One of the most common questions from soon-to-be or newly-nursing mamas I hear on the breastfeeding board I frequent is “How soon can I give a bottle? I really want daddy to help with the feeding duties.” While it is true that breastfeeding experts recommend introducing a bottle between 4 to 6 weeks (if you do plan to need baby to take a bottle at some point), introducing pumping and bottle feeding too early simply puts added stress and work on mama and can possibly lead to baby having trouble nursing at the breast. Certainly there are babies who can go from breast to bottle at birth no problem, but some do have great difficulty learning the different sucking skills needed; using a bottle in the early weeks can lead to baby becoming a lazy nurser which in turn can lead to supply problems. Since there’s no way to know in advance which camp your baby will fall into, it makes sense to hold off on bottles until nursing is well established.
Just because it’s best not to introduce a bottle for the first 4-6 weeks of a nursing relationship doesn’t mean that your non-nursing partner has to sit on the sidelines. In fact, the support of your partner is KEY to breastfeeding success. I am positive that the early weeks of nursing Callum went as well as they did due in large part to having a partner who was with me every step of the way. Jesse’s involvement in helping Callum and I learn to nurse, also meant that he was a part of that relationship, admittedly not in the way that I was but certainly in his own important and valued way.
Here are some simple ways your non-nursing partner can support you in the early days of nursing AND be a part of the breastfeeding relationship:
- Education: One of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for breastfeeding is to educate yourself – through books, classes, working with a lactation consultant, etc. It makes sense then that your partner should do the same! Breastfeeding classes welcome partners and having more than one set of ears to take in the information is always helpful. Breastfeeding books and websites like Kelly Mom are great to read both before baby is born and once baby arrives and nursing questions arise. Jesse frequently referenced our well loved copy of So That’s What They’re For! as I worked to get Callum nursing in the early days. It was much more efficient to have him reading and coaching me than for me to try to read and figure things out on my own – you’ll need both hands (and sometimes more!) for nursing in the beginning.
- Physical Support: The first few weeks of breastfeeding are very demanding on mama physically. I would get insanely hungry while nursing, even in the middle of the night. And crazy thirsty as well. Jesse kept me supplied with snacks and water during every nursing session (and remember, sometimes those can last upwards of an hour!). He’d also bring me pillows or a book or a remote or really anything I suddenly needed. Non-nursing partners can also take over some of the “auxiliary” activities associated with nursing – burping, changing, rocking back to sleep, etc. – that are also important to baby’s comfort and well-being.
- Moral Support: One of the toughest things about the early weeks is the sheer amount of time you spend nursing – and the fact that it’s a round the clock gig. Night nursing sessions were the toughest – I was sleepy and Callum was sleepy (even though I knew he needed to eat). Jesse would sit with me, help keep Callum going, and help keep me from nodding off. Knowing that I wasn’t alone made a huge difference in my morale. Throughout my nursing days, I always knew that I had a supportive partner behind me who took an active role in making breastfeeding successful – all the way through weaning nearly 2 years later.
When it is time to introduce a bottle (if that is something that fits in your breastfeeding relationship), your partner is the perfect person for the job (since many babies are reluctant to take a bottle from mama at first). Just remember that any time baby takes a bottle, you will need to pump to keep up your supply (another reason that having someone give baby a bottle so you can sleep in those early weeks doesn’t work and can really crash your supply).
Even if your partner never gives baby a single feeding, he will still bond beautifully with his child. Nursing/feeding is only one way to bond with baby; babies need loads of cuddling and caring that comes in other forms as well. Although Callum was exclusively nursed for the first 4 weeks or so and only had pumped milk after that when I was away, Jesse had no trouble finding his special daddy ways to connect. In fact, sometimes daddy’s magic touch was just the thing for an unsettled baby!
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