A lot of men might wonder why they should care about breastfeeding. Before being a partner to a women who is breastfeeding and a father to a baby who is breastfeeding, I didn’t know much about the topic either. But now that I’ve been through six months of it, it is something that I have learned so much about and am very committed to supporting. I believe that one of the most important roles in a lifetime for a man, father, or partner is to support women and babies who breastfeed, and this is why.
Supporting breastfeeding is an amazing opportunity to create a safe space for the mother to take on her most important role of nurturing of babies during the first years the most critical time for development. Remember that these little sacred beings are our future, something that impacts all people and all life on earth. As a support system, we are allowing our children access to the first food: breastmilk. Babies are a blessing to their families, and this is an opportunity help foster this sacred life.
There are many benefits to breastfeeding. Here are just a few important ones to know about.
- Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes for both mother and infant
- Breastfeeding can reduces a baby’s risk for obesity by about one-third
- Breastfed infants have few allergies
- The baby receives beneficial microbiome from breastfeeding
- Breast milk contains antibodies that protect the baby from upper respiratory infections
- The nutrients in breastfeeding enhances infant learning and brain cognition
- Breastfeeding fosters a healthy holistic connection between mother and infant, creating wellbeing for both.
The role of fathers has changed a lot from precolonial times. According to oral tradition, in some Indigenous Nations, men were less involved than women in the day-to-day care of the infants and babies for several reasons.
Today our culture has greatly shifted as a result of colonialism, so it’s our job to evaluate the ways in which we need to be supportive in this new context. Across native country is a resurgence of strong Indigenous fatherhood that is loving, generous, and involved in every way. Being supportive of breastfeeding is just one step - a very important one - to reclaiming power through good parenting.
Here are 7 ways to support your partner in breastfeeding
Do not expect to be cooked for during this busy time for mom and baby. Instead, cook for them! It is dangerous for a woman to cook with a baby in hand or even in a baby carrier, so be mindful of that. Moms burn a lot of calories breastfeeding, so it’s important that you help your wife stay fueled and satiated. Be health conscious and prepare hearty salads with a side of wild game protein such as deer, moose or grass-fed bison. Healthy fats are great for breast milk production. Cook wild catch salmon, walleye, whole eggs and try some avocados on the side. Those foods that contain healthy fats will provide satisfaction a little longer than a meal high in carbohydrates or sugar. Use coconut oil, olive oil or tallow instead of vegetable or canola oil.
2. Bring water and wake up in the night
Moms can become quickly dehydrated during breastfeeding, so you should help where you can. Always bring water to where she sits or lays with baby while nursing. In the early months, your partner might like support throughout the night when baby is waking up a lot. You can help by getting up in the night with her to bring water and make sure she’s comfortable while she breast feeds. Don’t wait for her to ask you to help - just do it, and be consistent! Be supportive of co-sleeping as well. Make room for the baby and don't complain!
3. Never say “that’s a woman’s job”
Remember, at one time, gender roles when it came to parenting were more set in stone but there was a reason for that. Today, in nearly every case, the moms are working at their careers just as hard if not harder than the men, so there’s no reason why things like diaper changing should be left to the woman and not the man. You can also help with the breastfeeding process by taking baby and burping him or her after eating.
4. Take on more household duties
Every couple and relationship splits chores and household duties in different ways, and hopefully before kids its’ an equal partnership. But when the babies come along, remember to take on more. Breastfeeding mothers are extremely busy with the baby. Don’t wait for instructions, just start doing the dishes, straightening up, sweeping, taking out trash, emptying diaper pale and getting the other kids dressed and fed. Try to help your wife feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
5. Learn to occupy baby
Give your partner a break so she can do what she wants or needs to do. Don’t think of watching your child as a chore - it’s your child! Use this time to strengthen your connection with baby. Use skin to skin (hold them while your shirt is off) to help comfort baby (they like it). Sing or hum melodies to your baby, to calm them if they’re upset. If you’re a singer, this a sacred time as more songs will come to you (that is part of baby’s gift to you). After a while the baby will need mom again and may cry, do not be discouraged your role is still important. It’s most likely because the baby is hungry since their metabolism and digestion works very fast. If you find yourself becoming frustrated, step back and take some slow deep breathes to calm yourself. Get a baby carrier just for you so you can carry baby around while out and about. You can also use baby to work out with while he/she is in the carrier.
6. Provide moral support
This is a transitional period for mothers, especially new ones. In every pregnancy, the postpartum time can be difficult because of the sharp learning curve, readjustment to new schedule, and hormonal shifting. Breastfeeding helps moms with hormone balance, feeling emotionally better after delivery, which is yet another reason to encourage it. Always remind her she is beautiful and what she’s doing a sacred thing. Offer shoulder massages periodically or scalp massages to help relieve stress. While your partner is breastfeeding use your respective smudges to cleanse the space and create peacefulness her and the baby. if you play an instrument like a flute or guitar you can play relaxing or calming melodies for them.
7. Assist her while breastfeeding in public places.
Babies get hungry very frequently and at some point will probably have to eat in public places like grocery stores, restaurants and airports. Be supportive by finding comfortable places for her to breastfeed. Some moms may want more privacy and you can be there to help cover her with a swaddle blanket as she sets up to allow baby to latch. If she does not want to cover up, support that, too. Sit with her and have her back. Many women are working hard to normalize breastfeeding, and that’s a great thing.
One of the 7 Circles of Wellness is developing and maintaining a strong tie to your family. Do not be afraid to embrace a new role in your babies life. Children are sacred and so is fatherhood. Our roles as fathers must continue to evolve to support the need of mothers in a drastically changing world. Being a good supporter of breastfeeding is strengthening our family circles to reclaim our health and indigenous identity.
Thosh Collins - Well For Culture Co-Founder