How can dads and partners support breastfeeding?

This article looks at how dads and partners can help support a new mum who is breastfeeding in the early days.

When it comes to breastfeeding, you might wonder what you can do to support your partner and baby. The truth is you can make a huge difference.

Did you know that a mum is more likely to choose to breastfeed if she’s sure her partner is positive about it? And if she does decide to breastfeed, she’s much more likely to have a good experience and manage any difficulties if her partner supports her decision (Tohotoa, 2009; Rempel, 2011). A partner’s emotional support is so important for helping mums to breastfeed for longer too (Tohatoa et al, 2009; Su, 2016).

Why is breastfeeding important?

If your partner is breastfeeding your baby – or planning to – that’s fantastic because breastmilk has so many benefits for babies. For instance, breastmilk can help to reduce the risk of your baby getting infections and diseases (NHS, 2017). It also contains hormones that help your baby’s development (Victora et al, 2016).

Overall, breastfeeding will have a positive impact on your baby’s health. What’s more, it can influence their health as an adult too (Victora et al, 2016).

Is breastfeeding hard or will my partner just know what to do?

Many parents see breastfeeding as a natural process but it can take time for mum and baby to learn this new skill together. It might take around six weeks to get the hang of it fully (NHS, 2016).

The good news is that with the right support, your partner can overcome any challenges and continue breastfeeding if she wants to. If you think your partner needs more information, support or just someone to talk to, why not give one of our trained breastfeeding counsellors a call on our support line: 0300 330 0700. The line is open every day from 8am to midnight, including bank holidays.

You might find it helpful to read up about breastfeeding and attend a breastfeeding session before your baby is born. This can help you know what to expect and perhaps give you a little more confidence. It can also help you both talk about feeding your baby and raise any questions or worries you might have.

What do I need to know about breastfeeding?

You might find it helpful to know how breastfeeding works and what normal behaviour is for breastfed babies. Here are a few quick and handy facts:

  • Babies are happier if they’re fed as soon as they show signs of being hungry.
  • Babies usually feed frequently (anything from eight to 12 times or more in 24 hours) in the early weeks, especially during the evenings.
  • Some babies are slow feeders at first, but they get quicker as they get older.
  • The more a baby feeds, the more milk their mum makes because it’s the removal of milk that drives the production of it.
  • The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least your baby’s first six months. Breastfeeding is also beneficial for toddlers because it gives them a health boost every time they feed. So your partner can breastfeed your baby for as long as they both want to.
  • Nipple soreness or pain during feeding might be a sign that a baby needs some adjustment to their attachment at the breast. If there is soreness or pain when breastfeeding, talking to a healthcare professional or breastfeeding counsellor can help.
  • Women enjoy feeding more when they are comfortable and relaxed.

(Department of Health, 2011; La Leche League, 2016; NHS, 2016)

What can I do to help support my partner with breastfeeding?

There are lots of things you can do to support and encourage breastfeeding.

Here are 10 tips:

  1. Boost your partner’s confidence by encouraging her and being positive about her progress. As with learning any new skill, reassurance and praise are a massive help.
  2. Listen and talk honestly about how you each feel about finding your way with your new baby.
  3. Be involved with your baby in other ways so that the caring is shared (see below).
  4. Help to reduce the household chores so your partner can feed your baby for as long and as often as they need.
  5. Try to help your partner to relax by giving them a massage.
  6. Women don’t need to eat anything special while breastfeeding, but it’s a good idea to encourage your partner to eat and drink regularly.
  7. Help her get specialist support if she’s struggling with breastfeeding. As mentioned above, you can both talk to one of our breastfeeding counsellors on 0300 330 0700.
  8. Help out by bottle feeding your baby expressed milk once your partner and baby have got the hang of breastfeeding (see below).
  9. Accept your partner’s decision on when to stop breastfeeding.
  10. Try to remember that with your support, breastfeeding can quickly become just another part of your family life.

(Rempel et al, 2010)

What practical support can I give to my baby if my partner is breastfeeding?

You might expect to feel like a bit of a spare part with feeding but it’s good to remember that each parent plays a different and vital role. The decision on how you feed your baby is certainly a joint one (deMontigny et al, 2018). It might take a while to get used to the different parts you play though.

Whatever you decide to do, you might actually find feeding is less important to you than you expected anyway. Especially if you’re hands-on with your baby in different and rewarding ways.

Tips for being a hands-on partner with your baby

  • Changing nappies and generally caring for your baby – it’s great if you can spend time with your baby and interact (see below) with them while you’re looking after them.
  • Bathing your baby – you could bath your baby or even have a bath with your baby. You’ll both enjoy the bonding benefits of skin-to-skin contact and one-to-one time together (NHS, 2018).
  • Talking and playing – babies enjoy hearing gentle sounds. They even recognise the muffled tones of people talking from their time in the womb and they’ll be aware of familiar voices like yours (Lee and Kisilevsky, 2013). So a chat with your baby might be a little one-sided but rest assured, they know it’s you. Socially interacting with your baby through their senses helps to stimulate their brain development; for example, you could pull some different expressions (Boucenna et al, 2010).
  • Baby carrying – this means taking your baby out and about in a sling. It can be a rewarding and comforting experience for both you and your baby (Miller, 2019).

