New parents need time to adjust to their new roles. Life may change dramatically, especially for a ﬁrst time mother—many women say they didn’t feel prepared for the emotional upheaval they experienced on becoming a mum. Even experienced mothers can have difﬁculties juggling the needs of the new baby with those of older children. At this time a pair of practical helping hands can make a big difference by allowing a mother time to recover from the birth and establish breastfeeding. In the early days, a baby will probably want to breastfeed a lot of the time he’s awake. At this stage, a mother may only be managing to eat, sleep and nurse the baby.
This is normal. At ﬁrst his mum and nursing will be at the centre of a baby’s world. The security of a baby’s bond with his mother is the basis for all other relationships. A breastfeeding mum generally feels an intense connection with her baby, both emotionally and physically, due to breastfeeding hormones and the practical need to stay close to nurse her baby.
This way, babies get what they need to thrive. A baby’s wants are his needs—he can’t wait like an adult can. By meeting his needs a mother gives him a secure attachment so he can develop into a conﬁdent child.
When can a baby start eating solid food?
When will a baby sleep through the night?
When does breastfeeding stop?
Support for mothers is important
Ways to support a breastfeeding mother
What breastfeeding mums say when asked what would help
What about partners?
What about dads?
Two women having a baby
What about other family members?
What about visitors?
Other ways to help
When a mum has no support
Breastmilk is normal, formula is artiﬁcial. Human milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes, antibodies and compounds with unique structures that can’t be copied in a factory. Infant formula is a processed food: a combination of modiﬁed cows’ milk, vegetable oils and other additives. Infant formula can never equal human milk. The make-up of a mother’s milk changes from feed to feed, adapting to the needs of her baby as he grows—formula just can’t do this. Our article 10 Facts About Breastfeeding has more information.
Brain not brawn
Cows’ milk is designed to help calves grow fast and put on lots of muscle. Human milk builds intelligent human brains with gradual physical growth.
Less risk of disease and illness
Studies show that a baby has the best chance of growing up healthy if he is breastfed. Being fed infant formula signiﬁcantly increases a child’s risk of gastroenteritis, diabetes, and developing cancers, to name but a few. What about breastfeeding in public places? Babies often want to breastfeed when people around them are eating and drinking—and why not? Mothers breastfeed in many public places and tend to be so discreet you may not even have noticed. Breastfeeding is also convenient when a mother is out and about. She can spot early feeding cues and offer a feed before her baby gets frantic—well before those around her are even aware. After all, no one notices a baby nestled in mum’s arms but a crying baby guarantees an audience!
Breastmilk is a complete food so a healthy baby needs only mum’s milk until about the middle of the ﬁrst year. There’s no beneﬁt to be found in introducing solid foods before this time. If a baby seems hungry, more breastmilk usually does the trick—mum could breastfeed more often, offering both sides. Many babies who start on solid foods from around six months quickly learn to feed themselves and enjoy sitting up with the family at mealtimes.
When will a baby sleep through the night?
A baby will need to breastfeed during the night for a number of months to ensure he takes in enough milk and to maintain mum’s milk production. Just as there’s no ﬁxed age for when a baby is ready to walk or talk, there’s no real way of knowing when he will be ready to sleep through the night. Consider whether you sleep through the night now? Many adults wake, turn over and go back to sleep as a matter of course. As a baby grows his sleep cycles will naturally get longer. In the meantime, he will wake and be likely to need the comfort of mum, her co-parent or other family member’s presence to help him relax and fall back to sleep.
What about bottles and dummies? Bottles or dummies can confuse a baby’s sucking technique, so if a supplement is needed, a spoon, ﬂexible feeding cup or syringe can be used. Giving formula affects a mum’s milk production since a baby will take less breastmilk. Some mums express milk for their partner, or another support person, to give but expressing takes more effort than simply breastfeeding. If a mother is ﬁnding night feeding exhausting you could encourage her to rest during the day, to try feeding lying down and to keep baby close at night so she doesn’t have to get up. See our page on Safe Sleep for more information.
When does a baby’s need to use nappies or a highchair stop? It’s all very individual. It doesn’t usually help to push children on to the next stage until they are ready. Breastmilk is just as nutritious as it was when he was tiny and it still protects him from infection. There is no evidence that continuing to breastfeed makes a toddler clingy—in fact the opposite may be the case. A toddler may seem big but emotionally he’s still a baby. It’s easier on mum and baby to let breastfeeding end gradually.
