Like every other aspect of motherhood, the breastfeeding journey is different for everyone. Some may find that nursing is easy right away, some may experience sore nipples in the early weeks, and some may struggle with finding the perfect latch. Breastfed babies need to eat at least 10-12 times per day in the beginning, and an easy routine may come quickly…or it may not.
Regardless of the situation, there are things that can benefit all breastfeeding moms. If your partner is breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, here are some practical ways you can help:
1. Attend a breastfeeding class together.
Many expectant parents find that taking a breastfeeding class helps prepare them for this uncharted territory. During these classes, which may only be virtual at the moment, parents learn how to achieve a proper latch and are taught different nursing positions, among other things.
Attend with your partner so you know what to expect and can remind her of important information when it’s time to put practice into action. The real thing’s a lot different from what she’ll learn in class, and in those sleep-deprived first weeks, nursing moms may appreciate all the reminders they can get.
2. Pay close attention in the hospital.
A new mom may get a visit from an IBCLC or lactation counselor while recovering. Support your partner by paying attention to the instructions: where pillows can be placed to help find the best breastfeeding positions, how to make sure your baby is latching and has their mouth wide, how to determine if your baby’s gaining weight, etc.
If your partner would like, use your phone to take pictures or video record the information provided during the breastfeeding assessment so it’s available as a refresher when you get home.
3. Help her get comfortable.
Your partner may spend a lot of time on the couch or glider in the early days, and it can be difficult for her to get anything that’s out of reach when she’s nursing your little one. Arrange pillows to help her get into a good nursing position and make sure there’s a burp cloth close by. Ask what else you can get for her—the remote, a book, her phone, etc.—to ensure she is as comfortable as possible while tending to your baby.
4. Keep her fed and hydrated.
Since so much of a breastfeeding mom’s time is spent nourishing her baby, it can be easy for her to overlook her own nutritional needs. A nursing mom requires additional caloric intake to make up for the calories her body burns while making milk.
Proper nutrition and hydration can go a long way in establishing a good milk supply and maintaining milk production, especially when babies cluster feed during growth spurts. Supply her with some healthy snacks while she’s feeding the baby, and make sure she always has plenty of water on hand.
5. Change the diapers.
Taking the lead when it comes to diaper changes will not go unappreciated, especially early on when diaper changes are nonstop. Although changing wet diapers only takes a minute or two, it reduces your partner’s workload, allowing her to focus on breastfeeding (and then falling asleep as soon as she can afterward). Do the middle-of-the-night changes so those sleepy nursing sessions are as simple as possible for your partner.
6. Burp your baby.
Anybody can take care of burping after your baby nurses. Once your partner’s finished nursing, offer to take the baby off her hands. Doing this will give her a few minutes to herself, a rare experience for a mother of an infant, and give you more opportunities to hold your baby!
7. Get up in the night.
When your baby wakes to eat in the middle of the night, do what you can to streamline the breastfeeding process for your partner. Tend to your little one initially by picking them up, soothing them, putting on a fresh diaper, and bringing them to your partner to be fed. If she prefers, keep her company while she nurses and put the baby back to bed afterward.
8. Bottle feed to give her a break.
Many breastfeeding moms pump and use bottles at some point, which allows others to help out with feedings. Take advantage of this opportunity. You’ll get some snuggles with your sweet baby and give your partner a little break.
When it’s time for your partner to pump, assist by plugging in her breast pump and getting bottles and flanges ready to pair with her pumping bra. While she’s pumping, look after your little one so your partner feels more relaxed (which can help with milk flow).
9. Wash bottles and pump parts.
Although bottle feeding expressed milk allows you (and others) to feed your baby, it also involves some extra responsibilities. Bottles and pump parts need to be thoroughly washed on a daily basis. After feeding your baby from the bottle, take a minute to wash it for the next use.
If your family regularly uses a sterilizer for these items, disassemble each bottle and place the parts on the rack (or use sterilizing bags). Sterilize all the bottles and pump pieces at the end of the day.
Your partner dedicates an enormous amount of time throughout the day to provide expressed breastmilk for your child; taking care of the cleaning is a great way for you to support her in the process.
10. Encourage her breastfeeding efforts.
Whether breastfeeding proves to be effortless or challenging for your partner, words of affirmation will go a long way. Let her know that you are grateful for the time and effort she’s putting into providing nourishment for your baby. Tell her she’s doing a great job and that you’re there to help out in any way you can.
Encourage her to find a breastfeeding support group. If she’s interested, you can even help her research some options.
11. Give her some personal attention.
A lot of the focus has probably shifted toward your baby. Asking your partner how she’s doing will show that you care about her feelings and remind her that she matters to you—not only as the mother of your child but also as an individual. Offer suggestions if they’re requested, but simply listening or keeping her company will be appreciated.
12. Tend to other household responsibilities.
Early on in a baby’s life, nursing moms spend several hours a day nursing. This, along with sleep deprivation, can lead to one very exhausted breastfeeding mother. Household tasks that were easy to keep up with pre-baby are no longer so.
Help your partner out by taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry whenever possible (make sure she always has clean nursing clothes and maternity bras).
Let her have some time to rest when the opportunity presents itself instead of feeling like she has to complete some form of “work” around the clock. If you have other children in the home, do your best to take care of their needs so your partner can focus on meeting your baby’s.
Remember, you’re in this together.
Click the photo to check out Lauren's lovely Lucille Nightgown.
You play a vital role in facilitating a successful breastfeeding journey, and asking how to help with breastfeeding is a great first step. The continuous support you offer—both emotional and physical—will make a world of difference to your partner and may be just what she needs to feel confident in her role as a breastfeeding mom.