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Breastfeeding: how dads can help

When your partner breastfeeds your new baby, you can help by being enthusiastic, supportive and knowledgeable.

When it comes to food, the science is clear – there’s nothing better than breast milk for your baby. Breastfed babies get fewer infections, and mothers who breastfeed have lower risk of osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes.

As a dad, you obviously can’t actually breastfeed your baby. But your attitude and support can be crucial as your partner learns how to breastfeed.

How you can help

  • By learning about how breastfeeding works you can be more ‘part of the team’ and support your partner through any early difficulties.
  • Take opportunities to carry your baby in a sling, or to just cuddle him. Cuddling skin to skin can help settle your baby and help you bond.
  • Bathing your baby can be soothing for her, and a beautiful bonding time for you both.
  • Help with housework or cooking. Try to make sure you’re home as much as possible to take care of these things.
  • When your partner is breastfeeding, be her extra pair of hands – offer to bring her a glass of water or another pillow if she needs one.
  • For night feeds, you can bring your baby to your partner in bed. After the feed, take your child for a burp and nappy change, and settle him back to sleep if necessary. This will be a big help to your partner, even if you only do it for some night feeds, or on some nights.
  • Be patient if your partner doesn’t feel like being intimate with you. She might feel all ‘touched out’ if she’s feeding, carrying and settling a baby many times a day.
  • Breastfeeding will make your partner hungry and thirsty. You can help by encouraging her to drink plenty of water, and by supplying lots of fruits and vegetables for her to eat. 

If your partner has difficulties with breastfeeding, encourage her to seek assistance, as nearly all problems can be overcome with the right information and a positive attitude. However, if you have really exhausted all avenues and your partner still finds she can’t breastfeed, reassure her that it’s OK.

Look for the positives – one option may be for her to express her breastmilk. This means you and your partner can share the feeding, while your baby still gets the best food. It might be possible for her to partially breastfeed.

What you need to know about breastfeeding

  • Breastfeeding isn’t always quick. For new mums, each feeding session can last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour. Most newborns feed 8-12 times a day.
  • Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable at first. If the baby is attached properly, any discomfort should subside after 30-60 seconds. But if the discomfort or pain continues, your baby might not be attached or positioned correctly. Pain isn’t normal and your partner needs to get assistance.
  • You might be able to settle your baby more easily than your breastfeeding partner. When your baby is fussy, the smell of milk on your partner can lead your baby to search for her breasts instead of calming down. In these situations, your child might settle better in your arms.
  • Once mum and baby have established a good breastfeeding system (usually after 1-2 months), you can talk about expressing breastmilk for occasional bottle feeds. This means you can do some of the feeds and give your partner a break.
  • Breastfeeding doesn’t cause sagging breasts. Pregnancy, genetics, age, smoking and weight loss or gain will affect breast shape, but breastfeeding doesn’t.
Fathers are important to babies no matter how they’re fed. If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you might feel a bit left out, but remember – there are other ways you can get involved and bond with your baby. An important role of a father is to teach his baby that love doesn’t have to involve the giving of food.


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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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