Just because you’re not lactating yourself, doesn’t mean that the process is nothing to do with you! Even if your partner isn’t planning on expressing or combi-feeding, which means you can’t help by giving bottled, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do to help. My husband was super helpful, especially in those incredibly difficult early days, and I’m not sure how I’d have coped without him, so I thought I’d write a little post about how you, any of you, can help those around you who are boobie feeding.
(I’m going to refer to the person doing the feeding as “your partner” but I know that that’s not how all families work, so please do excuse my umbrella term. Whoever the boob-er is that you are so kindly supporting!)
For some reason, feeding a baby is THIRSTY work. You’ll go from feeling fine, to suddenly so desperate for a drink that you try to remember Bear Grills’ many techniques! Before your partner sets up to feed, grab them a drink. Make sure they are drinking plenty throughout the day and that it’s something enjoyable. I love a big Hydr8 M8 bottle full of squash and ice for mine & throughout the day when I first started feeding, Steven would fill it up for me. If nothing is going in, nothing can come out! Even now, it’s his “job” to make sure I have a fresh one to take to bed with me while I do the night feeds.
Feed the feeder
Again, especially in those first few weeks, I was ravenous. I won’t lie, I ate a LOT of packets of Bourbon biscuits and I have zero regrets. But Steven tried to make sure my little bedside-boobin’ caddy was full of healthy snack bars too. I often forgot to eat in the early days – it’s all such a blur, so we lived on packet pasta every lunchtime, which Steven always made. As soon as it was ready, baby Roo wanted a feed of course and I got pretty good at eating one-handed.
Keep ’em comfy
This could be just passing over the boppy pillow or grabbing some socks if their feet are chilly. It’s important that they are as comfortable as possible, and that means something different for everyone so be prepared to offer your own seat up or sacrifice some pillows.
Praise & gratitude
This one is SO important to me. Breastfeeding is bloody hard. As natural as it is, it can be uncomfortable and awkward and frustrating and exhausting. So if your partner chooses to breastfeed, whether it’s for a week, or alongside formula or for three years, even if it doesn’t seem as though they are struggling, make sure you tell them regularly how grateful you are and how well they’re doing. Even when it’s been a year and they seem to be super confident. Emotionally and physically, it’s not easy, but whenever Steven thanks me for doing it, or tells me I’m doing a great job, I know it’s totally worth it and I feel really proud. Sometimes I’ll feel like I haven’t done anything in a day but he will remind me that I’ve fed and sustained a whole human.
Side note: This praise is especially important (whether boob or bottle fed, vaginal birth or section) to remind your partner/friend/strangers – your body has grown an entire human from scratch and isn’t that amazing?! Whenever I’m annoyed that I can’t fit in my old jeans, I try to focus on the fact that this is because I created the, let’s face it, cutest ever little human.
Pump up the jam (but only if they want to!)
Don’t put pressure on your partner to pump, even if you are desperate to help by feeding the baby. Breastfeeding is really special and it can feel weird not doing it. As hard as it is, I know I’ll be gutted when we have to stop! But when they do want to pump, there are things you can do, (aside from letting them sleep through the night for a change while you do the night feeds!). For example, Steven always puts my expressed milk in the bags and into the freezer. It sounds silly but it makes the whole thing a team effort, as much as it can be, and I know he doesn’t just think it’s my job.
A lot of people say that non-feeding partners and babies can only bond through feeding and honestly, that’s nonsense. Don’t put pressure on your partner to pump so that you can ‘bond’ through feeding. There are so many other ways to bond – Steven likes to bathe with Ruben, and we do bedtime together every night. They have the most incredible bond and it’s nothing to do with feeding.
What you say is really important, not just to your partner, but to others. People will say stupid things to a breastfeeding parent and it’s the worst. So if someone says to your (presumably exhausted) partner “surely the baby can’t be hungry again?!”, don’t always let them be the one to answer. Do your research so you can explain cluster feeding and all the cool stuff like how breastmilk adapts to your baby and their needs. For some reason, it seems to have more clout coming from other people and whenever I hear Steven proudly explaining how breastfeeding works to someone, it makes my heart happy.
This is just what works for us, but it really does work for us, and maybe it’ll help others too. Especially those who aren’t sure how they can support their partner. In summary – educate yourself and take an interest. Tell your partner how proud you are. Make sure their physical needs (food, drink, comfort) are all met.