Husbands, boyfriends, partners, or significant others, in general, are actually very important players in the breastfeeding game.
And most likely, a new mom does not see it at all as a “game,” but rather something she’s been anticipating doing for a long time, something that she really hopes will go well, and something that is VERY important – because it’s how she will feed her baby for at least a matter of months.
I might think about it sort of like this: A guy might not quite understand, at first, what kind of role he is supposed to play during labor and childbirth. Then, after some conversations with his baby mama, and maybe some reading and classes — and after actually being there and going through it — it becomes very clear that having him there makes (in many cases) all the difference for the laboring mom.
Now breastfeeding may not necessarily be about physically being there while it’s being carried out (though don’t assume your presence is a problem, either). But it can very much be about feeling supported.
The fact that you, her loving partner, understand somewhat what she is going through and offer to help in tangible ways can mean the difference between breastfeeding success and giving up after getting discouraged.
So to get ready, check out 15 things dads need to know about breastfeeding.
15 Glove Still Needed For Love
Apparently, there are enough people out there who are under the impression that breastfeeding may somehow be considered a completely effective way to prevent pregnancy that it’s necessary that many prominent sources do their best to shatter this myth.
PlannedParenthood.org, which provides crucial reproductive health services and information free of charge to women in many locations, states that “About 2 out of 100 people who use breastfeeding as birth control get pregnant in the 6 months … after a baby is born.”
“At any point during breastfeeding, use a reliable method of birth control if you do not want to get pregnant.
Many methods are safe to use while you are breastfeeding, although some are more reliable than others. Options include: Progestin-only birth control pills. The estrogen-progestin methods of birth control are not recommended in early breastfeeding because they may reduce the milk supply. The shot, such as Depo-Provera, which does not affect milk production. The hormonal implant, such as Implanon or Nexplanon, which provides extremely effective birth control for 3 years. Barrier methods, such as condoms or diaphragms. To increase their reliability, use them with spermicide or foam. An intrauterine device (IUD), which is placed inside your uterus by a health professional.”
They add, “Fertility awareness is not recommended for birth control during breastfeeding… especially with the sporadic ovulation that may occur while you are breastfeeding.”
14 How It Can Affect The Chance Of Having Another
According to WebMD.com, some do use breastfeeding as a method of birth control, but the pros (doctors) often recommend that another form of birth control be used, as well, anyway.
According to that site, “Breastfeeding can be used as a method of birth control, called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). But three conditions must be met to ensure its effectiveness: Your baby must be 6 months of age or younger. After your baby is 6 months old, you are much more likely to become pregnant and need to use another method of birth control to prevent pregnancy.”
The site continues, “You must fully breastfeed your infant, meaning that the baby receives only breast milk. Also, breastfeeding must be maintained with both day and night feeding, and no long intervals can occur between feedings. It's best if you don't go longer than 4 hours between feedings during the day and no more than 6 hours between feedings at night.
You must not have a period (amenorrhea). When your periods start, use an additional birth control method.”
And finally, they say that “When these conditions are met, LAM has been shown to be about 98% effective. But many doctors recommend that you also use another method of birth control. After 6 months, even if you are breastfeeding exclusively and your period has not returned, you must use an additional form of birth control if you do not want to get pregnant. You can get pregnant before your first period. This is because you ovulate, then have your period.”
13 Ideally A Team Effort
At first, I can understand why it might sound somewhat confusing to a new or expectant dad to hear that he could (and maybe even should) help out with breastfeeding.
To me, though, after having two babies of my own in the last few years, it all makes perfect sense.
No, it’s not as if dear old dad can somehow magically lactate. But there is plenty that he can do to be a supportive helper during the process – especially, I would say, at the very start.
New moms are learning this new skill along with their babies. Even though it is a natural process, it is one that can take some practice to get the hang of. Being encouraging and supportive of the effort in small ways can really, really help.
A dad can help a new mom to get comfortable, making sure that she’s in a position that she likes and has any needed pillows for support and propping up her arms as she holds the newborn.
He can bring her snacks and water, or better yet, make sure that she has them at the onset of a nursing session. Does she need her phone, or the remote, or a book to read? How about some more cold water, or something to eat?
