When taking the breastfeeding session of our antenatal course, I often ask the mums-to-be what they think the fathers can do to help once their baby has been born. So often new fathers report to me that they feel “useless” and a bit “spare” whilst their partner is busy feeding the baby (quite a regular occurrence when they are tiny) so I thought it might be helpful to highlight a few things which your other half can be doing to help and support you, whilst you are breastfeeding.
Feeding your baby expressed milk
Feeding your baby with a bottle of expressed milk (or formula if topping up) is often the first idea that comes up in a discussion about what the dads can do to help. Many mothers ask me when they should start expressing and when their partners can get involved in the feeding. My feeling is that expressing and bottles, wherever possible, should not be introduced until the breastfeeding is well established. This may take a few days or even weeks. I say this because it can take a little while to fully get to grips with breastfeeding and for your body to adapt to provide your baby with the milk she needs, as best dictated by your baby. If you start expressing (stimulating your breasts more) and giving bottles (instead of breastfeeding), it may interfere with your milk production and mean that you end up having an issue with over or under supply.
Some experts also talk of “nipple confusion” and babies preferring bottle to breast which does seem to be the case with some babies – bottle feeding is very different to breastfeeding in terms of mechanics and positioning. This is another reason to hold off on the bottles if possible (NB if your baby is not gaining weight and needs formula, this of course is a different issue and your midwife/healthcare professional should guide you).
Preparing bottles and expressing equipment
If you are including bottles (either of expressed milk or formula) in your feeding regime, then dads can help with the washing, sterilising and preparation of feeds – a boring but important task.
Other areas include:
Changing your baby’s nappies
There will be plenty of these to keep dad busy! An average 2-3 week old baby should produce at least 6 wet and 3 soiled nappies over a 24hr period, and may produce more.
Monitoring nappy output
One of the best indicators that your baby is thriving and getting enough milk is their nappy output, so this should always be carefully monitored. A great job for dad and he may like some of the apps you can get to help keep track!
Bathing your baby
Many little babies love a warm bath – it reminds them of their former home, the uterus. If dad bathes the little one, you can have a moment to put your feet up.
Winding your baby
You may find your baby is uncomfortable during or after feeding and feels better after a burp. There are several winding techniques you can try and dads often become the expert at this and love the challenge of seeing if they can elicit a burp or 2!
Soothing your baby
If your baby is crying, dads often feel that only mum can calm them down, but in fact many dads can soothe their baby really successfully. Try holding your baby in a different way – the “tiger in the tree” hold with baby chest down lying on your forearm can be a winner. Other techniques to try involve making a loud “shushing” noise (which sounds like the placenta), rocking your baby (they seem to prefer slightly jerky movements – much like your movements when pregnant) or swaddling them (may give a feeling of security).
Dads too can enjoy skin to skin time with their baby too – great for bonding and calming a tiny baby. Babies love being on their parents’ chest, feeling the warmth of the skin and hearing the familiar sound of the heartbeat and your voice – which they will recognise after several months of hearing you both speak whilst inside the womb.
New-born babies only spend short amounts of time awake and alert but they can focus the distance from breast to face so if a father is cradling his little one, he can connect with him/ her and play simple games. Even tiny babies try and mimic a tongue being stuck out, believe it or not!
Taking baby for a walk
Dads often enjoy taking their baby for a walk around the block (sling or pram), which can help calm a fractious baby and provide you with a little time to yourself.
So those are all areas where dads can help with your baby. The other key area which dads can focus on is looking after you! Monitoring visitors, emptying the dishwasher, tidying, cooking, seeking support for you if needed and giving you much needed encouragement are all really good ways in which dads can help you to cope with sleep deprivation and the hormonal turmoil of the early days.
Really there is so much, aside from giving a bottle, which a new Father can be doing to help and support you with your new-born.