Breastfeeding for guys. I get it. You don’t have boobs. You can still help.

O.K. Dads here the deal: It’s 2AM, you have your new 2 day old baby at home for the first time, you’ve had 2 hours of sleep in the past 2 days, your kiddo isn’t latching on 2 mom well, tears of frustration are starting to well-up in her eyes and you have 2 seconds to figure out what to do before Mom, baby, and you start to lose it…. what do you do??

Terrifying? Yup. Been there… but don’t panic. If you weren’t trained for this before, I’ll help walk you through it.

Through my own trial and error, and pumping my wife for feedback, I have compiled a couple helpful tips of do’s and don’t that will help you breastfeed.

Tip 1: Consider breastfeeding a team sport with the mentality that you are both breastfeeding.

My wife really found it helpful for me to just be there, as an extension of her. Breastfeeding put an enormous amount of pressure on my wife. After all, breastfeeding is supposed to be natural and the best form of nutrition for your baby… to not succeed gave her feelings of not only failure as a mother, but also that the baby isn’t getting what’s best. Breastfeeding can be a very onerous responsibility, with the pressure of letting the three of you down. The more you make the act of breastfeeding seem like a team sport, the less guilt and burden she will feel when things don’t go so well (which usually is bound to happen). Hopefully you have some paternity time off that first week. I really do suggest waking up for those first few breastfeeds with your wife until things start going smoothly. Now, the question becomes, what to do while she is breastfeeding?

Tip 2: Make like Jeeves and wait.

I’m thinking that origin of ‘waiting on tables’ and thus, a ‘waiter’ probably stems from the responsibility to just stand-by, be patient, and ‘wait’ until given something to do. You don’t have breasts, so you have to find other ways to be a part of this breastfeeding team.

Here’s a couple pearls:

–          Keep a LARGE water glass full of cold water. My wife was ALWAYS thirsty, and really pretty parched for water. (I thought this was curious, so I looked it up. Guess what? Scientific article “Thirst induced by a suckling episode during breast feeding and relation with plasma vasopressin, oxytocin and osmoregulation.”1 or in other words, baby sucking makes you thirsty). You will find that Mom is so focused on breastfeeding that she really can’t just press pause get things like a glass of water. In fact, with this one, don’t wait for her to ask, just keep a cold glass full by her side. She will notice and thank you.

–          She probably forgot to grab the remote control, lanolin cream, burp cloth, or tons of other little things before she sat down and got things started. Again, interrupting breastfeeding is really tricky for her. Be there to help get these things.

–          Impromptu shoulder rub. Just do it. She won’t mind.

Tip 3: You can over do it.

Yeah, I was feeling a little cocky. I went to the breastfeeding class. I followed around lactation doctors while in residency. I watched the lactation nurses work with my wife in the hospital. I’m IndyPedsDoc for crying out loud! I can be such a bonehead. Your wife does need you to be there emotionally and even physically… but she isn’t a cow that wants to be milked. Its one thing for a lactation nurse to manipulate her breast, but you are her teammate, and doing these things can make her feel as if she isn’t doing it right, and that you could do better. Leave her breasts alone unless she asks.

Tip 4: Reinforce that she is your hero

Especially during those late-night feeds when the latching isn’t going well and she asks, on the verge of tears, ‘What am I doing wrong?” or “Why isn’t he latching?” I found the best thing to do was kiss her on the forehead, maybe hand her a kleenex, and offer words of encouragement (check out my earlier blog with a note from our lacatation nurse for some easy tips that will help). You might have a tip that you remembered during your breastfeeding class, but again, don’t let her think that you could do better, or that she is doing things wrong. If things are really getting strained, it might be best to take a break and have her take a shower or nap, and call the lactation nurse in the morning. Remember: all babies are equipped with extra fluid on board until mom’s milk comes in, which means losing a little weight those first few days is normal. You can remind her that a newborn’s stomach is about the size of a big marble, so as long as the baby is peeing a few times a day, the baby is probably getting everything it needs.

Good luck Team! You are going to be great.

1) James RJ, Irons DW. Thirst induced by a suckling episode during breast feeding and relation with plasma vasopressin, oxytocin and osmoregulation. , Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1995 Sep;43(3):277-82.

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