Even though mom may be the only one making the milk, breastfeeding is definitely a team effort. Support systems are vital for successful breastfeeding, especially for a first-time mother.
The International Lactation Consultant Association broke down the different components of “Team Breastfeeding.” Some people may double up on positions, but just like any team, each role is important:
“The Coach.” Duties include:
- Build mom’s confidence about her abilities to breastfeed, especially when it is difficult and frustrating.
- Collect stats. Help her keep track of her feeding times, the number of wet diapers, and eating patterns so she knows how she is doing.
- Help her find the answers. If there is roadblock, help get the facts and support she needs to overcome that obstacle.
“The Defender.” Duties include:
- Stand up for her if others aren’t supportive of her breastfeeding goals.
- Shield her from negativity and criticism about breastfeeding.
- Offer relief so she can rest and be full speed next time the baby needs her.
“The Cheerleader.” Duties include:
- Provide positive comments about herself, the baby and her breastfeeding goals.
- Share praise not just with her, but with others.
- Cheer her up if she is feeling discouraged, with your words or actions.
“The Fan.” Duties include:
- Bring meals or do chores so mom can focus on her new baby.
- Run errands or help with older children.
- Help in any ways mom needs it, so she has the energy she needs to succeed.
Dads may feel lost at times during breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be actively involved. Using the Team strategy, dads can find many ways to play a role.
Trey McCallie, of Lexington, said dads can feel more useful by focusing energy on older children and letting mom concentrate on breastfeeding. His wife, DeeDee, breastfed both their daughter, Harper, and son, Spencer.
“I think I had some feelings of helplessness as she was the only one that could feed our children,” he said. “I wanted to contribute so I had to find other ways to help her and the children. When Spencer, our second child, was born, I focused more on Harper, our first born, and her needs.”
DeeDee said communication is key for keeping dads involved in breastfeeding. While a dad may feel helpless, simply asking a mom what she needs opens the door to all sorts of ways to help.
“A lot of my friends’ husbands felt as though they had nothing to offer since the moms were supplying the milk,” she said. “That is not true. Helping with positioning, placing pillows behind my back, in my lap, and helping position our baby were ways his involvement showed his love and support.”
Trey believes that talking about problems with breastfeeding helped keep them focused on their goal, and allowed him to know when he needed to show support.
“The husband needs to be a cheerleader and supporter,” he said. “It can be very frustrating at times for the mother and we had to talk about the big picture and why it’s important to breastfeed.”
Playing the part of the defender can be a difficult transition for some dads. Chad Heineman, of Ashland, said his wife, Kourtney, quickly became comfortable with breastfeeding their daughter, Emma Kate, in public. But it took him a while to get used to it.
“Breastfeeding was definitely foreign to me. I didn’t know anyone who had done it and quite frankly it embarrassed me a little at first,” Chad said. “ … It took me a bit to get used to it and I felt bad for not supporting her completely. I eventually got over it and soon didn’t pay any attention or get embarrassed when she would do it.”
Like most things with a new baby, breastfeeding is a first for many dads. Chad hopes mothers can cut their partners a little slack as they figure out their roles in breastfeeding, and how their support is needed.
“Just be patient with your spouse,” Chad said. “I know it is hard for dads to understand and can be embarrassing at times. I had to remember that this is what Kourtney wanted and I had to be supportive.”
Showing that support is sometimes as simple as a pep talk, or company during a midnight feeding. Kourtney said one of the most helpful things her husband did was keep up the constant encouragement.
“He would remind me how strong that I was and that I am not someone who normally gives up and this should be the same,” Kourtney said. “He would also get up with me sometimes and ask if I need a snack or just to talk while I was up nursing Emma Kate during the night.”
Education about breastfeeding is accessible in so many ways. Couples can take breastfeeding classes together, read books and websites, attend support groups or meet with a lactation consultant to gather information.
Kourtney spent time on the internet researching breastfeeding, and gathered information from her doctor’s office. She said to get your partner involved in breastfeeding, bring them in the fold early through the education.
“If you want your husband to be involved, I think it’s best to help educate your husband while educating yourself,” Kourtney said. “Chad understood that this was going to be challenging but it was something that I wanted to do.”
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