You have a really important role to play in supporting your partner to breastfeed, particularly in the early days when breastfeeding is becoming established.
Breastfeeding – what you need to know
Breast milk provides all the goodness and nutrients your baby needs for the best start in life. Not only does breast milk carry antibodies – which will help to give your baby immunity against common illnesses like ear infections, tummy bugs and coughs – but breastfeeding is good for your partner too. Medical research suggests that the longer your partner breastfeeds, the more benefit it brings to her and your baby.
When breast milk first comes in
Your partners’ breasts produce a substance called colostrum while she is pregnant and during the first few days after birth. It is yellow to orange in colour, and has a thick and sticky texture. This is the perfect first food for your baby. It is low in fat and high in carbohydrates, protein and antibodies - they’ll help keep your baby healthy. Colostrum is extremely easy for your baby to digest.
Breastfeeding is a completely natural process, but it’s still one that both mum and baby have to learn - it does get easier with practice. Midwives and health visitors (after 10 days) are there to help and they can also put you in touch with other local support networks.
If your partner feels that her nipples or breasts are painful, or that breastfeeding is sore, it is very important that they speak to their midwife or health visitor to get the right help as soon as possible. You will be able to support your partner by asking for help.
Breastfeeding can be used to feed, calm and comfort your baby. Feeds can be initiated when your baby show signs they are hungry or when they are distressed. A sign that your baby is hungry might include making sucking movements with their lips, or sucking their fingers or hands. These are called feeding cues.
How long to breastfed for
It is now recommended that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. In other words, it’s not necessary to give your baby any other food or drink other than breast milk. Even once you start introducing solid foods, breastfeeding can continue for up two years and beyond.
How can I support my partner to breastfeed?
There are lots of ways you can give your partner practical support that will really help her:
- If you are able to, use your entitlement to paternity leave. This is valuable time to spend with your baby and partner. Studies across the world show that this support can help women to breastfeed for longer.
- Sit with your partner, encourage and build her confidence to care for and feed your baby. Sometimes new mums worry they are not making enough milk to satisfy the baby. Reassure her - the more often she feeds your baby, the more milk she will make.
- As breastfeeding mothers need plenty of fluids, you can help to make sure that she is drinking plenty. Cuddle and spend time with your baby after she feeds.
- Breastfeeding will be affected if your partner is very tired, under stress or emotional.
- Encourage help from friends and family too, but remember to ask your partner is she wants to see so many visitors – she might not be feeling up to it.
- If your partner needs help to breastfeed, local support is available. Don’t be afraid to ask your midwife or health visitor for information and advice. You can also get help from the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.
- Once breastfeeding is established, your partner may wish to express some breast milk so you can help feed. Not all babies will feed from a bottle so you might want to try a spoon or a cup. This is a great time for bonding with your baby.
- Compliment your partner. With your support, she is providing your baby with the best possible start in life.