Dads can be a BIG help throughout breastfeeding by simply being the one to get up, fetch the baby, change the diaper, and deliver him or her to the mother for a feeding. It takes me forever to fall asleep again sometimes once I get out of bed, while my husband can doze again quickly, so this manner of support has been crucial for me.
12 Calorie Consumer
You may have noticed by now that I’ve mentioned food once or twice already – as in snacks and meals for the mom – not the milk that the baby is drinking from her.
Breastfeeding requires additional calories.
According to WomensHealthMag.com in an online article from August 6, 2014, “There's a strong connection between breastfeeding and weight loss… When you're pregnant, biology kicks in and helps you build up a reserve of weight that's beneficial to both you and your baby. After you've given birth, it then helps you lose it by breastfeeding, which can burn 300-500 calories a day.”
On top of the potential need to actually consume some more calories than a mom might normally by eating some additional healthy foods, moms might find it pretty hard to have a moment to do the basic things needed to take care of themselves.
That’s where Dad comes in.
If he can step in and provide healthy snacks and meals, do some grocery shopping, or even enlist the help of some family and friends, it can make the whole situation better for everyone.
A happy and healthy (and adequately fed!) mom can mean for a mom that has the energy and support to breastfeed successfully.
11 Potentially Painful Prospect
It all may look quite natural and beautiful, but it doesn’t mean that it is always completely comfortable for the mom.
Many different sources say many different things about what amount and duration of pain is “normal” at the onset of breastfeeding.
I know from my own circles that many moms experience stinging, soreness, and sometimes even cracking and bleeding.
Lactation consultants are often called upon to try to help a mom and baby address any problems that might be making things more uncomfortable than they need to be.
It sometimes takes quite a bit of patience and determination to work through any such issues and to carry on with breastfeeding.
HuffingtonPost.com published a piece in 2017 by a mom who talked to other moms about pain at the onset of breastfeeding. The author wrote that she “struggled enormously at the start” of breastfeeding, and she included stories from many other women who had encountered similar issues and discomforts.
She also wrote, “Data certainly suggests that early breastfeeding pain… is common. One survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while 26 percent of moms had no pain on their first day breastfeeding, 3 percent were basically in agony. One week in, only 3 percent of moms said they were pain-free whereas 5 percent described it as the ‘worst possible pain’—and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. Surveys also show that general pain and cracked, bleeding nipples are among the top reasons why women stop breastfeeding in the first few months…”
10 Cool To Feel Calm
Although we do it out and about in crowded restaurants, on buses, and well, pretty much anywhere we happen to be when our babies need to eat, there is something to be said for feeling comfortable and calm as a breastfeeding session begins, and also right beforehand.
It’s all a hormonal process, and in my experience, when the mom is calm, the milk starts flowing more quickly, and therefore the baby settles in for a satisfying feed in less time. That’s good for everyone involved.
It’s all related to the “letdown” reflex.
Parents.com explains it thusly: “Letdown is simply the release of milk from the breast. It's a reflex that happens when nerves in your breasts are stimulated (usually by your baby's sucking) and signal the release of oxytocin, a hormone that prompts tiny muscles around your milk-producing cells to contract, squeezing milk into the ducts. How long it takes can vary from woman to woman or even from feeding to feeding, but it's usually anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
“The letdown reflex ensures that your baby gets enough milk. It's a pretty powerful thing, and can be triggered not just by your baby's sucking, but also by sexual contact and even psychological factors. For example, once you've been breastfeeding for a while, you may find that the sound of your baby's cries (or any baby crying) can get your milk flowing.”
9 That Strange Sensation
The sensation of the milk “let-down” occurring can feel new and different, nice, strange, intense, or even somewhat painful, depending on whom you ask.
Basically, the note I had for myself to be sure to include in this list for you was that, well, it can feel kind of weird!
I figure the more understanding a dad can be of what a mom is going through, the better, right?
Parents.com, the website for the popular parenting magazine, says that “Most moms describe letdown as a tingly, pins-and-needles sensation in their chest, which can happen right after birth or even several weeks into breastfeeding. The tickly feeling is actually milk making its way through the ducts to your nipples. Letdown usually occurs in both breasts at the same time, so it's perfectly normal to drip from one breast while your baby feeds from the other (you can use nursing pads to catch the leakage).”
A mom may feel this sensation noticeably during every breastfeeding session. Some report feeling it primarily in whichever breast the baby is not currently latched onto and feeding from, or sometimes it’s more noticeable in the one currently being nursed from.
