Dear partner of a breastfeeding mum,
Right now you’re feeling like a total spare part. Having been relegated to hand-holding and delivering enthusiastic words of encouragement during the labour, you had hoped there would be a bit more your could do to pitch in now.
But your other half and your gorgeous new baby are rather joined at the hip or, should we say, at the nip.
The baby sleeps most of the time, and when the baby is not asleep, then he or she is feeding. You probably had not realised that eating is an all-day activity for babies.
They don’t just take a full feed and then leave it three hours until the next one. Newborns want to feed constantly in the early weeks. When it comes to the evenings, they like to remain attached to mum for hours on end.
You get to have the odd cuddle here and there, while your other half is resting, having a shower or enjoying the luxury of eating dinner with two hands. However it never seems too long before your baby lets out a little squeal of discontent and begins angrily sucking on their fist while thrashing their head in search of what they need.
Feeling like a spare part is hard. But it would be easier to accept this role if your other half was coping. But she seems to hate breastfeeding.
She keeps complaining about how much it hurts, that she’s leaked milk in her sleep again and she has no idea whether the baby is getting enough.
Surely the answer would be to just stop and start giving a bottle instead?
Yes formula is a totally acceptable, and totally normal, way of feeding your baby. There’s a real backlash against those who force breastfeeding on vulnerable mums. It’s a major source of post-natal depression and major mummy guilt.
The truth of the matter is breastfeeding is bloody hard work, and you don’t realise how tough it is to get the hang of until you’re actually doing it.
Inside your baby’s mother is a maelstrom of hormones she is combating along with the stress, sleep deprivation and general fear that comes hand-in-hand with becoming a mum.
She will complain about cluster feeding, she may weep as she applies nipple cream to her sore boobs and she may even moan about how it’s OK for you, because you don’t have to get up for night feeds.
All of this is likely to make you want to scream out, “but why don’t you just try bottle feeding?”.
But as much as your other half might complain about breastfeeding, if she deep down really wants to keep doing it, she’s going to need your support.
If your other half has told you she wants to give breastfeeding a try, keep offering words of encouragement. Ask what you can do to help them, frequently.
Yes formula feeding is absolutely fine, but most mums have to give up breastfeeding because they did not find the right support, help and encouragement.
The practical support comes from their midwife and health visitors. The emotional support needs to come from you.
It may seem unfair, that breastfeeding is causing such a lot of friction and upset in your home. It’s easy to blame the breastfeeding for the baby’s poor sleep, your other half’s fatigue and the worry you’re both experiencing over whether baby is gaining enough weight.
On this matter, I am afraid, you need to be led by your partner. You are both parents, but she carried the baby for nine months and she as the mum gets first dibs on how the baby is fed. It’s not to say the matter isn’t up for debate, just that if your partner wants to breastfeed, as it is her body, it is only right that you support that.
Both of you have the baby’s best interests at heart after all. And trust me when I say, breastfeeding absolutely DOES get easier. It takes up to eight weeks, but it does become pain-free, less frequent and saves you a LOT of washing up.
Believe me when I tell you, you are NOT a spare part.
Carry on holding your baby, whenever you can. Offer to take the baby for a walk if they need a nap and are refusing to have one unless their mum’s nipple is in their mouth.
Give your other half a rest whenever you can.
Get your baby dressed in the mornings.
Always offer them a drink, because they WILL always need one.
Do the cooking, the cleaning and the shopping.
I agree that all of the above sounds boring, and may not feel as parental as you were hoping to be.
But this newborn stage passes by in a flash.
Soon your baby will be awake more, feeding less frequently and wanting lots of entertainment.
Not being able to feed your baby does not make you any less of a parent than your partner.
A breastfeeding mum