Updated: May 23
Did you know partner support is the most significant factor influencing a mother’s breastfeeding success? In Australia, less than 50% of babies are still breastfeeding at the age of 2 months. Yes, sore and damaged nipples, low milk supply and other incredibly difficult circumstances have a lot to answer for, but partner support, or lack of it, can make or break a mother’s efforts to soldier on through her breastfeeding battles.
If you don’t have breasts, then you’re not going to be able to help with breastfeeding itself. But your role as partner to a breastfeeding mother and baby is critical to long-term breastfeeding success. It goes beyond supporting the physical act of breastfeeding. It’s supporting her as she undertakes one of the most important things anyone can do to get your baby’s long-term health off to a good start!
How partners can help with breastfeeding
Understand how breastfeeding works
Frequent feeding is normal! It’s normal for babies to feed 10-18 times a day! Babies have such tiny stomachs that they need to fill them up very frequently. Frequent feeding can be hard going but when you know it’s normal you can reassure your partner and support her to hang in there. As your baby grows and his tummy expands, the frequency will settle down.
Understand the benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides breastmilk – a perfect blend of nutrients, fluid, fats and proteins, and immune and growth factors – all available at just the right temperature and the right amount to suit your baby’s appetite.
Breastfeeding is protective against all sorts of infections and respiratory illnesses, promotes good oral health and helps reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity.
The benefits for mum include bonding with baby, helping her body recover from birth and bounce back to her pre-pregnant shape and other protective factors that reduce the risks of ovarian and breast cancers. These are, but a few of the amazing benefits breastfeeding brings to both mother and baby.
Manage breastfeeding expectations
Breastfeeding is a learned skill for mums – it’s easier for some than others and most mums face various obstacles along the way. Learn what to expect by reading about the possible ups and downs of breastfeeding and how to access your local health nurse or lactation consultant for breastfeeding support when needed.
Nurture your partner as she nourishes your baby
Meals and fluids – Breastfeeding is both physically and emotionally demanding. Making milk and the act of breastfeeding requires 2,000–3,000 more calories than normal every single day! So a key role you can play is to ensure that she has regular meals, snacks and plenty of water each day.
Cheer her on – Let her know how much you admire her efforts. A breastfeeding mum is a bundle of hormones and emotions. She will likely be feeling tiredness, breast and nipple pain, self-doubt and concern that she’s doing everything right for your baby. Breastfeeding is a 24/7, unpredictable gig. Just sitting beside her now and then whilst she feeds is a simple way to show your support.
Let her nap when the baby sleeps – Just a half-hour nap here and there can make a world of difference to a breastfeeding mum. Breastfeeding has an inbuilt protective mechanism against sleep deprivation so a nap or two each day can be enough for her to keep going through the night!
Help your partner feel comfortable and confident while breastfeeding
Help create a comfortable breastfeeding space – Comfort is important for breastfeeding, whether it’s a cosy corner in your nursery or a place on the couch. Each feed is likely to be between 30–60 mins so having everything at arm’s reach and ‘just-so’ is helpful. Back support with cushions and a small footstool. A glass of water within reach. It’s the little things that make a difference.
Don't be afraid to get breastfeeding help
One of the hardest things to do is stand by and watch a loved one struggle. When breastfeeding is not going as planned, help her get the right support to address her concerns and breastfeeding needs – contact your local breastfeeding helpline, prepare a list of questions for your health nurse, or contact a Lactation Consultant.
Create your own baby bonding time
Breastfeeding is exclusively a mother-baby relationship. But feeding is just one of your baby’s needs.
Burping and settling after feeds is a great way to have skin-to-skin cuddles and a relaxed, quiet time together.
Nappy changing and dressing is a round-the-clock task. Taking charge of this is a great way to let your partner know how many wet and dirty nappies you’ve changed to reassure her that she’s got enough milk for your baby.
Bathing can be a really soothing and calming time for everyone. Consider taking a bath with your baby and enjoy a special daily closeness.
Take photos of mum and baby together. You’d be surprised at how few photos taken in the early weeks actually have Mum in them!
Accept offers of help. Never say no to someone dropping a meal on your doorstep or picking up supplies.
Establish good sleeping habits
One of the many magical things about breastfeeding is that it contains a hormone (cholecystokinin) that protects breastfeeding mums from severe sleep deprivation. This hormone also helps mums maximise the few hours of sleep she gets each day, so although she has had just a few hours, her body feels as though she’s had a lot more sleep. This hormone passes through the breast milk to the baby, which is where they get their beautiful ‘milk drunk’ and look after a feed.
This ‘wonder drug’ hormone is exclusive to breastfeeding mums and bubs – Partners can’t get it! But partners can get exhausted from lack of sleep. If you have only had a few hours of sleep in the past few days, then that’s all your weary body has to function on. So it’s okay, and actually, a really good idea, to catch up on sleep when you can during the day, and it’s also OK to leave the breastfeeding to mum overnight and get as much sleep as you can. When you’re rested, you’re a much better help than if you’re exhausted.
For more tips, tricks and skills to help with your breastfeeding journey, join our Baby Basics Masterclass.