I found that the strength of the sensation and where I most notice it changes over time and even from feeding to feeding.
8 Tender To The Touch
Especially at the onset of breastfeeding, but potentially at other times, as well, a mom might not exactly think it feels good to have anything (or anyone) in contact with her chest.
One childbirth class I took was led by an instructor who was sure to note that any moms who normally enjoyed sleeping on their stomachs, for example, better go ahead and do it right after giving birth (because they couldn’t do so during pregnancy and they wouldn’t be able to after their milk came in during breastfeeding).
Whether breasts are engorged with milk, sore, or just sort of extra sensitive during breastfeeding, a mom may not exactly want to, well, share them with anyone else during this time.
I guess if there is any uncertainty, the best thing to do might be to just check in with the mom herself, right?
This part of the body has taken on a whole new and very important purpose, and that may require a mom to put in some extra carefulness and care just to stay comfortable.
This might include wearing supportive bras around the clock, being extra careful when showering and avoiding using soap on the area, applying natural ointments to sensitive skin, leaving nipples uncovered to air dry, and more.
7 Underwear With A Purpose
I’m not sure I would have ever really guessed how involved my husband would be in my bra wardrobe. I know it might sound funny, but it is true.
I may be completely alone, for all I know, in how awesome my husband is in helping me with this, but I really do want to share my story about it here, just in case it might inspire any other dads out there to be similarly, um, supportive and awesome.
We, sadly enough, do not have a washer and dryer in which to do laundry within our home. We have to haul our dirty clothes (and towels, and bedding…) to a separate building, bring along the quarters, and, oh, don’t forget the jug of detergent!
We shared in this responsibility before we had any kids.
Once the first baby came along, though, it just became sort of impossible for me to physically do it all at once: carry or mind a baby while hauling the heavy laundry and needed supplies.
So, quite amazingly, my husband (knowing that I, if I do say so myself, quite amazingly work from home while also caring for our babies full time), zips my bras and other delicates into special washing bags, retrieves them so they don’t go into the dryer, and hangs them for me on a special rack to air dry.
He knows that my special nursing bras are beloved and important (to have support, keep my nursing pads in place to catch leaks, and clip down easily for feedings).
He knows that they were expensive.
He knows that I need them washed once a week because I only have so many.
6 They Might Squirt
So, as included at Parents.com (and elsewhere), oxytocin is involved in the let-down reflex, when milk starts to flow so that a baby can consume it.
Oxytocin is also, however, involved in other things in life.
PsychologyToday.com explains it like this: “Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm.”
Parents.com states that “The letdown reflex ensures that your baby gets enough milk. It's a pretty powerful thing, and can be triggered not just by your baby's sucking, but also by sexual contact and even psychological factors. For example, once you've been breastfeeding for a while, you may find that the sound of your baby's cries (or any baby crying) can get your milk flowing.”
I include all of this because, in case you didn’t know what I was getting at yet, the girls may leak (or even squirt or spray) during intimacy.
They also might leak at other times, such as when a mom thinks of her baby, sees a baby, or seemingly just because! It was helpful to me when my husband pointed out to me (discreetly!) that this had happened in line at the grocery store one time so that I could cover up my wet tank with an over-shirt.
5 Roll Up Those Sleeves
A crucial part of breastfeeding, during at least some phases, can be pumping.
Right after the baby is born, it can be helpful for stimulating the production of milk (before a baby has really gotten the hang of it or has a regular nursing schedule established).
Moms also pump to relieve discomfort and engorgement. They also use electric (and other) breast pumps to build up a supply of milk in the freezer (for giving to a baby by bottle later on, such as when they return to work).
Our family’s pediatrician also recommended mixing breast milk with infant cereal to create our baby’s first “solid” food, so that’s why I ended up pumping for another few months then.
The point is, pumping can be quite important, and all of this pumping can create a lot of, well, dishes.
Do you see where I’m going with this, papa?
Pump parts need to be cleaned thoroughly after each use, and that can be yet one more demand put on a mama who already has PLENTY to do.
It might be quite nice of you, to put it mildly, to offer to wash up the plastic components for her after she’s done if you are currently around.
4 So-Important Schedule
I’ve been breastfeeding almost continuously for getting close to four years now, so it’s a big part of my daily life.
