There’s nothing quite like the changes that having a newborn in the house brings to a family. Everyone is excited and eager to get their hands on that cute little bundle! It’s also puzzling how an infant–one that only sleeps, eats, poops, and pees–can be so time consuming. When an infant gets all of their nutrition from breastfeeding, partners can sometimes feel left out, since they can’t help directly with feeding. They might wonder when it’s their turn to hold the baby, or what there is for them to do.
Due to the frequency between feedings, morning and night, some partners may encourage the mom to pump so that they can feed the baby while she naps. Although this thought comes from a place of love, it may actually undermine the success of the breastfeeding relationship! Some of the problems that can arise include:
Breastmilk is supplied on an on-demand basis. The best way to signal to mom’s body that more milk is required is to empty the breasts regularly. Pumping is a way to do this, but your baby is typically more effective at removal.
This is commonly misnamed as ‘nipple confusion’. Babies aren’t confused, they just get frustrated when they have to work harder at filling their tummies! Bottle nipples don’t require as much work to get the milk out as breasts do, and so babies become accustomed to the ease of bottle feeding.
Change in latch
Frequent use of bottles early on can change the way that a baby will approach a nipple to latch on. On a breast, it is helpful to have a large portion of the areola inside the mouth along with the nipple. This helps prevent pain. On a bottle, however, this isn’t as necessary, and baby can transfer this habit to the breast.
What can partners do, then?
There are so many ways that partners can be involved with their babies that don’t involve feeding! This list is contains only some ideas, ask the mom in your life what things she would like your help with.
Diaper changes. When baby is ready for a feed, handing over a baby with a fresh, clean diaper can help minimize baby’s discomfort and even make the feeding experience better. This also gives mom an opportunity to get situated and ready for a feeding, take a quick bathroom break, or even just a few minutes to breathe.
Tummy time. The practice of ‘tummy time’ is an invention that comes from the ‘back to sleep’ advice, since we know now that SIDS risks are lower for infants that sleep on their backs instead of their tummies. Due to all of this time spent on their backs, tummy time can help strengthen neglected neck and abdomen muscles. Lay on your back on the floor or a firm cushioned surface, and let your baby be tummy-to-tummy with you. Not only will they get to see you up close, but they get a little work out!
Skin to Skin. There are many benefits of skin-to-skin that are well-documented, and the benefits apply no matter who is holding baby! Aside from the obviously comforting nature of skin-to-skin, it can also help regulate several biological functions, such as temperature, heart rate, and breathing. Some studies have even shows that skin-to-skin can help brain functioning! Dr. Jack Newman, physician and breastfeeding advocate, has an excellent article on skin-to-skin's many benefits.
Bath time. Baths are a great way to distract or amuse a small baby when you feel like you can’t bounce them for one more second. Some babies find water soothing, but at the very least, the stimulation will likely be enough to wear them out. Plus, they smell so good after! You may even want to rub a little lotion into their skin afterward. (See our blog about infant massage!)
Baby-wearing. Another activity that isn’t just for moms! There are many groups, books, and websites that can match you with the perfect baby-wearing method that works for you and the size of your baby. It also allows mom to have hands free for awhile!
Give mom a nap. Between feedings, spend some time with the baby away from mom, letting her take a short nap. Even a rest period without sleeping can be wonderful for a mom who is up frequently during the night.
Go on a walk/push the stroller. Everything is new to a baby, and sometimes just a walk around the block can be exciting for them. (Or sleep inducing, it can go either way!) Many car seats can be strapped into a stroller for the itty bitty babies. Even if mom comes along for the walk, partners can steer!
Take Mom on a drive-thru date. Finding time for you and your partner is hard with a new baby. If your baby does well in the car, take mom on a date to a drive-thru. Hopefully, baby will take a snooze. Even if mom decides to stay home and nap, you can always pick up a treat to bring home.
Be a gatekeeper. New moms find it very difficult to say no sometimes, or to ask for help. Make sure you discuss with her ahead of time how many visitors she wants, and when, and also what chores that friends and family can do to make your lives easier. Then, enforce the rules. Be the bad guy, so she doesn’t have to.
Encouragement and support. It may not seem like much, but let mom know how proud you are of her, that she’s doing a great job, and that you’ll be there for her. Many moms second guess themselves and wonder if they are screwing it all up. Make sure she knows that you’ve got her back.
There are so many ways that partners and other support people can make a difference in a new mom’s life, even if the new mom is a mom for the second, third, or fourth time (and beyond!) Share in the comments all the ways that you’ve supported a breastfeeding mom, or have been supported by a loved one!