World Breastfeeding Week took place earlier this month, so in order to continue promoting the importance of breastfeeding, we asked Dr Tom York of GPDQ, the UK’s first doctor-on-demand app, to share his expert advice for new dads and soon-to-be dads about how you can help your partner to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding has various advantages over formula feeding; it’s free so helps save parents and the NHS money. It’s healthy, the antibodies found in breast milk cannot be replicated in formula milk and give your baby an important early boost to their immune system. It’s good for the environment, no waste packaging and no boiling the kettle each time you need to prepare a feed. It’s natural, there can be no concerns about the chemicals your baby is ingesting when all they feed on is breast milk. It’s comforting, the bonding experience between mother and baby is magical and lower rates of postnatal depression occur in mothers who breastfeed.
Despite its many advantages, mothers should be free to choose whether to breastfeed or not. However, every mother should be given the opportunity to breastfeed and be supported as much as possible if she chooses to do so. As a dad, this is where you come in.
Set-up a comfy environment
Before the baby is born, you can help create the ideal breastfeeding environment. A warm, quiet room, free from drafts and with soft lighting is ideal. A comfortable chair in which mum can sit upright such as a rocking chair is essential. Also consider buying a breastfeeding pillow as this will be incredibly useful for the first few months, providing extra comfort.
Breastfeeding can be stressful, especially in the early days when mum and baby are still getting the hang of it. It’s really important for dads to stay positive and be encouraging. Your partner will be exhausted and may go through periods of feeling quite overwhelmed. You need to be a rock. Listen to your partner when she needs to vent, encourage her if she needs it and congratulate her when things are going well.
Remember to allow respite
The broken sleep and baby’s regular need to breastfeed takes its toll on every new mum. Several times a day, try and take baby on your own. Either go for a walk or even just into a different room. Your partner will become hypersensitive to any noises baby makes, so being out of earshot for a while will really help her to fully relax and get some well-earned sleep.
Help with housework
Unless she’s superwoman, your partner will have little time or energy for doing anything more than looking after baby, breastfeeding and sleeping, especially in the first few weeks. Keeping the house tidy will help you both feel like you’re winning at parenthood. Also, keep your partner well supplied with tasty, healthy meals and snacks as breastfeeding can be hungry work.
Take control of the baby bag
The time will come when you want to start venturing outside as a new family. You can be in charge of stocking the baby bag with clothes, wipes, nappies and anything your partner might need to breastfeed in public such as a cushion, a sheet for privacy and a spare maternity top. Going through the bag to restock and putting dirty clothing in the wash will help you stay on top of things and be ready for the next trip out.
Many mums give up on breastfeeding due to the baby struggling to get a strong attachment to the nipple. Dads can’t help much with this one aside from being supportive and encouraging. It’s important for the baby to be in a comfortable horizontal position with their nose at the level of the nipple. This allows the baby to extend their neck and helps the nipple end up in the roof of the mouth which creates the strongest latch.
Mothers produce milk due to hormonal changes which occur as a response to nipple contact and to the sound of baby crying. It can take several days for the flow of milk to match baby’s demands but be assured that this will almost always happen naturally with time. This balance can be interrupted if you alternate breastfeeding with bottle feeding and it can make returning to exclusively breastfeeding quite difficult. The key here is persistence, so if you want to breastfeed, only resort to supplementing with a bottle if advised to by a health professional.
All babies will regurgitate milk as their tiny stomachs start to adapt to being regularly filled. With regurgitated milk comes stomach acid which can be uncomfortable. The best way to help with this before resorting to medication, is to position baby upright after feeding and wind them by gently patting them on the back. This can take ages in newborns and is the perfect job for dads while mum gets something to drink or takes a shower.
Breastfeeding can take several weeks before it becomes second nature and during this time, support from dads is invaluable. As a dad, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re benefiting your child’s health, your partner’s emotional wellbeing, not to mention the economy and the environment by doing all you can to help your partner perform one of nature’s greatest inventions, the magic of breastfeeding.
About the expert
Dr Tom York is dad-of-one and a NHS-registered and private GP for GPDQ, the UK’s first doctor-on-demand app.He is based in South London and has an interest in preventative medicine and musculoskeletal disorders. He’s been a GP for four years and sees GPDQ patients outside of his full time NHS role.