Breastfeeding – the partner’s guide
Deep into the second trimester it’s likely your child’s body and limbs are developing a thin covering of fine hair called lanugo. Given that this is something that is both completely normal and natural but also probably strange-seeming and outside your experience, it might be hard to really imagine the importance of lanugo. And the vernix, that white stuff, that’s another thing that’s be a bit odd, but despite it looking yucky it’s there to do a job and keep your baby healthy.
So, as you and your partner prepare to bring a baby into the world and you’re contemplating all the little miracles of biology which allow this phenomenon to happen, this is probably an ideal time to talk about something else natural but new to you as a partner: breastfeeding and its impact on you and your relationship with your partner.
Breastfeeding – what it means for partners
There is nothing more natural and beautiful than breastfeeding. In fact, before the days of the bottle, there was no other alternative for mothers and young children. Quite simply our ancestors breastfed because it was imperative to survival and it is because of this that it has evolved into something further: the focal point for the earliest interactions between mothers and babies.
Dads however, may have some difficulty in adjusting to breastfeeding and the way it encapsulates what has essentially transformed from a relationship of two people, in which your partner’s breasts possess a sensual, erotic association and are there for sexual enjoyment between you two, to a mother-baby-father relationship, in which breasts have been largely reduced to a functional role in nurturing your child. It’s a major change.
But this is not the only difficult experience common to new dads whose partners are breastfeeding. All of the following are also familiar experiences:
- Feelings of inadequacy – you feel like you are doing nothing while your partner does the most important thing of all. Essentially you feel redundant.
- Feelings of envy – not only might you feel that you have been excluded from your wife’s body, you might envy the fact that she is bonding with your baby in a way not possible for you and believe that she is therefore an inherently better parent than you are.
- Resentment towards the baby – it is important to acknowledge any feelings of resentment you might have towards the baby for “getting in the way” of your intimate relationship with your partner. You are not alone in experiencing this.
- A wish to try feeding yourself – many men are curious to taste breast milk. This can be a taboo topic and whether they wish to do so is entirely up to the mothers concerned.
- Sexual frustration – it is likely that your partner will be less interested in sex while she is feeding, particularly in the initial postpartum period. She may have less vaginal lubrication and may be so consumed by feeding that sex is not on her radar. Don’t put any pressure on her but be attentive and considerate the when the opportunity arises. For those who support their partners, it is important to note that some women never feel more sensual than when they are breastfeeding. These women feel connected to their bodies and life in a very meaningful way that may be to the benefit of your intimate relationship.
- Sexual disinterest – maybe you are actively “turned off” by breastfeeding. For some men, accustomed to breasts only as sexual objects, this is normal. However, remember that breasts have evolved to feed. You are going to have to get used to it.
Show your support
There are many things new fathers can do to show their emotional and practical support through breastfeeding, all of which can help make sure that you are very much an important and meaningful part of the mother-father-baby relationship.
From staying up with her while she feeds, to giving her encouragement in the sometimes very difficult early days; high levels of moral support from the outset will show your love and care.
Get her regular snacks so that she has the calories she will need to feed your child, talk to her about any feeding difficulties she might be experiencing, while letting her know how you feel about this new stage in your lives and relationship.
If you have any concerns about your partner breastfeeding in public, now is the time to discuss them and to really accept that breastfeeding is a normal, natural experience which can ultimately benefit your baby.
Baby bonding for non-lactating partners
When your partner is breastfeeding she is releasing oxytocin. This clever little hormone is the one released when you kiss, touch and hug your partner and this is why breastfeeding is said to help with the bonding between mother and baby. For you, you can try holding your baby against your bare skin, perhaps in the bath for example, this skin-to-skin contact can help regulate your baby’s heartbeat and temperature and can offer some really intimate, special moments, especially in the early days.
If you want to share the bonding experience of feeding you could suggest that your partner expresses her milk (once breastfeeding is fully established), then you can feed baby from a bottle. This may mean you can offer your partner a full night’s sleep, or perhaps some much needed time away from the baby. It will also give you some father-baby time alone and provide you with the opportunity to be sole carer and nurturing influence.
Time and again studies show that mothers are happier and more successful breastfeeding if they have the support of their partners.
So, the long and the short of it is that if you are strong and supportive, you will all benefit, and for a long time to come. By talking about any fears or discomforting feelings you have now, you and your partner can prepare the groundwork for a strong breastfeeding experience for you all.