- Nothing compares with breastmilk for growing healthy, clever babies.
- No getting up to prepare bottles during the night.
- Your baby’s nappies won’t smell bad.
- No feeding equipment and expensive formula to buy for your baby.
- Less to take with you when you go out with your baby.
One very real problem is that many mothers don’t receive enough support in the early days and months, and simply try to do too much. Most mums who stop breastfeeding
before they want to cite lack of support as the reason. They need time to recover and adjust, especially after a difﬁcult birth. Caring for a newborn really is a full time job, and that’s before you add in essential housework and caring for any older children. All mothers need practical help and support. The biggest challenges for all mothers are:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Keeping up with basic housework.
- Lack of emotional support.
- Isolation: the help you give can make a lot of difference to a new mother, especially when her baby seems to be nursing all the time and is waking at night. Be sensitive to her needs. What you can offer and do will partly depend on whether you are a friend or family member, and the closeness of your relationship. Some mothers will want more practical help, others more emotional help—and a mother may have st
- rong views on what help she will accept and from whom.
You may be her partner, the baby’s dad or mum, a family member or friend. All mums need support, and whatever your relationship to her there are things you can do to help.
- Walks in the fresh air. Consider wearing baby in a sling or other carrier.
- Go out and about; babies are social people.
- Read and sing to baby—he’ll love hearing your voice.
- Take a bath together, or bathe him in the baby bath. Many babies love bathtime!
- Sleep with him. Visit our page on Safe Sleep and the Breastfed Baby.
- Hold him on your chest while he naps to help him feel safe and relaxed.
- Nappy changes are perfect for games and chat.
- Talk to him about things around the house.
- Take him to his mother whenever he needs her.
- Use the Magic Baby Hold: with your baby’s back against your front, bring your left arm over his left shoulder (one arm on either side of yours), and hold his right thigh.
- Try other comfort techniques.
- Jiggle and sway. Babies tend to like side- to- side motion.
- Make sure she has food and drinks.
- Cut her food up for her if she’s holding the baby!
- Hold the baby so she can take a shower.
- Help her get good help if she needs it.
- Guard against too many visitors. Let others know when you need 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 older children. Provide fun activities and opportunity for exercise. Try to meet their needs for attention, sleep and healthy food.
- 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.
“The best presents for a new mum are home cooked meals frozen in take away tubs- ready meals but real food!”
“Order a box set & takeaway!”
“I need friends supporting me, sharing laughter and tears, coffee and cake”
“Make sure I have water, muslin, remote control, phone, book & cake”
“Bring me snacks that are tasty, healthy and one-handed!”
“When it’s really hot and my baby is going through a growth spurt, bring me long, cool glasses of water!”
“The best way anyone can help is by taking care of the pile of washing up!”
“Call me during the day to say ‘Hi!’ and ask how I’m doing”
“Please don’t try and give my baby formula, the moment you do you undermine my confidence in my body’s ability to sustain my baby”
“Give me support & encouragement and tell people who criticise or question me that I’m doing ok”
“Don’t tell me it is ‘normal’ and that I should persevere if I am in pain”
“Pass me the phone with a breastfeeding counsellor on the other end if I’m in pain”
“Never say ‘well you are breastfeeding’ when I say I’m tired”
“Tell me it’s ok to take one feed at a time”
“Give me a thumbs up!”
“Tell me my baby is beautiful”
“Take my older children to the park”
Below is lots of information about supporting a breastfeeding mother, divided into different sections. You may find useful information in all of the sections regardless of your own role and relationship to mum and baby.
What about partners 1
Your baby doesn’t need you to feed him.* So what can you do? Anything else! You are The Safe Person Who Is Not Mum.
Whether or not you are your baby’s biological parent, and whatever your family looks like, your partner needs your support. 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. Don’t worry if you find you don’t get to hold your baby for long before mum is needed again. A baby’s bond with his mother is the basis for all other relationships. Encouraging the closeness with mum will strengthen his love for you later. Soon that tiny baby will be reaching out to the rest of the world. He will want all the fun and excitement you can give!
You are different. Your shape, voice, hands, and smell are different. You hold baby differently. You teach him that different can be good, and when he’s frazzled you may be just the difference that he needs.
