During a recent lactation visit with a family, I asked the father how he was doing - I always ask questions like this during my visits because I know that how a family is coping with the demands of early parenthood has a huge influence on breastfeeding and mental health.
This father had been very involved throughout the visit, and he answered me: "I've been told that my job is to feed and water the mother and so I've been doing my best at that!"
I really appreciated his answer. I also assured him that from what I had witnessed, he was doing much more than just "feeding and watering" (though that is certainly important!). He had participated in the entire visit, asking questions and helping the mother by fetching things from another room, changing baby's diaper while we set up her pump, etc.
I left that visit feeling very confident that this family would reach their goals. And that if they didn't, they would support each other through it because that father was just as much invested in his wife and child's early breastfeeding experience as they were.
Research actually shows us that families are more influential on breastfeeding than professionals. Women also report that their partner's influence is greater than all others.
That means that there's a HUGE opportunity for fathers to play a positive role in the breastfeeding experience of their partner and child.
What can partners do to positiviely impact breastfeeding?
Here are the ways I've come across so far that partners can help support the breastfeeding relationship:
Provide practical support - this is the "feeding and watering" I mentioned earlier. In addition to that, be an active partner with household tasks. If you have older children, take this as an opportunity to spend extra time caring for them.
Learn about breastfeeding - research has shown that when fathers are better informed on breastfeeding it's more successful. Being knowledgable on the basics of breastfeeding such as the benefits, normal baby behaviors, and how to know when extra support is needed helps you to be more confident as you support and encourage your partner. To do this, attend classes with your partner or educate yourself via online resources.
Communicate with your partner regularly - pay attention to how and when she wants you to be involved in breastfeeding.
Be responsive to what is needed - this includes knowing when help is NOT needed. Trust your partner - sometimes all that is needed is moral support and encouragement.
Support breastfeeding in public places and actively share your experiences with breastfeeding with friends and family. This can go a long way to making your partner feel comfortable breastfeeding in these settings!
Build your own unique bond with baby - breastfeeding is just one of the many ways we care for babies. All other forms: carrying, cuddling, playing, bathing, and comforting can be done by fathers.
When caring for babies, fathers undergo hormonal and neurobiological changes that tune them into care – the more they care, the more their biology and brain changes.
Human parenting is meant to be done as a collective, so when a father has a strong bond with his child, it positively affects the mother's bond as well - WIN WIN!