Breastfeeding 101: What you need to know
To help you support your breastfeeding partner, here’s a quick a crash course on the basics of breastfeeding.
Your partner’s breasts change to get ready for baby
During pregnancy (and then a few days after your baby’s born when ‘the milk comes in’) your partner’s breasts will become bigger, and her nipples and areola (the area of skin around the nipples) may be darker so they become an easier target for your baby.
Breastmilk is the perfect baby food
It provides your baby all the nutrition they need to grow in the first six months, it’s easy to digest, adapts to your baby’s needs, it’s the right temperature – and it’s free!
Breastfeeding is a learned skill for both mum and baby
It’s not always easy, and it can take up to six weeks to establish breastfeeding.
Even if your partner’s breastfed before, every baby’s different, so it’ll still take time for the two of them to find their rhythm.
Check out our ‘how to breastfeed’ page for some more tips.
Breastfeeding isn’t always quick
For new mums, a feeding session can last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour – and most newborns feed eight to 12 times a day! That’s a lot of time your partner will spend feeding.
Breastfeeding can be painful – especially at the start
It’s normal new mums will likely have tender or sore breasts and nipples in the first week or two of breastfeeding, especially first-time mums.
Her breasts will heal and adjust to this new use. If they’re still painful – there might be some other issues.
There are lots of breastfeeding issues that can come up – and some can be really painful
Sore nipples (this can indicate baby’s latch needs adjusting), too much breastmilk, not enough breastmilk, baby bites while feeding (ouch!), baby refuses to feed, blocked milk ducts, mastitis – and more.
Is your partner having trouble with breastfeeding? There’s lots of help available. Support her to talk to her midwife, GP, Plunket nurse, or a PlunketLine nurse (0800 933 922 – this is a free, 24/7 service) as soon as she starts having difficulties.
If your partner’s difficulties are a bit more complex, these health professionals will likely refer her to a lactation consultant (breastfeeding specialists) – like the ones we have on team at PlunketLine.Ministry of Health
How to help with a breastfeeding baby
Parenting is a great team sport, and there are lots of things you can do as a dad to spend time bonding with your baby – while also helping out your partner.
- cuddles - have lots of cuddles with your baby when they’re not feeding (fun fact: close contact can help them settle – especially skin-to-skin)
- bath time - not only is this a great time for you to bond with your baby, chatting to them and giving them lots of smiles, it can also be really soothing for them
- settling - it may be easier for you to do this than your breastfeeding partner. If your baby’s fussy, the smell of your partner’s milk can make them search for the boob instead of calming down
- burps and poos - take your baby for a burp and a nappy change after they’ve been fed (the post-match function)
- bottle-feed: you can bottle-feed your baby if your partner is expressing breastmilk.
Look after yourself, too
With a new baby in your family, it’s easy to forget about your own needs.
It’s important to look after yourself with healthy eating, some physical activity and sleep when you can get it. This will give you the energy you need to be the parent you want to be.
Read more about this in ‘Being a Dad – Looking after yourself’.
Caring for your breastfeeding partner
Being a new mum is tough.
Your partner has been through a lot physically with pregnancy and birth, and although they may be happy and excited about your new baby – they may also be feeling anxious, exhausted, and physically uncomfortable or sore.
The good news is, there’s lots you can do to help.
- Breastfeeding makes you thirsty and hungry – really hungry. Be on hand to offer drinks and lots of snacks whenever she needs them. She’ll love you all the more.
- Look for other practical ways to help her when she’s feeding. If you have older children who are asking her for things when she’s feeding for example, offer to help them. Bring her an extra pillow if she looks uncomfortable.
- Night feeds. It can be super helpful if you bring your baby to your partner for night feeds and help settle baby back into their own safe sleep space. You don’t need to do this every night, for every feed – but pitching in will be appreciated.
- Be patient. Don’t get offended if your partner doesn’t feel like being intimate or having sex with you. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you, or that you’ll never have sex again. She may just be exhausted and distracted from feeding, carrying, and settling your baby all day. It’s helpful to talk about how you’re both feeling – and if you are worried, think about seeking help together. Talking to your GP is a good place to start.
- Do extra housework without being asked to help. This will help a heap.
Give your partner props for being awesome. Let her know you think she’s doing a great job at being a mum.
And if breastfeeding doesn’t work out despite her best efforts, reassure her that it’s okay.