Partners in Breastfeeding: Mothers Tell Why Support Matters

shutterstock_62050450-2Kendra Atkins-Boyce, Portland, Oregon

Breastfeeding is generally regarded as a two-person job: the breastfeeding parent and the baby or child. Sometimes a third party is necessary to help establish or maintain the breastfeeding bond. In the early days, two hands may not be enough to position baby at the breast. After breastfeeding is established, the breastfeeding partner may have to drop everything to feed the baby, leaving other tasks and care of other children to the non-breastfeeding parent.

My husband was immensely important to help me establish a breastfeeding relationship with our daughter after a cesarean birth. While I recovered in the delivery room, he held our daughter skin-to-skin until I could bring her to the breast. He helped me position pillows and helped Karys open wide enough to latch.  He encouraged me as I fumbled with nipple shields and the supplemental nursing system (SNS) I had to use. He held Karys after feedings so that I could pump to stimulate my supply. He woke me up for feedings (even though both Karys and I were fussy about it!) because he knew that it would help maintain my milk supply. He understood when Karys slept with us or I fell asleep in her room, knowing that I wouldn’t always need to keep her so close. He protected our breastfeeding relationship by taking over dinner preparations if Karys needed to nurse. He defended our decision to nurse when people asked why she was “still nursing” at one, two, and almost three years old. He attended La Leche League meetings when partners were invited and made a point of understanding the benefits of breastfeeding for me and for our child.

I know how important my husband’s help was to me, so I decided to find out how other mothers received support from their partners. Here are a few of their answers.

shutterstock_407501209-2Carrie of Houston, Texas, recounts the help that her husband provided when her son was born prematurely.

“Being the mother of a preemie is difficult. I spent two weeks only able to look at my child. I wasn’t able to hold him or touch him, much less breastfeed him. I began pumping every three hours as soon as we had to be separated. It was so painful for me. It took two days before I began to produce any milk. My husband, Michael, was my rock and support the whole time. He encouraged me and pushed me to keep pumping. I would spend 20 minutes pumping and only get 5 ml of milk. I will never forget my husband telling me, “Wow! This is amazing! I am so proud of you! Our son will grow and get better because of this milk.” I remember watching nurses hook up my son’s feeding tube filled with artificial baby milk. I was beyond angry and asked them to give him my milk instead. My husband handed them the first bits of gold that I had worked so hard to extract. By the time we brought our son home, I had already pumped (enough to fill) ten bags and was steadily pumping every three hours. However, I was desperate to get my son to latch. I wanted and longed for that bonding. I needed to feel that connection with him. After two weeks of no success, Michael contacted a lactation consultant to guide my efforts. It was amazing how someone with experience and understanding was able to guide our son to latch. It was the most beautiful moment of my life so far, to have my husband and son there with me, loving me and supporting me. I continued to pump extra milk to freeze and fed my son directly from the breast. There were many late nights of feeding and pumping. Michael was there to clean the pump parts, store the milk, encourage me, and attend to our every need. I know that I would not have been able to continue on my breastfeeding journey had it not been for his love, encouragement, and support for me and our son.”

Rebecca of New England describes the help that her husband provided in rebuilding the breastfeeding relationship after her son was unexpectedly sent to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

“My husband was beyond supportive in not only sustaining, but rebuilding, my breastfeeding relationship with our son.

Our son was born at a birthing center. He breastfed immediately and repeatedly. Later that day, he had breathing difficulties and had to be admitted to the NICU. I could not hold him or breastfeed him for more than 24 hours. It felt like an eternity. For me, it was very traumatic and devastating. I pumped and stored colostrum until I could hold him and feed him again.

Once home, it took a while before my son returned to his birth weight after leaving the NICU. One thing that helped was a collection of breastfeeding pictures my husband found in a book. That helped me to adjust my son’s position and get comfortable while holding him for breastfeeding sessions.

A local lactation consultant suggested giving my son pumped milk in a syringe after each feeding. Nursing and pumping occupied the only time and resources I had to give. I was emotionally exhausted and stressed. I nursed our son on both breasts and then offered both again. My husband’s help continued in other ways. He did the syringe feeding and took care of cleaning the pumping equipment.

My husband brought me meals. To help me feel more comfortable and relaxed, he rubbed my shoulders while I breastfed and pumped. Eddie was also emotionally present, encouraging, supportive, and positive, and helped me tap into my strength and confidence.”

shutterstock_371814907-2My sister-in-law, Brittany, of Herndon, Virginia, who is still on maternity leave with my niece, shares her experience.

“Alex was and still is most helpful when it’s been a bad day or night. When Evie and I were still learning (to breastfeed), she would instantly scream if I couldn’t respond to her hunger cues fast enough, especially at night. Her arms would flail and she would push away from me, swinging her head from side to side.

Then my husband would be there: voice calming, taking hold of her hands, and soothing her enough to help her to latch. Then he would be there kissing my forehead and telling me how good I was doing, how proud he was of me.

Now that Evie and I have established nursing, Alex is still just as proud. He is very vocal about how good I’m doing. He’s my best support system and understands breastfeeding in theory. That’s really what a new mother needs. We need to hear that we’re doing it right, that our hard work is appreciated. Our sweet babies don’t have the ability yet to tell us they love us and all that we do to keep them healthy and alive and to feel loved. A good partner does just that. I am fortunate to have the best partner. He surrounds his baby with love and always shows me his love and support as well.”

As these stories demonstrate, breastfeeding might be a two-person job, but with loving support from a partner, it doesn’t have to be limited to that.