How Men Can Support Breastfeeding

by Jenna Karvunidis
Originally Published: 
A father caresses his newborn baby's head

Men. Dudes. Husbands. Partners of any gender. We need to have a conversation about breastfeeding support. The truth is, feeding a human being from your own body kind of sucks in the beginning. (A pun! Stay with me, I’m a riot.) There’s latching to perfect and nipples afire, not to mention exhaustion. Then just as breastfeeding settles into a routine, there’s mastitis and thrush lurking around every corner like a ninja. We want to breastfeed though, because it keeps the baby from getting sick as often and makes a great excuse to leave parties early. Besides, after the initial two week-hazing period, breastfeeding is kinda fun. Keeping it up, however, requires the effort of two people. That’s right, having a supportive partner is instrumental in becoming a whiz-bang at boob feeding. WE NEED YOU.

“Supporting” isn’t just a concept though. Supporting is a set of actions. Let’s break this down into action-items. Are you ready, Rambo? (You: Let’s find out!)

If you want to support your partner to be successful at breastfeeding you can…

1. Make her a snack. We get so hungry while we’re breastfeeding, but it’s a need we often fail to anticipate since we’re not hungry when we sit down to feed. I have cut nursing sessions off early because I need a handful of nuts. Something. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but when my husband brings me a few crackers or a protein bar while I am nursing, I am so thankful.

2. Bring her a glass of water. The process to feed a baby goes like this: baby cries, mom gets into position, baby latches on, maybe fusses about the latch, sometimes the latch is wrong, baby keeps crying, mom’s boobs throb, milk squirts in the baby’s face, mom freaks out the baby is going to inhale milk, eventually there’s a calm (hopefully) and the baby nurses away. Then mom realizes she is very thirsty. Nursing triggers the hypothalamus to tell the brain that hey, we need some water. Like, pronto. But crap, the baby is finally nursing peacefully. Instead of enjoying the moment, it’s like dying in the desert. Help meeeeeeee!

3. When you hear the baby cry at night or in the morning (or whenever, for that matter) get out of bed, get the baby and bring her to mom. After about three months, I clued my husband in that after I’d been up all night nursing and sway-bouncing, I would pretty much trade my soul to lay there another minute in the morning. Lo, he started getting up to get the baby when she cried at dawn and brought her to me so I could nurse and rest. Now that I’m in my 5th month nursing my third kid, I’m like a sensei. I could nurse this kid into an origami flower if I wanted. So if you could just bring her to me, I can literally (that word again!) do this in my sleep.

4. Occupy the older children. Please. Calgon, take them away. For some reason, everyone is totally chill until I sit down to nurse. The moment I pop the baby on, suddenly everyone has to go to the bathroom and needs help getting into their princess costume or wants me to help them draw a frog. They also want to cuddle. Cuddling is great, but then it starts to feel like I’m buried under twelve tons of human flesh and no one can breathe and everything is the temperature of the sun. Maybe get these guys some legos? Thanks!

5. Keep a jolly face about it in public. Me, I don’t worry about whipping my breast out. Sorry! Not sorry! But I’ve been doing this on and off for over half a decade. (Damn. I just realized I miss heavy drinking.) When I first got started back in the dark ages of 2008, I still thought of my breasts as private parts. I had to summon my inner warrior just to discretely feed my baby under a blanket alone in a parked car. Eventually, the baby cried at a restaurant and then at Ikea and now I’d nurse bare-breasted on a parade float down Michigan Avenue. Actually, that would be fun. I got this way because my husband supported me first. If he’s ever been embarrassed of me breastfeeding in public, he’s kept that emotion under lock-and-key. All I see is a warm smile encouraging me to do my best. Thanks, pops!

6. If your partner shows signs of postpartum depression, make the call for her. I know this doesn’t have to do with nursing per se, but it’s really important. If your wife or girlfriend is crying more than a few times a day at first and crying every day several months after birth, pick up the phone and call her care provider. Make an appointment. Bring her in. These things may not seem that monumental, but trust me, when you are in the thick of PPD, navigating a string of phone calls is too daunting. This is an important step in taking care of your family and most likely you, dad, are the only one who really knows what’s going on with the mom in your house.

7. Clean the pump parts. Pumping is, in the apt words of the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg, a bee-yotch. I never got the hang of pumping myself partly because I didn’t want to deal with the ass-pain of cleaning the crap after I already dealt with the ass-pain of pumping in the first place. Enter: A supportive surprise in the kitchen of washed bottles and tubes! And maybe the dishes put in the dishwasher while you’re in there? And maybe take out the trash? Grab me a beer? I’ll stop.

8. If she makes the call to supplement with or switch to formula altogether, GTFO with your breast-is-best. This reminds me of all three of my labors where I had ideals of foregoing the epidural. There always comes a point when I can’t do it anymore. I can’t. I have day-long intense labors, small hips and I can’t f’ing do it, ok? There’s always that moment when I need “permission” from someone in the room to just give in and stop the torture. My husband is always hesitant at first, but I looked at him this time and said, “I’m serious. Get the anesthesiologist”. He got him. The dad’s job is support, not dictatorship.

Related post: The New Dad’s Guide to Surviving Your Wife

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