By choosing breastfeeding for your baby, you and your partner have made a very important decision, for both yourselves and your baby.
Breastfeeding is important
Breastfeeding is important.
Human milk is the natural food for human babies. It is always available, safe from germs and easy to digest. For the first 6 months, babies do not need anything else to eat or drink if they can have breastmilk whenever they are hungry or thirsty.
After you start giving your baby family foods, breastmilk is still a very important part of the diet.
Breastmilk changes as your baby grows and is always just right for each stage of development.
Babies who are not breastfed, and mothers who don't breastfeed, have an increased risk of several poorer health outcomes.
Cheap and convenient
Breastmilk is always there for your baby. It's always the right mix and the right temperature. The money you save not needing to buy formula and equipment in just 1 year could buy you a major household appliance.
Breastfed babies are easy to take out. There is no need to carry special equipment or find places to warm bottles. Babies can be breastfed anywhere anytime.
Great for the planet
Breastfeeding is 'environmentally friendly': no waste, no chemicals, no bushland cleared for cow pastures, no factories, packaging, transport costs or excess energy used. Mums just need to eat a normal, healthy diet.
Your role as a new parent
You may think breastfeeding means you will spend less time with your baby, but feeding is only a small part of being a parent. Bathing, nappy changing, massage, cuddling to sleep and playing are great ways to get to know your new baby. While your baby is feeding, you can sit and chat to your partner or help with meals for the rest of the family, care for your other children or do things that you need to do. When it's not feed time, you can enjoy special times with your baby. It's important that baby learns that love can also come without food.
Changes and challenges
Pregnancy and breastfeeding change a woman's body. It can be exciting and also worrying at times. However these changes and these feelings are usually normal. Your partner may need reassurance that her body can do what it needs to do to grow and feed this baby.
A learning experience
Mothers and babies both need to learn to breastfeed. Sometimes it takes a little time to work well. If baby has a good birth and is healthy, then breastfeeding often has an easier start. You may not be able to learn the skills of breastfeeding, but you can help your partner to learn how breastfeeding works. You can read books and ABA booklets together, and go to breastfeeding education classes before your baby is born.
Going to Australian Breastfeeding Association get-togethers is a good idea too, as you can meet other families in the area who have babies and young children.
Breastfeeding is like any new skill, it gets easier once you know how to do it. At first, you need lots of support and then it becomes much easier. You can help by getting her a pillow if she seems uncomfortable, making sure she has a drink of water handy and being available to chat.
In the first few days, baby needs to breastfeed often. Every 2 hours is normal. Some babies may be tired from the birth, some may still be feeling the effects of drugs given to their mother in labour or not seem very hungry, but it is good for them to have lots of 'practice feeds' at the breast. This will also make sure that plenty of milk is produced and help to stop the breasts from becoming too full and uncomfortable.
Put baby against mother's chest, skin-to-skin. This keeps baby warm and helps trigger baby's instinct to breastfeed. The first few weeks after baby is born can mean lots of waking during the night. There may be even times when breastfeeding or even parenting seems too hard. It's normal to feel like this some times. Remind each other that it will be easier once you learn more about your baby and remember that you can always ask for help. Things will get better. ABA's breastfeeding counsellors can help to sort out feeding problems and family or friends can sometimes help if you are feeling stressed in other ways. It's OK to ignore the housework, buy some takeaway meals or just take some time out to go for a walk with your baby and your partner or even by yourself.
Mothers can breastfeed their babies anywhere they can legally be. However some mums or their partners are uncomfortable with the idea that other people may be looking at the mother's breasts while she is feeding. Tops that lift up show less skin than ones that need to be unbuttoned. Layering singlet tops and shirts can also give more cover. A wrap or shawl can also help to keep mum and baby covered or warm. You can practise at home, sitting on chairs as if it was a café, or garden seats for outdoor venues. Soon breastfeeding while you are out will be easy. Most people don't even notice that baby is being fed. They just see a mum holding her baby close. For mums who prefer extra privacy or babies who have special feeding needs, there are parents' rooms available in most cities and towns where you can feed and change your baby.
There are many strange ideas around about breastfeeding. Most of them come from when not much was known about why breastfeeding is important. Many of these seem to be about what foods a mother needs to eat. Remember that mothers all around the world breastfeed their babies and they have very different diets. When you have a question, ask someone who has successfully breastfed their own baby. When you ring our Helpline or look at our website, it helps to know that all Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellors have breastfed at least one baby for at least 6 months, are trained to help mothers to breastfeed and have access to the most recent research findings.
Back to work
Many mothers keep breastfeeding even when they go back to work. Most women feel worried about leaving their babies, and are happy to know that they can keep breastfeeding. Babies in child care who don't get any breastmilk get sick more often, so breastfeeding helps mothers and babies. ABA has lots of helpful information about paid work and breastfeeding, and expressing and storing breastmilk in our books and booklets. Also visit the Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace website.
Let your partner know that she has your support for breastfeeding. Tell other people too. By supporting her, your families and friends will know that breastfeeding is important for your baby and your partner. Mothers have fewer problems breastfeeding when their partners know how important breastmilk is for babies. If you encourage your partner to go to Australian Breastfeeding Association group meetings or get-togethers, she will meet other mothers from your local area who also have young children. Meeting other families in your area gives all of you extra support and friendship.
A sensual experience
A woman's body goes through many changes when she is pregnant and then gives birth to a baby. These can make some women lose interest in sex for a while. This happens to both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding women. Childbirth affects women's sex lives more than breastfeeding does. Some mothers also feel contractions in their uterus when they are breastfeeding their babies. This is because of the hormones that cause your milk to let down. This can be arousing and worries some women. It is a normal hormonal reaction.
When will we have sex again?
Not all women are ready for sex at the same time after birth. Some women won't want sex because of soreness or extreme tiredness caused by a difficult birth and lack of sleep. Some women say that the emotional and physical effort of looking after a baby makes them feel 'all touched out' by the end of a day.
After their baby is born, some women experience dryness in the vagina, but this is easily overcome by using lubricating products available at supermarkets or pharmacies. A woman needs her partner to be patient and sensitive as she recovers from the birth experience and gains confidence in breastfeeding and as a mother. Sharing the care of your new baby is a loving act too.
Breastfeeding delays the return of a woman's periods and is the basis of one type of birth control (called the Lactational Amenorrhoea Method). There are other contraceptive options available. A discussion with your doctor or family planning clinic either before the birth or soon after is a good idea to help you choose the method that's best for you both.
Parenting a new baby can be tiring and challenging, but it is also a very exciting time in your lives and it will soon be past. Enjoy it! Don't forget to take time to just cuddle your baby and discover what a precious and unique little person you have brought into the world. You'll need to look after each other as well. You both need a good balanced diet to help you cope with the extra demands that the work of caring for your baby and interrupted sleep can make on your body. A few easy, healthy snacks can help when you're busy. Fresh fruit, cheese and nuts are better than cakes.
Further recommended reading
ABA's booklets: Breastfeeding: an introduction, Breastfeeding: diet, exercise, sex and more, Sleep, and Why is My Baby Crying?
We're in this together...the breastfeeding partnership Breastfeeding ...naturally, produced by ABA
Becoming a father by Dr William Sears
ABA booklets, books and resources can be purchased by contacting the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Good Luck, and happy parenting!
© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed August 2016