Partner Support: Can It Make or Break Your Breastfeeding Experience?

When Ben was born almost 7 years ago, I had no idea how much I would rely on my husband to be my pillar of support.  When I was gliding along my roller coaster of postpartum hormones, it was my husband who gave me space, as well as made sure I stayed somewhat sane.  He brought me water while I was nursing, ordered in dinner when we were too tired to cook, and made me laugh when I thought all I could do was cry.  He was also the person who got on the phone to call the lactation consultant when I had no idea why breastfeeding wasn’t going the way I have envisioned it. 

Breastfeeding was important to US and we knew we could make it work.

In all of my prenatal breastfeeding classes, I discuss with my students how to create a team of support, for both birth and breastfeeding.  The first and most important person on this team is mom’s partner, or as I fondly call my hubby - My Partner in Crime!  My students’ homework for the night is to discuss how THEY can get breastfeeding off to a great start. 

I recommend discussing the following questions:

  • What are your breastfeeding goals (i.e., how long would you like your baby to breastfeed, will you exclusively breastfeed, etc.)?
  • Will your baby receive bottles during this time?
  • How would you like your partner to be involved with breastfeeding?
  • What support do you need from your partner?

The last question tends to be the most difficult to answer prenatally, as it is sometimes hard to envision what breastfeeding support you will need after the baby arrives.  Also, it is hard to explain to a partner what it feels like to be the sole person in charge of meeting your baby’s nutritional needs.  Yet, I feel like it is the most important question of them all. 

In our society, when so many of us are not meeting our breastfeeding goals, our main cheerleader (often our partner) can truly make or break our breastfeeding experiences.  When a mom calls me up, with desperation in her voice, yet is unable to book an appointment with me because her partner doesn’t see the benefit of meeting with a lactation consultant, I can sense that her breastfeeding journey is going to be an uphill battle that she is fighting alone.  On the flip side, when I have a partner asking to hold the tube and syringe so that mom can supplement their baby at breast, I am confident that this mom will continue to try to overcome her breastfeeding challenges.


So, how can your partner help you to meet your breastfeeding goals?

In last week’s article, Why Aren’t Moms Meeting their Breastfeeding Goals, we talked about several different ways that society members could offer support to breastfeeding mothers.  This week, I have collected advice from a few wise mamas about ways in which their partners helped them to meet their breastfeeding goals. 

“While we were dealing with some initial breastfeeding challenges, I asked my husband to tell anyone who came over that they could only say positive things about breastfeeding.  Rather than saying that it would be ok if we gave our baby a bottle, our guests mentioned what a great job I was doing trying to breastfeed and that they were sure things would get easier soon.  I truly believe that the positive vibes in our home really helped to turn around our breastfeeding challenges.” - Sarah

“Up until my son was a few weeks old, he liked to sleep all day and party all night.  After the 11pm nursing session, I really wanted to have a few hours of sleep before we started all over again.  My partner would take our son out to the living room, watch John Stewart, and let our baby sleep on his chest until the next feeding session.  After those few hours of uninterrupted sleep, I felt like a million bucks!  It made all the difference!” – Michelle

“When our son was 6 weeks old, my sister in law got married.  The dress I was wearing required that I had to take the whole thing off to nurse my son. …probably poor planning on my part, but I LOVED the dress!   Whenever I went into the bridal suite to nurse, my partner joined me and hung out for those 30 minute intervals.  I so appreciated her company and support!” – Jessica

Here are a few other ways that partners can support breastfeeding, as well as support a new mom’s well-being, that I have stumbled upon over the years:

  • Call a lactation consultant if mom is having breastfeeding challenges.  Don’t expect her to solve this all on her own.
  • Bottle feed the baby in a ‘breastfeeding-friendly’ manner so that your baby will be willing to go back and forth between bottle and breast
  • Set up the pump when mom is pumping often.  This just removes some added stress.
  • Document your new baby’s life with photos and videos and share with family/friends through email, Facebook, and Kodak Gallery
  • Soothe the baby when the baby is not hungry and doesn’t need a diaper change
  • Wear the baby.  There’s nothing sexier than a baby-wearing partner!
  • Massage moms’ sore neck and shoulders, or make an appointment for mom to get a massage
  • Help baby to latch on to the breast, as mom sometimes can’t even see her own nipples :-)
  • Make sure mom is eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water.  Sometimes new moms forget to take care of themselves, which can really make her exhausted and lower her milk supply (i.e., cranky!)