All parents have a unique relationship with their baby, which grows and develops as their baby does. A breastfeeding mother builds a special relationship with her baby through the act of breastfeeding. But children build important relationships with other adults in their lives, beginning with those they see most often. This may be the baby’s biological father, but it can be anyone else who lives with mother and baby and who is a constant presence in their lives. LLL recognises that families come in many different shapes and sizes. In most relationships there will be a non-breastfeeding partner although sometimes both partners may breastfeed. An LLL Leader can give you more information about this option.
A different person
You are different from your breastfeeding partner, with a different feel, a different sound and a different smell. At the end of a long day a new and different person with a fresh pair of arms may be just what is needed to settle your tired and fractious baby.
Carrying and comforting
The love hormone oxytocin, released when a mother breastfeeds, promotes a feeling of closeness and connection with her baby. But oxytocin isn’t limited to just nursing mothers. It works in a similar way when you hold, cuddle and care for your baby. A great way to experience continuous close contact with your baby is to use a carrier or sling. Babies usually love them and it’s a handy way to settle a baby. At times when your baby is fussy or uncomfortable and nothing else works, you might also try the colic hold (see picture overleaf).
Breastfeeding—the obvious choice
Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed and comfort a baby. It is protective against asthma, coeliac disease, cot death, diabetes, diarrhoea and tummy upsets, ear infections and heart disease, to name but a few. What is more, the practical everyday benefits include:
- No getting up to prepare bottles during the night.
- Sweet smelling nappies.
- No feeding equipment and expensive formula to buy for your baby.
- Less to take with you when you go out as a family.
In the early days, your baby will probably want to breastfeed a lot of the time he’s awake. At this stage, your partner may only be managing to eat, sleep and nurse the baby. This is normal. At first his mum and nursing will be the centre of your baby’s world. A baby’s bond with his mother is the basis for all other relationships. Encouraging that bond will strengthen his love for you later.
As life settles down
You and your partner will probably both need time to adjust to your new roles. Many couples say they didn’t feel prepared for the emotional upheaval they experienced on becoming parents. A breastfeeding mother usually feels an intense connection with her baby, both emotionally and physically, due to breastfeeding hormones and the practical need to stay close to feed the baby. It can be easy to feel a bit left out of this. Getting involved in practical ways such as nappy changes, baths, walks and playtimes will help you bond with your baby. Caring for your baby teaches him that love comes from interacting with people as well as from food. Your partner will love you for it and so will your baby.
Maintaining your closeness as a couple
Almost every sexual relationship changes with the birth of a baby. Daily life can be exhausting and your partner may need time to recover physically. Resuming your sex life together may take time, but simple gestures like kissing, holding hands and sitting alongside her as she nurses your baby can keep you connected and remind you of your love for one another.
Support for you
Sometimes there is so much focus on the health and well-being of mum and baby that partners may be overlooked. Post-natal depression can affect either person in a couple, especially after a difficult birth. Tell your partner and seek help from your GP if you are in this situation
What partners can do
Your partner needs practical help and emotional support while recovering from the birth.
Mum and baby need to establish a strong bond, plentiful milk production and an enjoyable breastfeeding relationship. You can help this happen with your attitude, actions and words:
- Support mother-baby bonding. The most important thing you can do for your baby’s future health and well-being is to be a breastfeeding advocate.
- Make the most of your parental leave. Take as long as you can manage. Take it when the new mum and baby would otherwise be at home alone. Concentrate just on the needs of your partner, baby and any other children. Let everything else wait.
- Fix it so the household ‘ticks over’. Take charge and welcome help from others. You could also buy in help: a cleaner, supermarket delivery, mother’s help.
- Guard against too many visitors. Let others know when your new little family needs to be alone. Protect mum and baby from over-enthusiastic visitors and callers, and try to ensure you all have some peaceful uninterrupted time together. Turn off the phone and put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the front door.
- Look after your other children. Provide fun activities and opportunity for exercise. Try to meet their needs for attention, sleep and healthy food.
- Protect your partner from well meaning but unhelpful advice that undermines breastfeeding—even if it comes from your own mum!
- Seek skilled help if any breastfeeding problems crop up. Problems are more easily solved if you call for help straight away. Problems with soreness or not enough milk can usually be fixed easily if you track down the right help early on. So keep looking until you find that help. New mums are often given a contact number for a breastfeeding counsellor or peer supporter. Encourage your partner to give her a call.
- Respect your partner’s instincts. Nature isn’t daft and maternal instincts have ensured the survival of our species for millions of years. A new mum’s hormones motivate her to mother her baby through breastfeeding.
- Fight off any pressure to separate mum and baby. Help mum and baby spend lots of time snuggling together in the hours and days after birth.
- Search for details of local mums’ breastfeeding groups. Encourage your partner to attend before and after birth so she gets this vital mother-to mother contact. She will get ongoing support to carry on breastfeeding as long as she and baby want. It can make all the difference.
- Admire and praise your baby’s mother. Your love and encouragement will work wonders.
- Firmly resist pressures to feed baby anything other than mum’s own milk before he is six months old. Your baby doesn’t need other foods until he can sit up and begin to feed himself. Even then, breastmilk carries on being an important food for older babies and toddlers.
- Meet your baby’s need for you. Spend time with your baby and enjoy building your own unique relationship.
LLL Leaders are skilled at helping new mothers. You or your partner can call our helpline. for information and support. Local LLL groups are a source of support and encouragement that can make all the difference. Some groups also run meetings for couples. Visit here for further information.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. LLLI. London: Pinter & Martin, 2010.
WHY PERINATAL DEPRESSION MATTERS, Scotland, M. London: Pinter & Martin, 2016.
LLL Information Sheets and Leaflets
This leaflet and those above are available from La Leche League GB SHOP,
This information sheet is dedicated to the partners and families of LLL Leaders. Their support and encouragement enables Leaders to volunteer their time to give breastfeeding help to many other families.
If you wish to fund an LLLGB leaflet dedicated to a loved one, please contact us at the address below.
Written by Sue Upstone, Deborah Robertson & mothers of La Leche League Great Britain.
La Leche League Great Britain 2018