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Dads can participate in breastfeeding, too

When you think of breastfeeding, you probably picture mom cradling the baby, right? Instead, think of breastfeeding as a triad: mother, father and baby. That’s right! Fathers play a big role in breastfeeding, too.

While breastfeeding is instinctive, there’s still a lot to learn to breastfeed successfully. “Preparing for breastfeeding before the baby arrives is important,” says Jessica Sember, MSN, RN, lactation consultant at Geisinger. Attending a breastfeeding class with your partner and asking questions is a great place to start.

The first few months after your baby is born are exciting and overwhelming, so supporting each other in your new roles as parents is key. In fact, support and encouragement from you helps your breastfeeding partner be more successful.  

Breastfeeding? It’s a win-win-win situation

How you feed your baby is one of the most important choices you and your partner can make.  Breastfeeding provides health benefits for both mom and baby and saves your family money when you’re not buying formula, or buying less of it. Everyone benefits from breastfeeding, and there are many ways you can get involved, too.

Nurturing isn’t the only way to bond with your baby. “Dads can bond with their baby through walking, talking, holding the child close, rocking and bathing,” says Ms. Sember. “Even changing diapers can be an opportunity for bonding.”

How dads can participate in breastfeeding

You may be asking yourself, how can I be involved with breastfeeding? There are many aspects of breastfeeding that you can be involved with. Here are a few:

Lay your baby on your chest for skin-to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care). “The skin-to-skin contact combined with the sound of your soft voice is a wonderful way to bond and introduce yourself,” says Sember.

Limit visitors. New parents and babies need plenty of rest, so try to limit the number of visitors in your home.

Watch for hunger cues. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Bringing your baby to your partner to breastfeed when you first see hunger cues can make breastfeeding easier.

Provide support. . Giving birth — and now breastfeeding — can be exhausting and leave your partner feeling overwhelmed. Offering encouraging words, keeping her company when she feeds the baby, and helping with cooking and cleaning or organizing people to help with this at home are great ways to show support to your partner. 

“Your support is invaluable during this time. It can even help your partner breastfeed for a longer duration of time, which leads to great health benefits for your baby and partner,” says Ms. Sember. 

Help with positioning. Mothers may need a pillow or help getting the baby into the right position for breastfeeding. Learn what a good position looks like in the hospital and help your partner and your baby replicate it at home.

Be thoughtful. Breastfeeding can be rough for new moms. Lending an ear can help your partner through challenging times. You can also adjust the lighting in the room, put on some relaxing music, bring her a drink or rub her back while breastfeeding.

Ask for help. Spend time with your partner and lactation consultant in the hospital and ask about breastfeeding resources for when you go home. “Encourage your partner to contact a lactation consultant at your local hospital or join a La Leche League support group if she has questions or experiences problems when breastfeeding,” says Ms. Sember.

Help take care of your baby. Remember, feeding isn’t the only care your baby will need. Your baby will also need burped, diapered, clothed, bathed and cuddled!

Developing a long-lasting, loving bond

While a lot is said about mom’s hormonal changes, evidence shows that right after birth, dads can experience hormonal changes, too. These changes can include spikes in prolactin and oxytocin, two hormones linked to parenting and nurturing in other mammals. Therefore, skin-to-skin contact between dads and babies is important.

"Because of this, the time during breastfeeding can be critical for dads to step in and start to develop strong and long-lasting bonds with their child," explains Ms. Sember. "Dads play a crucial role and don't have to feel left out of the picture at all." 

Next steps:

Find a breastfeeding or childbirth class near you
Learn about breastfeeding support at Geisinger
Find a La Leche League support group

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