For more ideas on being a hands-on parent, see our article about bonding with and getting to know your baby.

How can I share feeding our baby?

If you’re keen to feed your baby, you could give them expressed breastmilk from a spoon, syringe, cup or a bottle. But only introduce your baby to a bottle once breastfeeding is going well. For more on expressing, see our 10 bottle feeding tips for breastfed babies article.

And once your baby’s moved on to solid food, there are so many ways you can get involved with that…chopping, mashing, cleaning up all the food that ends up on the floor…

I want to support breastfeeding but will it affect our sex life?

Possibly, but tiredness – and your partner's birth experience and recovery – is more likely to affect their sex drive rather than breastfeeding (Rowland et al, 2005). See our article about breastfeeding and sex for more details.

What if I feel uncomfortable about my partner breastfeeding in public?

If you’re feeling uncomfortable or nervous about your partner breastfeeding in public, have a chat with her so you can talk it through. Maybe you’re worried about your partner showing her breasts in public? Yet in reality, very little breast actually shows when a baby is feeding. You might have even seen a mum breastfeeding before without realising it.

It might also help to talk to other families where the mum is breastfeeding and find out about both partners’ experiences of it. The chances are, you’ll change your mind as you get used to seeing breastfeeding.

It’s good to know that breastfeeding in public is protected by the law under the Equality Act 2010. That means providers of any services or facilities open for the public are not allowed to discriminate against women who are breastfeeding (Maternity Action, 2019).

Many places now welcome breastfeeding and have special facilities for mums if they’d prefer to feed in private.

Some mums might feel uncertain themselves about feeding in public at first and may appreciate the reassurance of having their partner with them.

At the end of the day…

Don’t underestimate the huge difference you can make if your partner is breastfeeding. With you both on board, breastfeeding can quickly become an everyday part of your lives (Rempel, 2011).

This page was last reviewed in October 2017.

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Visit our breastfeeding support contacts page.

NHS Choices breastfeeding information.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.

Health Talk has some interesting videos about different people’s experiences of breastfeeding, click here to view them.

 

Boucenna S, Gaussier P, Andry P, Hafemeister L. (2010) Imitation as a communication tool for online facial expression learning and recognition. 2010 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, Taipei: 5323-5328. Available at: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/5650357 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

deMontigny F, Gervais C, Larivière-Bastien D, St-Arneault K. (2018) The role of fathers during breastfeeding. Midwifery. 58:6-12. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29272696 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Department of Health. (2011) Breastfeeding. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publichealth/Nutrition/Nutritionpregnancyearlyyears/DH_127625 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

La Leche League. (2016) Still nursing? Available at: https://www.laleche.org.uk/still-nursing/ (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Lee GY, Kisilevsky BS. (2013) Fetuses respond to father's voice but prefer mother's voice after birth. Dev Psychobiol. 2014 Jan;56(1):1-11. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23817883 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Miller R. (2019). Babywearing education in the neonatal intensive care unit. The International journal of childbirth education: the official publication of the International Childbirth Education Association. 34. 43-47. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334151320_Babywearing_Education_in_the_Neonatal_Intensive_Care_Unit (Accessed 1st July 2018)

NHS. (2016) How to combine breast and bottle feeding. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/combining-breast-and-bottle/  (Accessed 1st July 2018)

NHS. (2017) Benefits of breastfeeding. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/benefits-breastfeeding.aspx (Accessed 1st July 2018)

NHS. (2018) Washing and bathing your baby. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/washing-your-baby/ (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Rempel LA, Rempel JK. (2010) The breastfeeding team: the role of involved fathers in the breastfeeding family. J Hum Lact. (2):115-21. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0890334410390045 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Rowland M, Foxcroft L, Hopman WM, Patel R. (2005) Breastfeeding and sexuality immediately post partum. Can Fam Physician. 2005 Oct;51:1366-7. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1479788/ (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Su M, Ouyang YQ. (2016) Father's role in breastfeeding promotion: lessons from a quasi-experimental trial in China. Breastfeed Med. 11:144-9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26836960 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Tohotoa J, Maycock B, Hauck Y, Howat P, Burns S, Binns C. (2009) Dads make a difference: an exploratory study of paternal support for breastfeeding in Perth, Western Australia. Int Breastfeed J. 4:15. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2788531/ (Accessed 1st July 2018)

Victora CG, Bahl R, Barros AJ, França GV, Horton S, Krasevec J, Murch S, Sankar MJ, Walker N, Rollins NC; Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group. (2016) Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 387(10017):475-90. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26869575 (Accessed 1st July 2018)

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