My daughter has just learned to ride her bike and her success can be attributed to her perseverance, though she did take some nasty falls. She was willing to keep practising until she had the balance needed and the co-ordination to paddle and steer. Even with all her hard work the thing that helped her get it right was her dad.
He let her know that he believed in her, he helped to keep her steady, ran next to her, and kept encouraging her with tips and praise. As I watched this it reminded me of our breastfeeding experience, his and mine. He was my supporter.
Lately, I have been so encouraged, as a lactation consultant, to have a supportive relationship with my clients, just as there is between couples.
My partner helped me and supported me through some dark breastfeeding days, days when I wanted to stop breastfeeding. His gentle help and support shone through. He would bath our baby, change nappies, help with getting me comfortable to breastfeed, hug away my massive self-doubt and laugh with me even when everything went wrong.
There was an incident where we were sterilising my breast pump parts, on the stove (because we had just got back from the hospital, my baby was premature so I had not had time to get everything I needed). We got distracted and managed to melt all the flanges and bottles of the pump.
I cried and then laughed because how could we be that stupid, even though we were emotionally drained and extremely tired. Within 30 minutes he was back with new parts and all was well again.
In the same way that he helped my daughter ride her bike, he helped me have the courage and confidence in myself to continue to keep breastfeeding until it came as naturally as riding a bike. He taught me to take one day at a time, focus on how far I had come and on the “now”.
This took a lot of the stress off me and I was free to focus on each day.
Just like a breastfeeding mother, my daughter needed someone to help her, explain to her how to use the peddles to give the momentum to make balancing easier and then also how to brake safely.
Society needs to realise that breastfeeding support goes so much further than a slogan or a quick explanation of why breastfeeding is important.
Mothers need someone to show them how to hold their baby while feeding, what to look for when checking to see if her baby is drinking well, monitor weight, and correct any breastfeeding issues like sore nipples or mastitis.
While this is the role of a lactation consultant, the question is “Who supports the mom when the lactation consultant has gone home?” She needs support from someone that she knows well and trusts. The perfect person is her partner.
This means that he needs to be knowledgeable and be able to help her if the “wheels fall off”. This often happens in the early hours of the morning when she is tired and all her fears of -not being able to breastfeed- come rushing back. This is when her partner can be her rock, her source of encouragement, he can help hold and position their baby, and show her where she is doing well and remind her of how far she has come.
Fathers need to be included in breastfeeding education; they need to be able to help, encourage, and support her. I have started to see more fathers wanting to be involved with my lactation consultations. This is so encouraging for me as I know what an important role they play in breastfeeding their baby. There are so many ways that the father can help his partner breastfeed while also bonding with his baby.
Bathing, reading (yes even to a newborn), singing, walking, rocking, infant massage, or skin-to-skin are all fantastic ways that a father can bond with his baby. I have had the privilege to witness the most amazing scenes of love, respect, and pride as fathers have seen and helped their partner to breastfeed.
I believe that when a father sees how amazing breastfeeding is and also how hard it is earned, this is when we will have the best breastfeeding advocates in the boardrooms, at restaurants, and more supportive environments for breastfeeding mothers when in public.
Mothers need someone “running” beside them, encouraging them which is the ultimate support for breastfeeding. The mother is still breastfeeding, but it is so much easier knowing that your partner is right next to you, ready to steady you if you need him.
Carey Haupt is a registered dietician, certified lactation consultant and a director of My Breastpump, importer of Ameda Breast Pumps. Her passion for breastfeeding and assisting parents of babies that are born prematurely started with her own experience of prematurity with both her children. Carey helps mothers with individualised consultations, group talks and also provides breastfeeding education to other healthcare workers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a Facebook petition was launched by NICU mothers asking for more access to their babies and this immediately got my attention. Having experienced NICU with both of my children, I know how hard isolating is and how much support and comfort is needed from your partner and family.