Cornerman's Guide to Breastfeeding

Cornerman's Guide to Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is natural and easy for about one-third of new mothers. Another third experience hurdles they can get through with help, and the final third experience major problems and are most likely to quit without lots of assistance. Odds are she will need your support; this starts within an hour after birth. Your fighter is back in the ring.

If her baby is not breastfeeding successfully, she can feel she is failing as a mother. If you know what to do and have her back, she’ll remember it for life.

Breastfeeding Cornerman Guide

Your role is to help her meet her goals for breastfeeding, totally bond with her baby, and feel like a good mom. You can encourage her, help her resolve issues that develop, show your appreciation for her commitment to your baby.

Here is what you need to know for her first attempts:

  1. Get educated; see below.
  2. Start pre-baby.

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3. Once at the hospital, ask the nurse what kind of support to expect for breastfeeding. 

4. For your baby’s first feeding, get mom comfortable so her diapered-only infant can lie on her bare chest to reach her breast. See Help Her Get in Position.

5. Her breasts need to “let down” for her milk to flow and relaxation is key, so reassure her and give a quick shoulder rub if she wants.

6. Time for the docking/hooking up maneuver called “latch.” See Getting a Good Latch On.

7. If your baby starts crying, take him and calm him down, and then give him back for another try with your encouragement.  Repeat as necessary.

8. If problems arise, ask for the nurse/lactation consultant. Take notes on their advice, as mom may have trouble remembering. The notes also become your playbook. 

Background on Breastfeeding for Dads

  • It is a huge commitment by Mom.
  • A newborn eats 8 to 12 times over a 24-hour period.
  • She needs a comfortable nursing station, perhaps with a glider and ottoman.
  • Frequent nursing in the first days will get milk production going; a baby’s sucking messages Mom’s brain to produce more milk. The baby primes and keeps the pump producing (demand = supply).
  • Engorgement can occur as her milk “comes in” over 2 to 5 days. Her breasts can swell painfully; the solution is more nursing and cold compresses to help relieve the pain.
  • Babies generally lose several ounces at first but gain it all back by the time they are 2 weeks old. On day one their stomach is the size of a marble and by day 10 the size of an egg.
  • In public, help her find a comfortable place to breastfeed. She will need to get used to breastfeeding in front of others.
  • Breastfeeding moms returning to work find the transition tough.
  • Your support can have a big impact on her breastfeeding and her.

Help Her Get a Good Start

A good start on breastfeeding will make a brand new mom feel she is a good mom; the alternative really sucks for her. Your support can make all the difference. 

Help Her Get in Position

After she holds her baby for a while, when she is ready to breastfeed, help her change positions and place your baby as illustrated. 

Help her lean back in bed with pillows behind her with her baby laying on her stomach and chest. Make sure she is comfortable. Your baby’s cheek should be near her breast. 

With a C-section, place your baby across her chest and not over her incision.

Get Educated and Ready

While babies have the instinct to breastfeed, they still need to get it down with some practice. Same with mom, and moms and babies are all unique, so they have to work out what works best – with your help. One dad characterized breastfeeding as a plumbing operation; e.g., mom's breast needs to be properly seated in the baby’s mouth to turn on the tap. 

How about going to a breastfeeding class with her? They can be boring, but if she is having problems, you being prepared and handling them with her is gold for your post-baby relationship. The research shows that the best things for her success are a breastfeeding class and having a supportive partner: no better way to start than going with her.

Here are several short videos on the basics of starting breastfeeding for the first time (you can watch them together with mom before your baby arrives).

An experienced mom shows how to get a good latch on her newborn (2:27) A more detailed review of latching (several videos) 

Here are some other resources:

BabyCenter Breastfeeding Troubleshooting Guide 

43-page PDF on breastfeeding from

Skin-to-Skin Time First

After your baby is born and you are together alone, mom can do what the cave moms did - hold their naked (diapered today) baby on their bare chest next to her breasts. This triggers mom-baby bonding gold – technically they are generating oxytocin bursts in each other, which breastfeeding supercharges. You will get plenty of time to try this yourself in the hospital.

With a C-section, Mom will be in the OR for a while so you can generate your baby’s first oxytocin burst. Skin-to-skin enhances its potency, so go for it. You will get a burst too, but it may not feel it unless you are able to focus on your baby despite worrying about Mom, etc. Enjoy and turn your baby over to Mom when she arrives from the OR.


