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The Involved Father: Breastfeeding Support 101

Advice on Breastfeeding for Dads

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Updated December 31, 2012

When it comes to breastfeeding, many dads wrongly assume that this means that they cannot share in the feeding experience or that they will be left out of bonding with the baby. Sometimes the misplaced notion that fathers will be neglected results in lack of much needed support.

Because most women identify the keys to breastfeeding success as a strong support system and educated advice, a father's informed encouragement of the relationship is positively critical. You are the greatest support the mother of your baby can have. Your affirmations will help sustain her; your discouragement will neutralize her determination. The positive or negative attitude you bring to nursing will likely have a corresponding effect on that relationship.

The Expectant Father: Breastfeeding Classes

Strive to find ways to affirm her desire to breastfeed. Attend breastfeeding classes together. Most hospitals offer this type of class. It will provide an overview of breastfeeding and clue you in to resources that may come in handy when baby arrives. While you may be rolling your eyes at the thought of the awkwardness of it, rest assured many partners do attend breastfeeding classes together. They are generally advertised for couples, and registration fees are priced for couples to attend.

In all likelihood, you will not be the only man stuck in a room full of round-bellied ladies talking about breasts and girl power. If, by some chance you are, take comfort in the fact that you will most certainly win the mother of your child over, not to mention give motive for the other women to henpeck their partners for not attending.

Encouraging the Breastfeeding Mother

As the pregnancy progresses and after the baby is born, your words will uplift the mother of your child. Be sure to express to her and to those friends and family around you that you support her choice to breastfeed. You may face both societal pressure and ignorance about breastfeeding. Your unequivocal support will be particularly helpful if you are surrounded by people who are critical of breastfeeding.

Latching and Positioning

Once your baby has arrived, you can also play an active role in breastfeeding, particularly in the early weeks. Mothers often need assistance with what is known as latching, the process of baby accepting the breast. Mom's goal is to keep those little arms out of the way while she waits for the precise moment when baby opens his mouth wide enough. Then, when he does finally open his mouth, she needs to get him to her breast before his mouth begins to shut. Then she has to inspect the latch to make sure it is ideal. If she does not manage all of this, she is going to experience a whole new kind of pain. It is challenging. The stinker is that the more times she has to try to get baby to latch on properly, the more sore she will become. This may have an adverse affect on infant weight gain and on mother's milk supply.

Here is where you come in. You can help her achieve a good latch with baby on the first attempt at each session if she needs the help. Your job can be to check that the mother's body posture is ready for latching, help keep those little arms in check, and help support your infant's head. When he opens his mouth wide enough, lift his head to her breast. It is important to bring baby to the breast, rather than breast to the baby.

Nourishing Mama, Nourishing Baby

As the breastfeeding relationship establishes, mom will catch the hang of things and your physical support during nursing will be less needed. However, that does not mean you should just blend into the background. Just as mom nourishes your baby, she needs to receive nourishment. It is important for nursing mothers to receive adequate amounts of water and a healthy number of calories each day. While she breastfeeds the baby, bring her finger foods to snack and a glass of water to drink. See to her needs as she sees to his.

While this is a great way to be involved during the day time, you may think that you are off the hook at nighttime. However, at night you can be the one to get out of bed, change the diaper, and bring him to mom. When the feeding is finished, you can take the baby back to his sleeping area.

Bottlefeeding the Breastfed Baby

Once the breastfeeding relationship is firmly established, typically between 4 - 6 weeks, you can begin to participate in feedings by offering bottles of expressed breast milk or formula. You may want to check with a lactation consultant to be sure of the right timing. Introducing a bottle too soon or too late can have a detrimental effect on breastfeeding.

The final thought on breastfeeding is to expect some challenges with feeding in the early weeks. It is a brand new experience for mom and baby. There may be a bit of a learning curve until everyone catches on to it.

Because of those common challenges in the early weeks, it is critical during this time to have educated support. If a problem crops up, help her seek out help immediately. Lactation consultants and the La Leche League International offer trained support to breastfeeding mothers. The longer a problem goes untreated, the more challenging it is to overcome. Encourage her to seek out professional advice for persistent nursing problems.

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  5. Father Breastfeeding - Advice on Breastfeeding for Dads

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