As life settles down you and your partner will probably both need time to adjust to your new roles as parents. Many women say they didn’t feel prepared for the emotional upheaval they experienced on becoming a mum. You’ll also find lots of changes in your life. Breastfeeding mums often feel an intense connection with their 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. Try to get involved in practical ways. It will help you bond with your baby—your partner will love you for it and so will your baby. You
may both find that your baby becomes central to your life—his needs being met before either of yours. This is nature’s way of ensuring babies get what they need to thrive. A baby’s wants are his needs—he can’t wait like an adult can. By meeting his needs you give him the secure attachment he needs to develop into a confident child.
Your first job is to support breastfeeding, not compete with it. A “relief bottle” may seem helpful, but it’s more likely to cause breastfeeding problems and health risks for baby. Protect your partner from criticism and tell her she’s doing a good job. Protect your partner from well meaning but unhelpful advice that undermines breastfeeding—even if it comes from your own mum!
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.
*Some non-gestational mothers do breastfeed their babies. See the section Two women having a baby
What about dads? 2
Dads feel different, they often have deep voices and a different smell. They move and hold a baby differently. At the end of a long day, dad, with all his special differences, can be just what baby and mum need. Dads are fun and have a special gift for playing with babies. They play the sort of exciting games babies enjoy. Your baby will adore your singing and funny noises (even if mum doesn’t). And you’ll probably enjoy your baby’s toys as much as he does! Dads are just as good at cuddles as mums. A great way to comfort your baby is to use a carrier—babies usually love them and it’s a handy way to settle your baby. At times when your baby is fussy or uncomfortable and nothing else works, the colic hold is a dad’s speciality.
Caring for your baby teaches him that love comes from interacting with people as well as from food.
Try some of suggestions in the section above Ways to support a breastfeeding mother.
You can support your baby’s mother by making the
most of your paternity 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 mum, baby and any other children. Let everything else wait.
Meet your baby’s need for you. Your baby needs you to be a dad, not a substitute mother. Spend time with your baby and enjoy your unique father-baby relationship.
It’s a normal part of life in twenty first century Britain that lesbian couples may have a baby. However, if you’re the non-gestational parent you may feel left out – especially if you have to explain you are the baby’s mother too. Finding support for yourself and your breastfeeding partner is important. Your partner and your baby need you now, and your baby will need you more and more as he grows. You could be entitled to paid leave although your employer may not be aware of this, there are resources in Further Reading that might help.
In some couples two mothers do share breastfeeding; others find different ways to connect, you’ll find lots of ideas in the section above Ways to support a breastfeeding mother.
What about other family members?4
Is the new baby in your family breastfed? New research has shown that breastfeeding is important for the baby’s health and development and for the mother’s health, both now and in the future. It’s even good for the environment.
Research has found that breastfeeding works best when the baby is fed in response to hunger cues, not on a schedule. That’s usually quite frequently, especially in the beginning. Fortunately, you can’t feed too often.
Sore nipples aren’t an expected part of breastfeeding; they are a sign that something isn’t quite right. With some expert help, the mother should soon be breastfeeding comfortably.
Most medical experts, including the NHS and the World Health Organization, recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively— no formula or solid foods— for six months or so, and continue breastfeeding with solid foods added to their diet into these toddler years—even two years or more.
Much of this may be different from what you learned when you had your own babies. But guess what hasn’t changed? New mothers still need lots of help, lots of support, and lots of loving family members around to prepare meals or throw in a load of laundry. They need people to be patient with them as they fi gure out both breastfeeding and motherhood. And babies still need their grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, siblings and other family members to love them. Your practical help and support are a golden investment in your family’s future, and in your lives together.
- Prioritise tasks: the needs of people are best dealt with before housework. Avoid trying to take over baby care or expecting to be entertained when you visit. Concentrate on ‘mothering the mother’ and helping with household jobs.
- Offer practical help with housework and essential tasks: grocery shopping, laundry, preparing meals or providing a meal that can simply be reheated, leaving her a sandwich lunch, washing up and cleaning the kitchen, tidying and vacuuming.
- Bring her the things she needs while nursing: eg drinks, snacks, pillows, books, the TV remote, her mobile.
- Make her a drink and offer your company for a while.
- Tell her how well she’s doing.
- Listen if she is feeling worried, tired, or overwhelmed. She might find it easier to talk to you about her worries than to close family.
- Help her ﬁnd another mother to talk to.
- Help with the baby and any older children: changing nappies; care for the baby while mum sleeps, goes to the loo, takes a short walk or a bath.
- Entertain and care for older children. Perhaps take them out for a walk, to the park or invite them round to play with your children. Help with the school run or taking older children to after school activities.