Help Them Get Hooked Up

This is her next big challenge as a mom. The position of your mouth is key to achieving latch on; having a different view from mom allows you to see things she won’t notice. Back to the plumbing analogy – your baby’s mouth needs to be properly seated on moms breast to turn on the tap. With a wide-open mouth, a baby half swallows mom’s breast with her nipple ending up well back in his mouth. 

Help Her Focus with a Short Video on Latch

Here is a very short video for mom on getting a good latch. Take a look and offer to show it to mom before she nurses the first time - after the anesthesia wears off from a C-section and before your baby is crying from hunger. She will have just experienced birth, and this helps her focus on hooking up with her baby. 

Getting a Good Latch (0:55)

Latching Guidelines for Mom

Offer to read these to her:

  1. Gently touch the area between the baby’s nose and upper lip with your nipple. This will stimulate your baby to open wide.
  2. When the baby opens wide, hug him close by pressing his chin into your breast.
  3. Mom’s nipple should be inserted just below the baby’s nose.
  4. Place your nipple deep in the baby’s mouth, resting just in front of the beginning of the soft palate; usually about 1 to 1½ inches of nipple and areola are in the baby’s mouth.
  5. If you feel the baby’s gums moving on the nipple, the nipple is not far enough back.
  6. The baby’s chin and cheeks should be touching the breast. The nose should be near the breast but not pushing into the breast.
  7. To reposition him, mom can insert her finger in the side of the baby’s mouth to break the suction.

Getting a Good Latch (0:55)

Call in the Reinforcements

If mom is having problems with breastfeeding, assist her in getting help starting with a lactation consultant while still in the hospital. If problems continue, there are plenty of resources, so “nip it in the bud” as problems can fester.  If she’s reluctant, offer to do the following:

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  • Ask the nurse for a lactation consultant. If you’ve gone home, ask the hospital or your physician for a referral. Take notes for guidance later.
  • Check with your hospital and online for breastfeeding support groups.
  • Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline at 800-994-9662.
  • Contact the La Leche League at 877-452-5324 or
  • If her lactation consultant is actually contributing to her stress, find another one.

If problems persist, keep encouraging mom. Ultimately, she’ll want to know she took her best shot.

“When I was willing to give up, it was nice for my husband to encourage me and give me tips. He had listened really well to the lactation consultant in the hospital because my brain was going in a million different directions. He took notes and would bring them out, and be like, ‘Okay, well, let’s try this, this and this.’ And I was afraid to admit that it wasn’t going well and call the lactation consultant, but he wasn’t and he was my advocate.”  –New Mom

At the Hospital: Accommodating Her Choices

If mom decides not to breastfeed, inform the hospital staff so they’re on the same page and facilitating your needs to get formula feeding going.

The OB nurses may also serve as breastfeeding advocates and have questions about her choice and offer encouragement and advice. If she is fully decided on her choice and feels she is being pushed, you (Dad) should clearly state her choice, and make clear it is final. Inform the staff: “Her doctor supports her decision, and she would like to keep her reasons private.” No further explanation is necessary. 

Using a Bottle and Formula at the Hospital

Once your baby is ready to feed, they will provide you a bottle and formula.

  1. Suggest that Mom lie back on the bed with pillows behind her so her baby can lay on her, face up, for feeding. 
  2. Position your baby so Mom can comfortably hold a bottle in his mouth and hand her the bottle.
  3. To trigger his “rooting reflex,” she can squeeze the bottle’s nipple so it gets wet with milk, and tickle his lips with it so he opens his mouth. 
  4. Then place the nipple on the soft palette on the roof of his mouth to trigger his sucking reflex. It may take him a little while to learn to do it.
  5. Encourage Mom to take her time feeding her baby (and enjoy their mutual oxytocin exchange). Next best thing to breastfeeding.

Benefits for Your Child, Mom and Dad

The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the benefits of breastfeeding as follows:

For Your Baby

Breastfeeding decreases the possibility that your baby will get a variety of infectious diseases, increases survival in the first year of life, decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and increases the brain's cognitive development (the National Institutes of Health clarified this with “however, more research is needed to confirm this finding”).

For the Mother

Breastfeeding mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster and have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer. They also experience less postpartum bleeding, as the hormones that help with breastfeeding also make the uterus contract.

For the Family

Breastfeeding facilitates bonding and attachment between mother and baby. Fathers and other children can participate by helping the mother with burping and rocking the baby, making sure the mother is eating and drinking enough, and helping with breast pump equipment and bottles. 

