What About My Partner and Breastfeeding?

I often get asked about how partners can best support breastfeeding. I thought it would be most helpful to future parents to learn from those who are fresh to the experience. I asked a breastfeeding support group that I often visit to give me their feedback on how their partners have been most helpful to them in their breastfeeding journey. The participants in these conversations have babies 2 weeks to 1 year old.

Here are some of their responses:

Q: What are some practical ways your partner can be helpful in your breastfeeding journey?

“Once home from the hospital my partner started changing all diapers before each feeding. This gave me at least 10 min to go to the bathroom, gather what I needed for the feeding like my boppy pillow and clean my nipple shield.  It took me several weeks before I felt like I could do these things with my baby in tow.” Mother of a 3-month-old.

“My husband took on cleaning the pump parts after each use.  I had to triple feed for the first 2 weeks because my baby had jaundice and some weight loss.  Triple feeding is a big commitment, it is time consuming and comes with extra work like cleaning the pump parts.  He helped me achieve my goal of exclusive breastfeeding by taking this task on” Mother of 8-month-old.

“My wife would change our baby’s diaper and do skin to skin for about 20 min before each feeding.  We started this in the hospital. This helped us to recognize hunger cues before our daughter went from zero to a hundred with crying. Once she starts crying, it is hard from me to latch her. We are still doing this practice” Mother of 2-week-old.

“My husband calms our son down by walking around the house and bouncing him.  Hearing my son cry makes me anxious and I am unable to latch him comfortably. It’s getting easier for me to calm him as he gets older but when my husband is home, he takes on this job.  This keeps me calmer and makes breastfeeding happen faster.” Mother of 8-week-old.

Q: How has your partner’s support adapted throughout your breastfeeding journey?

“My partner kept me well fed and hydrated in the early weeks of breastfeeding.  I remember being so thirsty every time I breastfed and hungry all day. My partner would make me a snack every time I would breastfeed and have Gatorade and water handy for me. Now our son is older, and our breastfeeding needs are different.  My biggest need is TIME for myself. My partner understands this, so they have taken on the responsibility of bath time, and playing with him in the evening.  This gives me at least an hour every evening for self-care. My partner also makes our baby food, this frees me up from another responsibility.” Mother of 10-month-old.

Lastly, I interviewed a dad that has two children that breastfed for 1 year. He, like most dads did not know what to expect and had no specific training regarding breastfeeding or babies. He has since become an OBGYN:

Q: Given your experience and training as an OBGYN, is there anything you would have done differently in providing support to your breastfeeding partner?

“Overall, there isn’t anything that I would have done differently. I learned that babies are resilient and although I may have fumbled some, they were ok. I tell my patient’s partners the same thing. Just get in there and do not be afraid of the baby.”

I think this is a huge take away, even as an expert now, he does not feel like there is a special check list that makes or breaks this process.

He did offer this perspective:

“I wish I would have suggested pumping and bottle feeding for nighttime feedings so that she could have had more rest once our babies were a little older. As an OBGYN I would not suggest that in the early days as baby and mom are still figuring everything out but months later, I think this can be helpful to some mothers.  I remember my wife needing more rest and I think I could have helped at night more often if we considered this feeding method.”

Here are some other pieces of advice we received from partners regarding what they learned and how they would support their breastfeeding partners differently:

“I would have checked in with her on her needs more often, offering options but deferring to her mother’s intuition.”

“I think this is what really sets a mom up for success with breastfeeding. It’s about supporting HER goals and being flexible in meeting the changing needs that come up for her throughout the breastfeeding journey.

“Finally, let your breastfeeding partner know that you trust her, believe in her, and are thankful to her for the work and care she is giving to providing breast milk to your baby.”

Authored by Ann Gabaldon. Ann Gabaldon is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). She has been a practicing IBCLC for 11 years, working with dyads in both the hospital and in the home. Ann chose lactation and midwifery work after having her two children that are now 18 and 15 years old. In 2020 she graduated from the University of New Mexico with a master’s in nursing and licensed as a CNM where she now practices full scope midwifery care in New Mexico.