Breastfeeding is natural and easy for about one-third of new mothers. Another third experience hurdles they can get through with your 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. If her baby is not breastfeeding successfully, she can feel she is failing as a mother. Your fighter is back in the ring. If you know what to do and have her back, she’ll remember it for life.
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.
- It is a huge commitment by Mom.
- A newborn eats 8 to 12 times over 24-hours.
- 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 mature milk supply “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.
- Babies can increase their demand for milk for a few days (i.e., cry) and give Mom the impression they are starving because she is not producing enough. Frequent breastfeeding allows her body to increase supply and usually solves things. Before she quits, suggest a lactation consultant weigh the baby before and after a feeding.
- 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.
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)
Ameda.com: A more detailed review of latching (several videos)
Here are some other resources:
BabyCenter Breastfeeding Troubleshooting Guide
43-page PDF on breastfeeding from WomensHealth.gov.
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.
When she is ready to breastfeed after she holds her brand new baby for a while, 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.
Her breasts need to “let down” for her milk to flow and relaxation is key, so reassure her and give a little shoulder rub. If your baby starts crying, take him and calm him down, and then give him back for another try with your encouragement. Repeat as needed.
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)
Offer to read these to her:
- Gently touch the area between the baby’s nose and upper lip with your nipple. This will stimulate your baby to open wide.
- When the baby opens wide, insert your nipple just below the baby’s nose.
- Hug your baby close by pressing their chin into your breast.
- Your nipple should be deep in the baby’s mouth, reaching the beginning of the soft palate (use your tongue to find where your soft palate starts – it’s way back).
- Usually, about 1 to 1½ inches of nipple and areola is in the baby’s mouth.
- If you feel the baby’s gums moving on your nipple, the nipple is not far enough back.
- The baby’s chin and cheeks should be touching the breast. The nose should be near the breast but not pushing into the breast.
- To reposition your baby, insert your finger in the side of their mouth to break the suction.
- Very little. She needs to focus intently, and micromanaging will blow her concentration.
- Ask her if she wants a quick video review and to see the above latching guidelines; don’t push them on her.
- If she gets a good latch, “nice job” will do. Don’t suggest trying to get a better one.
- If she feels she doesn’t have a good latch, tell her what you see from your view regarding the position of your baby’s mouth on her breast.
- Be very patient and let her figure it out.
- Ask her if she wants to ask the OB nurse for help, or request a lactation consultant. If she does, make a note of what they say to remind her on her next go.
- Tell her “I know it’s tough”; let me know how I can help.
- If she doesn’t feel her baby got enough milk, remind her a baby doesn’t need much at first – they all lose weight as breastfeeding gets going. They arrive with extra fat to burn and cry instinctively to get mom to breastfeed, not because they are hungry.
- Reinforce your gratitude to her for being your baby’s mother.
- If she gets upset, “it’s because she is a good mom and cares deeply for our baby”.
Getting a Good Latch (0:55)
- 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 LLLI.org
- 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
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”).
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
Once your baby is ready to feed, they will provide you a bottle and formula.
- Suggest that Mom lie back on the bed with pillows behind her so her baby can lay on her, face up, for feeding.
- Position your baby so Mom can comfortably hold a bottle in his mouth and hand her the bottle.
- 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.
- 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.
- Encourage Mom to take her time feeding her baby (and enjoy their mutual oxytocin exchange). Next best thing to breastfeeding.
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, mom is getting upset because the baby needs to eat, and the cries grow louder, as does mom’s frustration and stress level. She feels 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 up against tough circumstances. She will remember your help in getting her through it, and reminding her often “You are the best mom possible for our baby.”
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
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.
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
Here are Breastfeeding Station attributes that you can run by her to produce options:
- A place as private and relaxing as possible.
- 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.
- Supply access/storage. Recommended “stocking” lists are long; the IKEA three-tiered cart is popular and includes places for a pump, bottles, etc.
- Water supply as she needs to hydrate; perhaps a tabletop bottle water dispenser.
- Food supply. Snacks, protein bars, healthy stuff. Maybe add a treat that you get for her – like chocolate – and keep it stocked.
- Communications: Good WIFI and a charger for her phone and computer.
- Entertainment. Options include books, magazines, a TV, sound system and perhaps an iPad stand.
- Lighting/fan, perhaps with a remote control.
- Small diaper changing station.
- A nursing pillow to hold the baby and extra pillows for her.
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).
- 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.
Teaming up with her on breastfeeding is the initial antidote to feeling left out, along with holding your baby, perhaps when watching football.
Introducing the bottle once your baby gets breastfeeding down after several weeks levels the playing field. Even when tired in the middle of the night as they do their feeding shift, many dads report a special alone together time with their little one, much like mom feels when breastfeeding.
- 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.