For the Community

Breastfeeding is lean, green, and clean. Breastfed babies are at a lower risk of being obese children. Breastfeeding won't put a huge dent in your wallet, it saves water, and it doesn't use energy for manufacturing or pollute the environment with garbage or air pollution. There is no worry about the risk of contamination from bacteria or other substances. It is always fresh, at the right temperature, and ready to feed! 

We added...

We Added “For Dad”

If she runs into problems, supporting her will earn you points for life; a great opportunity to show her you will be there for her. You can help her make the transition back to work, and she gets to feel like she is a good mother. Your baby benefits, there's no cost, and breast milk diapers don’t smell bad. What’s not to love?

We Added More for Mom

Perhaps the most important benefit for a new mom is how she feels once she and her baby get breastfeeding down. Little can boost her confidence as a mom more and make her feel more connected to her baby.

Major Stress on Mom

Even with breastfeeding issues, one way or another your baby will be fed, and will thrive. Mom, however, may end up with heavy stress and feelings of guilt, shame and failure. Your role may include reminding her often “You are the best mom possible for our baby.”

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Picture her bringing her infant to her breast for the first time: beautiful! Except maybe your baby fails to “latch,” so she tries again, maybe doing something different, and it still doesn’t work. Now your baby is getting hungrier and starts crying, and Mom is getting upset because the baby has to eat, and the cries grow bigger, as does Mom’s frustration and stress level, and she feels like she is failing as a mom. 

Fold in her mind-numbing sleep deprivation in those first few weeks, the sore nipples and engorgement, blocked milk ducts or milk supply problems that may accompany breastfeeding, and the impact of her hormones, and she is facing very tough circumstances. 

"Today, my daughter wasn't taking the nipple shield, and shrieked for 30+ minutes before we finally got her fed and it reduced my wife to a sobbing mess."   –New Dad, 1 Day In

When You Google Breastfeeding

When you run into problems you usually google, and when you do this (“moms breastfeeding”), you’ll find that advocates can get carried away with the benefits and on restrictions like using a pacifier. If your next thought is “This is BS; I’ll tell her to screw it,” you might want to give it a second thought.

When You Google Breastfeeding

When you run into problems you usually google, and when you do this (“moms breastfeeding”), you’ll find that advocates can get carried away with the benefits and on restrictions like using a pacifier. If your next thought is “This is BS; I’ll tell her to screw it,” you might want to give it a second thought.

We tried and then decided to stop. After we stopped, things were actually worse because my wife felt like such a failure and that she should still breastfeed … I should have encouraged her to continue and bag the rules.   –New Dad

Why Breastfeeding Advocates Can Be So Aggressive

Formula was aggressively promoted to moms as better than breastmilk, and breastfeeding rates in the U.S. dropped to 22% by 1972. Nestlé promoted it around the world including in poor countries where mothers watered it down due to the cost; their babies became malnourished and some died. In 1992, the World Health Organization responded with the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) campaign; it promoted 10 steps to all hospitals. 

The breastfeeding advocacy movement soared and today, 81% of U.S. mothers breastfeed their babies: They want to see it go to 90%. The time mothers spend with their children doubled since 1975, perhaps an indication of the impact breastfeeding has in strengthening motherhood as well as breastfeeding advocacy.

If Breastfeeding Doesn’t Work Out

It may not, no matter how hard she tries. New moms tend to beat themselves up when breastfeeding fails, so she’ll need your support. 

Reassure her of your love and respect and be the first to tell her your baby will develop just fine regardless. Even if you’re also disappointed that your baby won’t continue to be breastfed, the goal is to help your mate overcome her frustration and regain a positive outlook. Encourage her to talk it out, not compare herself to others, and not feel guilty.

Point out the benefits of breastfeeding include her holding her baby often, which she can still do.

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Even with breastfeeding issues, one way or another your baby will be fed, and will thrive. Mom, however, may end up with heavy stress and feelings of guilt, shame and failure. Your role may include reminding her often “You are the best mom possible for our baby.”

Here’s the thing: there are studies that indicate some of the long-term benefits of breastfeeding are overstated. So if breastfeeding does not work out, let mom know your formula fed child will still be smarter than his parents. Here are some links you can show mom.

Telegraph, UK: Breastfeeding does not improve intelligence.

NY Times: Overselling Breastfeeding

Time Mag: It’s time to end the breast is best myth.

