Practical tips for partners to help with breastfeeding

Jamie Oliver last week announced that his next campaign is to get more mothers breastfeeding. There have been plenty of people who have already addressed his mansplaining, who have questioned whether people actually aren’t sufficiently informed or who have spoken out in support of the idea.

It’s great Jamie has seen breastfeeding happen successfully for his family. To be honest, I suspect Jools has found breastfeeding easy, or Jamie wouldn’t be so casual about it. She may have boobs that just do it easily, and babies who take to it enthusiastically. They have the luxury of time and money and can buy in support, whether that’s childcare for the other kids or breastfeeding support. So Jamie may well have his rose-tinted specs on.

But I don’t think it’s a bad thing that there is a man talking about breastfeeding.There is a lot that the non-breastfeeding partner can do to support a breastfeeding mother. Even with all the information and support in the world, it can be hard to get started.

So here are some ways you can help your partner in the early days of breastfeeding.

Do your research
When mum is crying and fighting a squawking baby, she may not remember everything she read. You are more likely to. Go online; read a book. Go to the antenatal breastfeeding sessions and pay attention. Before the birth, make sure you understand how milk is produced and what happens to boobs and milk production in the first few days. Learn a few different breastfeeding positions.

Know where to get support
Find out where your local breastfeeding café is and have a few pound coins ready for parking. Make a note of your NCT breastfeeding counsellor’s number and the La Leche League helpline. Bookmark some websites.

Know where to get supplies
Find the nearest 24 hour supermarket and pharmacy that opens late. You might need to get breast pads or breast shields. Probably Lanisoh. Maybe a dummy if you have a very sucky baby. If you decide to switch to or top up with formula , you’ll need to buy that, and bottles. Be ready to get in the car and go, with a minimum of fuss.

Ask what she wants to do
If mum is struggling, it’s likely that she will just wail at you, “I don’t knoooooooooow” but you still have to phrase this as her choice. Ask how you could help her to position baby, ask where she would be most comfortable feeding, tell her you are ready to hold baby for a while as soon as she is ready.

Act as gatekeeper
You may need to keep visitors away while feeding is being established. It often involves full boob exposure, pillows, sodden breast pads, squirting nipples. Not something I wanted to share with my father in law. And there is nothing quite as miserable as sitting in a bedroom, struggling to feed, while visitors sit on your sofa eating all your cake and impatiently waiting for a cuddle with the baby.

Help her feel less like a skanky milch cow
Breastfeeding can initially be messy and sweaty. Put clean sheets on the bed. Wash her jammies and her feeding bras and tops. Give her loads of time to shower and make her body feel her own again, to dry her hair properly, to put some makeup on if she wants to.

Nourish her
Make tasty, wholesome food that can be eaten one-handed if necessary and stands up to being reheated. Bring her snacks. Keep her water bottle filled up and within reach. Have a look online for foods that can help with milk production. Remind her to take her vitamins.

Wake up in the night with her
You don’t need to sit bolt upright to prove you’re in it together. But an acknowledgement that baby is still slurping away at 3am, an offer to get food or water, or rocking baby while mum has a quick wee will reduce her murderous, middle-of-the-night thoughts.

Pull your weight around the house
You’re all modern men and I’m sure you do this anyway. But no one wants to be pinned to the sofa with a baby looking at your dirty socks and the Xbox controller while there is washing to be done and kitchen surfaces to be wiped. It’s much nicer to deal with leaky boobs and cracked nipples in a clean, calm environment.

Keep your hands to yourself
If baby is feeding for 20 hours a day, it’s likely that mum will be touched out. Some women want a cuddle, massage can help with milk production and if that’s what she’d like, that’s lovely. I personally wanted to lie spread-eagled on a cool tile floor and have no one come near me for 20 minutes. You should facilitate that.

Don’t comment on the breast pump
No matter how noisy it is, how funny it looks with both sides going at once, how far her nipples are stretching into the cup. Absolutely no good can come of you saying anything about the pump.

Don’t worry, it does get better. Or else you switch to a bottle. Either way, baby is fed. Most of the above applies to both breast and bottle feeding, actually. Pull your weight, be kind to mum, nurture your new little family.

Was your partner a godsend in the early days? How did they help with breastfeeding? What advice would you give to new parents?

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