I schedule my days around when I’ll need to be around to provide a feeding (gladly).
And I know that if I for some reason miss a feeding, either because I have a meeting or appointment or, say, my baby is teething or sick and not into it when she normally would be, I will most likely need to pump.
If I don’t express that milk at around the same time that it I normally would (somehow), I might find myself engorged later that day or even early the next day.
Basically, the mother’s body adapts to the feeding schedule, and is ready to produce however much milk the baby needs at those same times each day.
This process is quite amazing, and the amount of milk produced adapts along with the baby’s needs. It’s a system of supply and demand.
Based on my experiences needing to sort of plan my whole life around this concept, I find it helpful and comforting when people understand how important the need is to not miss a feeding (or to be sure to replace it with pumping if it is missed).
It can be frustrating when people don’t understand what a commitment this is, and how important it is for my own comfort and health (engorgement can quickly become clogged ducts, which can become an infection, known as mastitis), too.
3 Drier Parts
Apparently experiencing dryness during intercourse is enough of a common thing for breastfeeding mothers that an Ob/Gyn I saw for my postpartum appointment mentioned it as standard.
Once he determined that new moms were sufficiently healed to resume normal activity (often at something like 6 weeks postpartum), if they were breastfeeding, he also told them they may wish to, quite frankly, pick up some lubricant at the drugstore.
It’s all related to those hormones.
These hormones may of course affect a gal’s experience of intimacy as well as her desire. Everyone’s different, though!
According to BabyCenter.com, “breastfeeding can suppress ovulation for months following birth — nature's way of preventing a new pregnancy from following too quickly on the heels of the last one.
Unfortunately, this also means that the amount of estrogen circulating in your body is far below normal levels, causing dryness down under and a general dampening of desire.”
They go on to say, though, “Of course, every woman is different, and many nursing mothers report that breastfeeding doesn't affect their libido one way or another. Some even feel more sexual than their bottle-feeding peers, finding breastfeeding an extremely pleasant, and even sensual, experience that can translate into amorous feelings for their partner. Nourishing a baby can also give women a renewed appreciation for their body, an attitude that may rub off in the bedroom.”
2 When To Bust Out The Bottle
Our family pediatrician advised us to introduce a bottle as soon as breastfeeding was “firmly established” and not at all too long after that.
A baby can get very set in his or her feeding ways. Basically, if she’s nearing 3 months old and has only ever eaten through breastfeeding, she might kind of be like, “What? Aw, heck no,” when a caregiver presents her with a bottle of milk or formula at mealtime instead.
On the contrary, if one is introduced before the months have passed, the baby will often be able to accept it as one of the normal methods by which it receives nourishment.
I know from experience!
I was set on only breastfeeding my baby, and giving no bottles (commonly referred to as exclusively breastfeeding, or EBF). My current life plan did not involve needing to be apart from her during feedings. Then, when I did think I would need to give her bottles for some feedings, she was already four months old and would not have ANY of it.
With my second, we introduced the bottle fairly early on just to have the option, and she loved both methods of dining.
A great reason to consider introducing a bottle may be to allow dad to do some of the feedings for practical reasons, to provide another time for him and baby to bond, or to give mom and dad the chance to have a night or afternoon out.
1 Papa’s A Special Person, Too
Whether you decide to include some bottles in your own baby’s feeding routine or he is exclusively breastfed, I think there is something it might be important for new or expectant dads to hear.
Just because you aren’t physically providing nourishment for your baby from your body, it does not at all mean that you aren’t an equally important and special person in your baby’s life.
I make this observation based on my own life and what I have witnessed in the families around me both while growing up and during this current child-bearing stage of life. (It’s not that complicated, if you ask me!)
But it’s backed up by research, too.
According to Parenting.com,
“The more involved a dad is, the more successful his children will be. A father's influence can determine a child's social life, grades at school, and future achievements.”
An article on that site continues, “The dad effect starts as early as birth. A review of studies by the Father Involvement Research Alliance shows that babies with more involved fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident in new situations, and eager to explore their surroundings. As they grow, they are more sociable. Toddlers with involved fathers are better problem-solvers and have higher IQs by age 3. They are more ready to start school and can deal with the stress of being away from home all day better than children with less involved fathers.”