I remember a day early in my second boy’s life; I was struggling. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, and struggling with my milk supply yet again. It was just after breakfast, and I was on the toilet and attempting to breastfeed – something that nobody warned me would be a staple of my life as a new mother! My eldest, sitting on the potty next to me, asked me to wipe his bottom. I called out for my husband to help me, and my toddler started howling – he only wanted me to do it; his little face was so desperate for me. My husband called, “Can’t you just do it? You’re right there!”… and I lost the plot. No, I couldn’t. I needed help. I needed seven hands and two brains and two hearts, and I had no energy left to explain that. I needed support.
The overwhelming majority of new mums that I speak with say that they “just want support” from their partners and their family. But what does “support” actually mean? Do we even really know? I spoke with over 300 new mums to create a list of practical and emotional things that partners and family can do to show support during what can often be an emotionally-fuelled and stressful time.
Here are some ways that dads (or partners) can support a new mama:
- Bring her water. Constantly. Or even better, bring her tea. If she’s breastfeeding, avoid teas with sage and mint in it, or make a big pot of breastfeeding tea. You haven’t known true thirst until you’ve been a new mum attempting to breastfeed in those first few weeks.
- Bring her nutritionally dense, calorie-rich food. Constantly. If you are a pasta-and-bottled-sauce kind of cook, throw some broccoli and beans in with the wholemeal pasta for the last two minutes, and pop a tin of tuna in the sauce occasionally.
Wash/sterilise/prepare any equipment – pumping parts, tubes, formula cannisters, donor milk defrosting, bottle washing, etc. Get it all ready to go for the moment it is needed — and don’t forget that dishwashers can be used to wash and sterilise!
Try to come with her to any lactation consultant appointments, and if you can’t make it, be sure to ask her about it in-depth afterwards. It is vital that you have enough knowledge to feel confident in trusting her, particularly with regard to whether she has enough milk.
- Fend off visitors, unless she specifically tells you that she wants them there. This isn’t the time for her to worry about anybody else except her and your baby. If visitors are coming, put a to-do list on the fridge, so when they ask if there’s anything they can do to help, point them there! Put on the washing, fold the laundry, make or bring dinner, sweep the floor, do some grocery shopping, etc.
- Remember that you can do everything except the actual physical act of breastfeeding! She might be stuck on the couch for hours and hours. You can bring her the baby, you can burp the baby, you can help with naps, do the 3am nappy changes, the laundry, etc etc.
- Trust her. Let her decide what she is capable of and why. Trust that her body and mind are doing what is best for the baby, and know that this is a deep primal instinct inside of her — sometimes rational thought doesn’t trump instincts. Don’t second-guess her, as she is second-guessing herself every moment of the day and night.
- Be her advocate. Defend her to anyone else who may question her, either openly or discretely.
- If you aren’t sure, ask. Sometimes, when my baby was fussy, I just wanted him to hand our bub over. But sometimes, oh how I wished that he would try to settle our baby himself, and not always default over to me! I felt like I was only ever handed a grizzly, hungry, tired baby. Later, when we spoke about this, he said that he found it so hard to know, because he felt like he never knew which of these was the right thing to do, and that it was a constant gamble. So just ask! “Are you ok if I try to try and settle him, or do you want him?”
- Tell your baby’s mama that she is beautiful. Tell her that she is a hero for everything she has been through and for everything she is going through. Tell her that she is an amazing mother, and that she is the best person on this earth to be the mother to this baby.
- Hug her often, hold her tight, even if sometimes she might feel like stone. Hold her hand often, and let her cry without feeling the need to fix it. Know that she is currently in the midst of what can often be the hardest part of her life, and that she is the most vulnerable that she will ever be.
I know that my husband is my partner. His role in the births of my two boys was so vital — he was my partner, my advocate, my masseuse, my hypnotherapist, my yoga instructor, my everything (I have no memory of him eating, sleeping or even going to the toilet for the seemingly infinite hours of my first birth, nor my second…), and he has always been my anchor amidst the furious storms of postnatal depression. I began to realise that he couldn’t do everything, and as much as he tried, he couldn’t be my everything. I needed women with experience and knowledge, women who truly understood the instincts and primal need deep within me to sustain my babies on my milk alone. Slowly I began finding knowledgeable support elsewhere, through my breastfeeding support group and a few other places online, but I still needed this man of mine, this man who was so excited to become a dad.
Is there anything that you would add to this list that I’ve missed out? I’d love to hear what ‘support’ means to you on your roller-coaster journey of parenthood.
And thank you to my beautiful man for still loving me, still hugging me, still trusting me and still making me laugh (okay, so not in the mornings… but you can’t have everything). I will always love you like a big red train with no brakes.