Spoiler alert: you don’t have boobs. Well, you don’t have functional ones. This puts you in a tricky position during breastfeeding: you want to be there for your wife while she tackles this very serious task, and also provide relief from all the difficult parts of the process — the soreness, the frustration, the lack of sleep. That being said, you also don’t want to overstep your bounds during this important mother-child time.
So how do you strike the right balance? To offer some clarity, we reached out to several women who kindly shared the best things their partners did to help their nursing go a bit smoother. However you pitch in understand that your practical and emotional support during breastfeeding is a vital part of the process.
1. Figure Out What She Needs
Granted, this can be easier said than done when it’s 4 AM and you’re on 20 minutes of sleep, but divining your partner’s needs is one of the most important things all moms expressed. Laurie, a mom from New York, says her husband asked gently probing questions to figure out what his role would be during her nursing. Does the mom want bonding and cuddling? Does she miss something from her life before becoming a mom in particular? With answers to these sorts of questions, “you can work as a team to make the best of her breastfeeding journey,” Laurie said.
2. Keep The Older Kids Occupied
All moms were adamant that dads on their second or third kid have a critical job during nursing: keeping the older kids out of mom’s hair so she can concentrate on the little one. Connecticut mom Claire said she appreciated it the most when her partner would be sure to take the kids somewhere else while she was breastfeeding. “Get the other kids out of the house so mom can relax and have some downtime,” she recommended.
3. Don’t Press Too Hard
Nursing doesn’t come easy for every mom. The process can make many feel frayed or even inadequate if a baby won’t latch. Several moms we spoke with said it’s their partner’s duty to feel out the room and understand when a mom needs some alone time. Pennsylvania mom Hazel recalled being such a stressed out breastfeeder that the best thing her her husband did was to leave her alone and stop watching her fail. And she added: “Don’t make her feel like a failure if you need to supplement breast milk with formula,” she said.
4. Act As Her Breast Pump Pit Crew
If mom’s using a pump, you can provide valuable technical support by making sure all parts and accessories are cleaned and laid out properly. New Jersey mom Ellen said her husband was integral by helping to clean the breast pump components to ensure it was ready whenever she needed it. After her maternity leave ended, Ellen said that her husband would lay the gear out the night before so in the morning she could grab it and go to work.
5. Be a Human Book on Tape
California mom of three Ami recalled that when she had her first child her husband would bring the baby to her bed for the late night feedings and stay to read from their copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. “It was wonderful to have the company and companionship,” she said. “Breastfeeding an infant at 3 a.m. can be very lonely and isolating. Having a partner who is willing to sit up with you and keep you company makes a huge difference.”
6. Have Snacks And Drinks at The Ready
Moms need to eat extra after giving birth — the general recommendation is to eat 500 calories more per day than they did before becoming pregnant. Unfortunately, nursing leaves little time for elaborate meals. Colorado mom Laura said the number one thing her husband did for her was to always have snacks and water at the ready. Whatever snacks you pick, make sure they’re ready to eat with one hand.
7. Give Mom the Gift of Quiet
Remember the above advice about figuring out what mom wants? Well, not every mom is going to want you to whisper encouragement in their ear as they spend the wee hours of the morning with an infant latched to their teat. Some appreciate a little space and it’s your job to build it. In those scenarios, what you can do is give mom a space of her own. “I treasured my alone time nursing late at night in the rocker before I went to bed and the baby was nursing asleep,” said Dawn, a mom from Vermont. “[My partner] Josh made sure I was all set up with remote, books, snacks, tea, water, etc.”
8. Be Ready to Listen
When mom is breastfeeding she’s going to encounter problems that you can’t solve. And that will be hard because you will want to provide solutions. But all moms said that it’s integral to let her vent and be a patient, sympathetic listener and cool it on any MacGyver-ing you might have planned. “If she complains, it’s because breastfeeding is so hard,” said New York mom Lauren.“Listen first,” Lauren declares.