Lack of breastfeeding support from a partner

What if my partner doesn't want me to breastfeed?

A partner may not want a mother to breastfeed. It can be helpful to find the reason behind a partner’s objection and have an open, honest discussion. Some partners think breastfeeding is sexual, which makes them uncomfortable. Some worry it will limit the amount of time they can spend with the mother. It may help to call in a supportive family member or health-care provider. A partner may object to breastfeeding as a way to exert more control over the baby and hurt the mother. Mothers who expect or experience abuse or violence should seek safety immediately for themselves and their children. A baby's right to breastfeed may be challenged during contentious custody hearings.

A) Reasons for lack of breastfeeding acceptance by partners

Having a partner who does not support breastfeeding is a difficult situation. It is important to find the issue at the centre of the partner’s objection. Breastfeeding may be just one of several relationship issues that partners disagree on.

Some partners see breastfeeding difficulties only as the cause of the mother’s unhappiness and urge her to stop breastfeeding as a quick solution. However, many mothers feel strongly about breastfeeding and would rather fix their breastfeeding problems than stop. It is important for partners to recognize that these mothers are trying to do the best they can for their babies and their family and need to be supported in their decision.

Other reasons for a partner not supporting breastfeeding include: 

  • They are unaware of the importance of breastfeeding (Chan 2019).
  • They believe it will be too hard on the mother. 
  • They may worry that it will limit the amount of time the couple can spend together.
  • They feel breastfeeding is a sexual act and are extremely uncomfortable with it, particularly in public.

B) Dealing with lack of breastfeeding acceptance by partners

Mothers should try to have an open, honest discussion with their partner. A supportive family member, friend, or an independent expert such as a health-care provider or a breastfeeding specialist can be helpful. 

C) Difficult or dangerous situations for mothers and babies

Sadly, a partner may want more control over the baby as a way of controlling or hurting the mother. In extreme cases, this may lead to abuse or violence. If you are in this situation, please make sure you are safe and get help as soon as you can. This is not a healthy environment for you or your baby.

During a contentious separation or divorce, partners have been known to ask judges for visitation or custody arrangements that can force mothers to limit or stop breastfeeding.

Some partners have argued that mothers breastfeed as a way to limit their access to the baby. Others have claimed that extended breastfeeding harms the child, when this is clearly not true.

Expert witnesses and medical research on the benefits of breastfeeding for children can support the mother’s wish to breastfeed, and most courts and legal systems recognize that interfering with breastfeeding is rarely in the best interests of the child. 

Breastfeeding can protect the baby from the effects of partner violence (Miller-Graff 2019).

References

Chan K, Whitfield KC. High confidence, yet poor knowledge of infant feeding recommendations among adults in Nova Scotia, Canada. Matern Child Nutr. 2019 Nov 27;e12903
 
Miller-Graff L, Scheid CR. Breastfeeding continuation at 6 weeks postpartum remediates the negative effects of prenatal intimate partner violence on infant temperament. Dev Psychopathol. 2019 Mar 18:1-8