"The important thing is that for two weeks she (baby) got some breast milk. She should have gotten plenty of mom’s antibodies. My wife didn’t produce enough milk, so we went to bottles. Don’t worry about it—your baby will be just fine."  –New Dad 

Setting Up Her Breastfeeding Station

To avoid feeling left out, first ensure mom knows how much you appreciate her sacrifices. Setting up a great breastfeeding station at home can be a great move; think of it as a man cave for mom and go wild. We just came up with this idea and have yet to find another dad who can show you what he did; perhaps you will the first (see Contributions below).

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Here are Breastfeeding Station attributes that you can run by her to produce options:

  1. A place as private and relaxing as possible.
  2. A comfortable chair with a high back and padded armrests; can be a rocking chair or recliner (adjustable from sitting position). Take her to try some out. 
  3. Supply access/storage. Recommended “stocking” lists are long; the IKEA three-tiered cart is popular and includes places for a pump, bottles, etc.
  4. Water supply as she needs to hydrate; perhaps a tabletop bottle water dispenser.
  5. Food supply. Snacks, protein bars, healthy stuff. Maybe add a treat that you get for her – like chocolate – and keep it stocked.
  6. Communications: Good WIFI and a charger for her phone and computer.
  7. Entertainment. Options include books, magazines, a TV, sound system and perhaps an iPad stand.
  8. Lighting/fan, perhaps with a remote control.
  9. Small diaper changing station.
  10. A nursing pillow to hold the baby and extra pillows for her.

Breast Pump & Breast Milk

A breast pump gently suctions milk from her breasts into a bottle. In short, it’s a small milking machine (another thing mothers have to deal with).

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The milk may be used immediately or stored for future feedings. The benefits of a breast pump are your baby still gets breast milk, it gives mom flexibility since others may bottle-feed your baby, moms returning to work can maintain their milk supply, and it can help increase milk production. 85% of breastfeeding mothers use pumps.

Warning: If you take her away overnight, bring the damn breast pump! (Trust me on this, we didn’t; swelling breasts are painful).


Options for Warming Refrigerated Breast Milk

  • Hold the bottle under warm, running water.
  • Place the bottle in a container of warm water.
  • Use a bottle warmer.
  • To test the milk’s temperature, shake the bottle and squirt a small amount of milk on your inner wrist. The milk should feel comfortably warm.

Microwaves aren't an option, can heat the milk unevenly and burn your baby’s mouth.

Tough for Moms Returning to Work

Most working moms must go back at six weeks (one-third) to twelve weeks (two-thirds). Most would rather not go back at all, and many worry about failing as moms and can be miserable, especially if she's breastfeeding. 

Here's what moms say:

Moms: Breastfeeding and Work.

How Do You Really Feel About Breastfeeding?

This is a heads up on the potential downsides of breastfeeding for dads and how to avoid them.

Feeling Left Out and Jealous

It’s common to feel left out and a little jealous of your breastfeeding partner’s amazing connection with her baby. It gets worse when your baby is crying and only mom will do.

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If you take a teamwork approach as suggested in this section, you will not be left out. Setting up her breastfeeding station will give you a good start, and strengthening your own connection by taking your baby for a walk in a front carrier, etc. is the antidote for jealousy. 

Introducing the bottle will open the door wide for you. Even when you are tired in the middle of the night, many dads report this is a special time with their little one for some serious, one-on-one alone time.

Other Concerns

  • Maybe also a little jealous since now that the girls are bigger and firmer than ever, she has dumped you for the short one. We got nothing for you here; motorboating those beauties will not be an option.
  • Getting queasy at the sight of your baby feeding at mom’s breast. It happens; some dads can’t handle the smell of a poopy diaper.

What Dads Say...

"When it works, breastfeeding is a beautiful time of bonding for her and my child."   –New Dad

"It was tough for her at first, but once she had it down, she felt like she was in a warm cozy cocoon with her baby when breastfeeding at night."  –New Dad

"I was massaging her neck with one hand and had my other hand holding the baby’s head to help position him on her breast…It took us a week to get him hooked up."  –New Dad

"Formula is expensive!"  –New Dad 

From Reddit’s Daddit

The following provide a trove of perspectives from dads on breastfeeding (what they say may not be accurate).

25 threads of dads talking about breastfeeding

Dad: new baby, having difficulty

Dad: Is anyone else’s spouse having problems breastfeeding?

Your Contribution

The experience of men becoming fathers is what drives Base Camp. Please share your solutions for the next guys. Like on:

  • Creating a Breastfeeding Station for Mom
  • What worked for you in helping your partner with breastfeeding
  • Additional topics we should cover in Base Camp

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All Rights Reserved | Boot Camp for New Dads is a non-profit organization

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