Breastfeeding is only for mums. True? Yes, but the success of mum’s breastfeeding journey depends (partly) on the man. Here in Singapore, 99 per cent of new mothers try breastfeeding, half of new babies are exclusively breastfed, and 80 per cent of them are still breastfed two months later.
As this study shows, most mums know that breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for a newborn, that it protects babies from diseases and that it is good for mother-baby bonding.
But it takes time and practice for new mothers to master the approaches and positions, and teach Baby how to latch. And the process can be trying, tiring, and stressful for a new mum. How can breastfeeding be made easier for new mums?
Get Dad Involved in the Breastfeeding Process
As Ms. Kang Phaik Gaik, Senior Nurse Manager Parentcraft/Lactation at Mt. Alvernia Hospital, tells us, “Fathers play an important role in the decision to breastfeed, usually made in early pregnancy. The father’s support and assistance to mothers with breastfeeding after birth influence the duration of breastfeeding”.
Coinciding with World Breastfeeding week 2019, new research from Philips Avent showed that almost all mums would like their partners to be involved in every aspect of looking after their newborn baby. In addition, it also revealed that dad’s involvement in breastfeeding has long-term benefits for mum and baby:
- Women who receive support from a partner are more likely to initiate and continue breastfeeding for longer (source).
- Supporting the breastfeeding process is great for father-infant bonding and has long-lasting benefits which baby will carry into later life
However 76 per cent of mothers think that more information is needed on how partners can support the breastfeeding journey. So how can the man help with breastfeeding? Let us count the ways.
1. Give Moral Support
It is good for fathers-to-be to be involved in welcoming the baby, whether it is to accompany his wife to doctor’s appointments or attend prenatal classes. At these classes, says Ms. Kang, expectant fathers can learn about the benefits of breastfeeding, physiology of breastfeeding, how breastfeeding works, as well as how to help and support mothers through childbirth. This in turn can enhance the father’s positive attitudes, knowledge, and coping techniques regarding breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding can be a lonely business. Ms. Kang wants fathers to know that it is important for fathers to show encouragement through words and action – including emotional and practical support – during this period.
2. Give Physical Support
Fathers can help with baby care and interaction through bathing Baby, diaper changing, burping, dressing, hugging, and caring for the baby. “This will give a sense of trust and security and enhance bonding between father and baby,” says Ms. Kang.
The 2012 study revealed that mothers would have breastfed longer given the right support and environment, for example, if they received more help with baby care. So dads, be pro-active, take the initiative to help out in every way. Did you know that breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin which causes sleepiness? So, dads, mum will probably be tired after yet another marathon breastfeeding session. Let her rest between feeds.
3. Know your Vegetables: Cabbage vs Lettuce
There’s a word that new mothers get familiar with early on in their breastfeeding journey: engorgement. When this happens, mum has painfully swollen mammaries, a condition that is best alleviated with one kind of vegetable: cabbage leaves (see below).
When I had my engorgement episode, I dispatched my husband to the wet market for some of these vegetables. Nurse Wee, our home visit nurse from Mt. Alvernia Hospital, had asked for a head of cabbage to be stored in the fridge and used to cool down the engorgement. But when she opened our fridge door, she was surprised to find a head of lettuce instead!
I have to admit, it was not entirely my husband’s fault. I didn’t know my lettuce from my cabbage either. But you can learn to recognise them here.
4. Buy The Bra
Not all parents-to-be decide on breastfeeding early in the pregnancy. First time mums-to-be are usually too preoccupied deciding what food to eat, what food to avoid, dealing with morning sickness, prenatal tests, and appointments with the obstetrician, as well as a name for Baby. It may not occur to the new mom to purchase a nursing bra in advance. Ask your prenatal instructor for help. You can also find online guides like this and this.
5. Help to Decide: Breast shell vs Bra pad
Dripping breasts. Yes it sounds icky but that’s reality when you are breastfeeding. Every drop is precious and you may think it a waste to let the breast milk (worth its weight in gold, they say!) be absorbed by breast pads which are subsequently discarded. Hence, the breast shell, a nifty little shell-shaped ‘bowl’ that fits perfectly to collect every single drip and drop.
Now would you dare mix that shell-collected milk, warmed by body temperature and exposed to the elements, together with the expressed breast milk in the freezer? Wouldn’t it be unhygienic? It’s yours and your husband’s call. For the record, I did that and my baby grew just fine.
6. Let Him Milk
Every three hours, depending on his weight, Baby has to be fed a certain amount of milk. In addition breastfeeding, some new moms also have to manually express their milk to maintain the demand. Remember, when it comes to breastfeeding, supply meets demand.
Feeding the baby directly is convenient. A breast pump is all right if you don’t mind all the washing and sterilising. But I preferred hand expressing, which, believe it or not, is even more effective. My husband manfully stepped up to the task of being the milkman when necessary, and soon, he knew all the pressure points where the most milk would squirt from. It’s a skill every dad should learn!
7. Prepare Herbal Teas
My mother-in-law bought lots of daun katuk (Sauropus Androgynus Merr), a tropical shrub, whose leaves, when infused, are believed to help improve the flow of milk for breastfeeding mothers. My husband boiled them in small batches daily, together with curcuma, turmeric, ken cur (Kaempferia Galanga) and a thin slice of ginger. Thanks to his diligence, I steadily produced an average of 200 milliliters of milk every three hours until I decided to wean my daughters — each of them after nearly two years of breastfeeding.
8. Research Breastfeeding Rooms
Unless you are confident enough to nurse in public with a cover, you would need a nursing room. Thankfully, almost all the shopping malls in Singapore have baby changing rooms and/or nursing rooms. You may have to queue for it, but first, you’ll have to find it. This is where fathers come in. The man, with this (hopefully) evolved sense of direction, can read mall maps and point you in the right direction when Baby’s starting to fidget or howl for a feed.
9. Supervise The Help
My friend Sally Low’s milk supply had yet to kick in after her daughter Faith, now nine, was born. Sally had heard about the fish bones and papaya soup which could help boost breast milk supply. Her sister-in-law offered to do it for her. However, after drinking the soup, Faith, then only 10 days old, had very bad diarrhoea! It turned out the soup had been boiled using ripe papaya instead of green papaya!
The family rushed to the hospital, where Sally pumped breast milk for the nurse to bottle-feed Faith. At feeding time, Faith refused to suck, so the nurse set aside the bottle on the counter. At the next feeding time, to Faith’s father’s horror, the nurse reached for the same bottle to feed his baby daughter! He stopped her just in time. Dad the breastfeeding superhero!
10. Be The First Line of Defence
There’ll definitely be someone out there who may not understand why you want to breastfeed your baby, or why you want to breastfeed for such a long time. There’ll be a well-meaning friend or relative who’ll tell you that you look like you need more rest and that Baby’s breastfeeding is taking too much out of you. Or even that formula milk is better than breast milk. Or shove the latest breastfeeding controversy in your face. This is where Dad can come in to be the first line of defence, to educate, to elucidate, and to extrapolate on the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk, or just to calmly accept the criticism and the advice (whether useful or not) and keep mum away from all the negativity.
Hopefully, your baby’s father will be keen on helping (he’d better!) you on your breast-feeding journey. Let him know that his cooperation will make a difference in your breastfeeding success, and how much it means to you. Aside from bringing him along to parent craft classes, you can get him up-to-date on breastfeeding with the articles here.