As a Birth Boot Camp instructor, I often have couples express interest in dad’s involvement with feeding baby in the early weeks after birth. My favorite class to teach is the Comprehensive course, and with this course couples also get access to Birth Boot Camp’s “Breastfeeding: The Ultimate MRE” course. It is loaded with great information about breastfeeding! One point that is made in it is that bottles should not be introduced in the first few weeks after birth [so that mom’s milk supply can get established and so there is no risk of nipple confusion for the baby]. My student couples often hear this and ask me, “So what can dad do to help feed the baby?”
I love getting this question because it tells me that dad really wants to be involved in the baby’s care and wants to be helpful to mom! Most dads only get 1 to 2 weeks of paternity leave and so to find out that they shouldn’t bottle feed the baby during that time is concerning to them. Here’s how dad can help.
First off, when it’s time for a baby to breastfeed, mom is typically “stuck” in one place. Of course, mom can get up and grab something or move to another spot, if necessary, but she is not going to be able to multitask while breastfeeding in the first couple of weeks the way she can later on, while wearing a baby who can latch themselves on. So, the first way dad can help is to be present while mom breastfeeds. He can sit on the bed next to her, or in a chair in the room. He can talk to her or simply offer solidarity by being in the same place at the same time for the amount of time it takes for baby to eat.
Whether or not dad plans to stay in the same room with mom during a feeding or is just in and out, the next way he can help is by offering verbal affirmation. Some suggestions include: “It is so awesome that your body makes the perfect food for our baby.” “Thank you for committing to breastfeeding our baby.” “It is incredible that you grew our baby, birthed our baby, and now can nourish our baby.” He can add a little levity: “I guess I’m not the only one who appreciates your boobs.” He can keep it simple and sweet: “You’re doing great, babe!” Whatever dad says, as long as it is positive and loving, it will mean a lot to mom.
The third way dad can help is by taking the baby and burping him/her as soon as he/she is done eating. I always found this immensely helpful because it gave me time to “clean up shop” – pat the nipple area dry, snap up my nursing bra, reposition or replace my breast pad, rearrange my clothes or the blankets, go to the bathroom, etc. My husband is a master baby-burper and can always get those stubborn bubbles out. I admit to also being secretly satisfied when my husband gets spit up on instead of me every now and then!
The final suggestion I’d like to make and perhaps the most important is for dad to let mom get her sleep! During the first couple weeks after birth, it is so crucial for moms to rest and recover. It can be dad’s duty to protect mom’s sleep by keeping the house quiet while she is napping, and by taking care of baby during mom’s nap. Most parents have baby monitors prior to birth so I recommend setting it up right next to mom’s side of the bed and dad keeping the receiver on himself. This way any time mom needs something she can easily ask for it without shouting and possibly waking a sleeping baby. The use of a monitor also allows dad to hear when the baby is awake from a nap. During the immediate postpartum period I often nurse my baby and then nap when they nap. This is great except when baby’s sleep cycle ends before mine does! My husband is my hero when he hears baby over the monitor and comes in asking, “Do you want me to take the baby for a while?” The other time dads can be heroes is during the night. Sometimes, especially with a new baby, he or she gets days and nights mixed up and is awake and alert at 2am! I never mind waking to feed my babies because it is easy to go back to sleep during or after a feeding, but it is so hard to stay awake in the middle of the night! My husband would always roll out of bed and take baby off to the living room if I asked him to. Day/night confusion does not last long, but the memory of my husband helping in the wee hours certainly does!
I am so thrilled when I hear that dads want to actively care for their baby! I hope these ideas are helpful to many couples and I’d love to hear other ideas for dads! Please comment with your suggestions!
Megan Woyak is a Birth Boot Camp Instructor and Doula. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia with her husband and three kids.