn. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a romp in the sack any time soon and that shouldn’t be your prime motivation (you are a grown up now and you do want the very best for your baby, don’t you?), you will be accumulating loving feelings and ‘goodwill’ rather than resentment that can brew if she feels isolated and unsupported as she adjusts to this new life – the tiny one attached to her breasts for hours on end. So, how can you help with breastfeeding?
I’ve seen too many new dads who seem like little boys who don’t want to share their partner’s attention – or breasts. There was even a recent US advertisement for baby bottles with the headline ‘Reclaim your wife’s breasts’. As I used to tell my own kids when they were small and had a treat, “it tastes better when you share.” This goes for your partner’s breasts – right now they are for providing optimum nutrition to your baby. This will save you an absolute fortune, not only in the cost of formula which is expensive, but in medical and dental bills because of the immune factors and physiology of breastfeeding. The health benefits to your baby will last a lifetime so ‘man up’ and be patient, your partner already has a baby so she doesn’t need you to behave like one.
You don’t need to give bottles to bond with your baby.
Actually, there is more eye contact in changing a nappy! If your partner has to express milk just to make you feel connected to your baby (it’s different if she is popping up the street and wants to make sure you have some milk ready in case baby needs a feed before she gets back), that’s one more job she has to do: its far easier and more efficient to pop your baby straight on the boob. Pumping is hard work, time consuming and besides, who is cleaning the breast pump? Of course, it’s your prerogative as parents to make your own choices about whether you give your baby an occasional bottle, but do remember that it’s best to wait until after the first 6 weeks to introduce bottles because sucking from a bottle is very different from breastfeeding. Giving bottles in the early days could make it more difficult to establish breastfeeding: your baby may take longer to become an efficient feeder and it could take longer for your partner to establish a good milk supply. Also, breastfeeding works on a supply and demand rule: the more milk your baby drinks, the more milk mummy’s breasts will make. To maintain her milk supply, your partner will need to express when you give a bottle because if she ‘skips’ a feed, her body won’t get the signal to produce milk for the next feed or she could get blocked ducts from being ‘over full’ and then she runs the risk of getting mastitis which will make her feel extremely ill and require medical help.
Share the love, your way
There are lots of ways to share precious time with your baby - by burping or settling him after feeds or when he has a belly ache, bath or shower with your little one, make him laugh, ‘wear’ him in a baby carrier or learn baby massage (see Pinky’s Baby Massage DVD http://www.pinkymckay.com.au/massage/pinky-mckays-baby-massage-dvd). If you make one activity specially yours, this will not only help your partner, but it will create a beautiful shared ritual that will boost your confidence as you see the looks of recognition and joy on your baby’s face.
Love up your lady
It might look as though your partner is just sitting around all day but it takes a lot of energy to make mummy milk and nurture a baby - even the easiest baby will take nine hours of basic care each day! If you love up your lady by helping her relax and focus on feeding right now, she will remember you were there for her when the going was tough and that’s a big investment in your relationship: bring her a drink, feed her healthy food (breastfeeding burns calories and low blood sugar can make a cranky, irrational mummy), notice things that need doing, without being asked – throw on a load of washing, do the dishes, tidy up, and call on your way home from work to see if she needs you to pick up a few things. If you help her, she will have more energy and time to share with you.
Bring out your caveman!
Your partner’s confidence is a big factor in her ability to breastfeed but there can be a lot of advice that causes stress and self-doubt. Whenever a baby cries somebody (hopefully not you), is sure to ask, ‘is he hungry?’ or ‘do you have enough milk?’ or even ‘perhaps your milk isn’t strong enough.’ By the way this last one is never true but it was a popular belief when you were a baby so it’s often said by grandmothers. Although most advice is well meant, there can be no worse feeling for a mother than worrying whether she might be starving her child. So, although you won’t really need to behave like a Neanderthal man, your role here is to have your partner’s back and protect her from negative comments – learn the basics of breastfeeding (see Pinky’s ebook and recording pack ‘Breastfeeding Simply’) so you can be a buffer against unhelpful advice. Your protector role also extends to limiting visitors and making sure they don’t stay too long, especially in the early days when she needs to rest and recover from birth and establish breastfeeding.
Get qualified help
If your partner and baby are having breastfeeding difficulties, consider it an investment to hire a lactation consultant to come to your home. By having a professional come to you, there isn’t the stress of getting to an appointment, your lady will get the time and individual attention she deserves to sort out problems and enjoy breastfeeding.
Pinky McKay, International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and best-selling author is also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, natural and organic cookies to nourish breastfeeding mothers and encourage a healthy milk supply. You can grab a pack of Pinky’s Boobie Bikkies and her free Ebook ’Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally’ at www.boobiebikkies.com.au