It is easy to say that the significant other is important in the lives of the newborn and partner, but it can be hard at times to see how to participate— especially during the early months. It may help to keep in mind that little things mean a great deal at this time: a word of encouragement for your partner as she adjusts to her new routine, an offer to help with the housework or care for the baby while she takes a nap, or a confident defense when a friend or relative questions her decision to breastfeed on demand. These small acts let your partner know that you firmly support her decision to breastfeed and that you’ll continue to support her.
Many studies have shown the support of a loving partner is the most important deciding factor in whether or not a woman chooses to initiate and continue breastfeeding. After all, you are the baby’s other parent and perhaps your partner’s closest friend. By seconding the decision to give your child the best possible nourishment, your actions can have a decisive and immediate impact on your baby’s life.
One of the first steps you can take as the partner of a breastfeeding mother is to educate yourself regarding breastfeeding’s many benefits. You might also ask your baby’s pediatrician to discuss the advantages of breast milk over formula and give you an idea what to expect in practical terms during your baby’s first few months of life. If at all possible, attend breastfeeding classes with your partner. By understanding how breastfeeding is accomplished, you can better help your partner after the birth as she learns such techniques as positioning your baby for proper latch-on. Remember that many people still are not aware of the tremendous benefits of breastfeeding and have not been part of a breastfeeding relationship.
Immediately after birth you can support your partner’s decision to begin breastfeeding by helping to make her comfortable in the delivery room. While in the hospital, you can take turns holding, rocking, and changing diapers so she can sleep between feedings. Also, you can support your mutual decision that the baby is not to receive a pacifier, a bottle, or supplemental formula without a clear medical reason. If your baby is unable to breastfeed due to an illness, you can ask to have a breast pump for your partner and help her get it ready for use.
Once you are all home from the hospital and family life has begun, your role as the partner of a breastfeeding mother will take on a new importance. As your baby’s mother concentrates on establishing her breastfeeding routine, you can focus on keeping the household running efficiently and acting as a buffer for possible distractions to successful breastfeeding. If possible, take some time off work to prepare meals, keep up with the laundry, keep older children entertained, and otherwise allow mother and new baby to concentrate on learning to breastfeed and getting the rest they need.
Offer your partner food and drink while she’s nursing, bring her pillows if she needs them to position the baby, and provide her with a book, telephone, diapers, or whatever else she likes to have near at hand. If you see that she’s having trouble nursing— if she experiences discomfort with breastfeeding or she worries that the baby’s not getting enough milk—use your own observations and insights to help her make adjustments in the feeding technique. If you see that she’s still struggling but is reluctant to ask for help, assist her to seek outside professional help, and tell her that you are there to assist in any way possible. She will appreciate your concern and steadfast support.
Your Time With Baby
As you and your partner become more familiar with the routines of parenting, you can help with diaper changes, baths, and playtimes so your partner can sleep between feedings and perhaps enjoy a little time to herself. These interactions withyour newborn are excellent opportunities for you to create your own unique relationship with him. In the beginning, your baby will have less “awake time,” but as the baby gets older, you will find that the baby has more time to play.
After feeding, a content baby is usually happy to snuggle up against your chest for a nap or may be ready to play. Make the most of these moments—smiling and talking with your baby as you change his diaper, playfully splashing him in the bathtub if he enjoys getting splashed, holding and rocking him when he cries, and making up fun little games that he plays only with you. Babies also love to be part of such “grown-up” activities as taking a walk outside and “reading” books and magazines. As your child regularly experiences these times with you, he will understand that you are your own special parent and not just a substitute for Mommy.