Role of the partner

How can my partner help me?

Partners have an extremely important role in helping to ensure the mother’s happiness, the well-being of the family, and breastfeeding success. New mothers face a lot of challenges, but partners can show support in many ways: helping to look after the baby, parenting other children in the family, and doing household chores. They may also be working to support the family financially. It can be helpful for both parents to sit down and work out the best arrangement for the family.

A) The importance of partners

Research shows that a supportive partner is extremely important to the mother’s happiness, the well-being of the family, and to breastfeeding success. The partner is in a unique position to support the mother and the baby. Partners are equally as important as the mother in the life of the child but the role is a little different at the start.

Newborn babies know their mothers better than they know anyone else. The mother’s smell, voice, and heartbeat are all familiar and comforting to the baby. Their togetherness allows the child to further develop the bond with the mother. This ability to bond is a skill that babies soon extend to all the important people in their lives, especially partners.

B) Challenges faced by mothers

A new mother faces a lot of challenges after delivery. She:

  • Is getting used to the baby.
  • Is not sleeping much.
  • Has been through a major physical event (a vaginal birth or Caesarean birth).
  • May be in pain.
  • Is adapting to hormonal, brain, and metabolic changes (Hoekzema 2016).
  • May feel isolated.
  • May be missing work that she enjoyed.
  • May be facing financial challenges by not working.

In addition to all of the above, a mother may be having trouble breastfeeding.

C) How partners can help

There are a lot of ways that partners can support mothers. Support can be physical, emotional, or financial. The partner’s role may change as the baby grows and the baby’s needs change.

In many cultures, mothers are encouraged to rest for the first month after delivery. They are supported in this by members of the extended family. This practice allows mothers to recover from delivery and gives them time to get to know their babies. It is important for mothers, their partners, and the extended family to sit down and work out the best arrangements. If family members are not present, this role will fall solely on the partner.

Some partners feel guilty about leaving the task of feeding the baby during the night to the mother. However, bottle-feeding to replace breastfeeding (daddy bottles) can create health problems and extra work for the mother. Also, a partner may be working and can benefit from getting enough sleep to perform well and work safely.

D) Supporting breastfeeding

There are many benefits to being a breastfeeding family but there are many factors that influence the decision to breastfeed.

While the mother has the final say because she is most directly affected, her partner is very important to breastfeeding success (Davidson 2019; Mahesh 2018; Ogbo 2020). Mothers with supportive partners (Abbass-Dick 2019; Chimoriya 2020):

  • Are more likely to start breastfeeding.
  • Are more likely to breastfeed exclusively.
  • Breastfeed for longer.

If a mother has chosen to breastfeed, her partner can support her decision with encouragement and by offering whatever help she asks for and needs. Partners can also:

  • Support a mother’s breastfeeding when other members of the family do not.
  • Help a mother get consistent and accurate information about breastfeeding.
  • Ensure the baby is taking in enough milk.

If the baby needs milk supplements, partners can:

If the mother is struggling with breastfeeding, in addition to voicing their support and caring for their family, partners can ask mothers if they would like help from a breastfeeding specialist.

In some families and cultures, some of these roles may be filled by members of the extended family. 

Some partners are not supportive of breastfeeding.

E) Partners caring for themselves

While the best place for a baby to sleep is in the same room as the mother (room-sharing), it is not necessarily the best place for a partner to sleep (Moon 2016).

A better option for a partner may be sleeping in another area of the home. If the partner does that:

  • The baby’s noises won’t interfere with the partner’s sleep quality.
  • The mother can look after the baby without worrying about waking the partner.
  • If the partner is working, the mother won’t be woken by the alarm before she is ready to wake.

This will allow partners to have energy to care for their new family and if working, to do so effectively and safely.

Some partners feel excluded, inadequate, overwhelmed, or depressed (Schmöker 2020; Sihota 2019). Reaching out to family, friends, other partners, and health-care providers can help (Brown 2014; Paulson 2006).

References

Abbass-Dick J, Brown HK, Jackson KT, et al. Perinatal breastfeeding interventions including fathers/partners: A systematic review of the literature. Midwifery. 2019 Aug;75:41-51

Brown A, Davies R. Fathers' experiences of supporting breastfeeding: challenges for breastfeeding promotion and education. Maternal & Child Nutrition. 2014;10(4):510-526

Chimoriya R, Scott JA, John JR, et al. Determinants of Full Breastfeeding at 6 Months and Any Breastfeeding at 12 and 24 Months among Women in Sydney: Findings from the HSHK Birth Cohort Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 27;17(15):5384
 
Davidson EL, Ollerton RL. Partner behaviours improving breastfeeding outcomes: An integrative review. Women Birth. 2019 Jun 10. pii: S1871-5192(19)30065-4

Hoekzema E, Barba-Muller E, Pozzobon C, et al. Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure. Nat Neurosci. 2016 Dec 19

Mahesh PKB, Gunathunga MW, Arnold SM, et al. Effectiveness of targeting fathers for breastfeeding promotion: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2018 Sep 24;18(1):1140
 
Moon RY; Task Force On Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Evidence Base for 2016 Updated Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics. 2016 Nov;138(5). pii: e20162940

Ogbo FA, Akombi BJ, Ahmed KY, et al., On Behalf Of The Global Maternal And Child Health Research Collaboration GloMACH. Breastfeeding in the Community-How Can Partners/Fathers Help? A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jan 8;17(2):413

Paulson JF, Dauber S, Leiferman JA. Individual and combined effects of postpartum depression in mothers and fathers on parenting behaviour. Pediatrics. 2006 Aug;118(2):659-68

Schmöker A, Flacking R, Udo C, et al. Longitudinal cohort study reveals different patterns of stress in parents of preterm infants during the first year after birth. Acta Paediatr. 2020 Jan 24

Sihota H, Oliffe J, Kelly MT, et al. Fathers' Experiences and Perspectives of Breastfeeding: A Scoping Review. Am J Mens Health. 2019 May-Jun;13(3):1557988319851616