New research confirms that postpartum support - from a partner in particular - tends to have more influence on breastfeeding initiation and continuation than more formal support from a healthcare provider.
In the early days of having a newborn, the non-breastfeeding partner may feel concerned that they can’t do much to help with the baby. On the contrary, there are plenty of things to do to support the breastfeeding mother: Here are just a few of them.
- Bring snacks. Breastfeeding moms are a hungry bunch! They require about 300-500 additional calories per day. One-handed snacks like nuts, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, and fruit are ideal because generally one hand is occupied with the baby. Snacking becomes a way of life when breastfeeding.
- Bring water. Breastfeeding can make a mom very thirsty - the initial letdown is sometimes like a switch gets flipped and they need water NOW.
- Help her get comfortable. A successful breastfeeding session starts with the mom’s comfort. Pillows behind the back, a stool for the feet, and a blanket on the lap are all ways to increase comfort. When nursing a newborn, mom will probably be in one spot for a while (babies can nurse for anywhere from 10-40 minutes), so they might as well be as comfortable as possible.
- If any breastfeeding tools are being used (supplemental nursing systems, nursing pillows, etc), give a hand in helping get them set up and ready. It makes a nursing session much easier if these things are at the ready when it’s time to sit down.
- If mom is pumping breast milk, washing pump parts is one of the nicest things a partner can do to help. If there is a pumping plan in place or if mom is working outside the home, having pump parts ready to go is greatly appreciated.
- When the baby wakes in the middle of the night to nurse, change the diaper. It’s a great opportunity to work as a team - the non-breastfeeding partner can change the diaper so that the breastfeeding partner can focus on feeding the baby.
- Bring the baby to mom. If the baby is in a separate sleeping space, a very supportive action is to get up and bring baby to mom. It’s one less thing mom has to worry about, and a couple more seconds of shut eye for her.
- Give encouragement. Breastfeeding can be difficult - especially in the early days when you’re sleep-deprived and everything is new. Moms need to hear that they’re doing a great job and that their hard work is appreciated.
- Give mom a break. After a 2-hour cluster feeding session, mom may want a hot bath or a moment to rest. Talk to your partner about tag-teaming to make sure everyone is getting some R and R.
- Help mom find support. Breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally, and many moms need additional support in the beginning. Find local resources like the nearest IBCLC, mom’s groups, or Baby Blues Connection. Have a list available just in case she needs it.
Consider these ways to be involved in the breastfeeding journey - your partner will be grateful for the support and encouragement!
Note: There are many ways that families can provide milk for their babies; for the purpose of this post, the author uses she/her pronouns in regards to the breastfeeding parent.
Reference: Impact of Male-Partner-Focused Interventions on Breastfeeding Initiation, Exclusivity, and Continuation. Mitchell-Box, Braun, 2013. Journal of Human Lactation 29(4) 473–479
Adrienne Koznek, IBCLC, provides home visit lactation consultations to families in Portland and surrounding areas. She has a special interest in the newborn period and oral restriction.
Learn more about Adrienne at Wy'East Lactation.