So far all my blog posts have been directed towards the mommies. So I thought it was only fair to write something for all the amazing daddies (and daddies to be) out there too. Let’s face it. They are an integral part to the entire breastfeeding experience. They are coaches, supports, breast massagers, diaper changers, latch assisters, pillow adjusters......you name it, daddies do it!! So why not make sure they know all the important stuff about breastfeeding in order to be as helpful as possible. This blog will highlight the key information about breast changes, colostrum, the critical first few days after delivery, and other helpful tips all dad’s should know.
During a woman’s pregnancy, changes to her breasts are usually the first sign of being pregnant. For most women, the breasts will grow in size and the areola and the nipple may also increase in size and perhaps darken in color. The breasts are quite often tender and become hypersensitive. If this is the case, your wife may not want you to touch her breasts. All these changes are caused by hormones.
The body starts to produce colostrum at around 16 weeks gestation. Some woman may actually leak colostrum throughout the pregnancy or notice a bit of dried ‘crust’ on the nipples from time to time. This is all good and normal and just means that your wife’s body is getting ready to feed her baby.
Now let’s have a little discussion about colostrum. Not too many dudes are familiar with the term ‘colostrum’ unless they have had the honour of becoming a father. Colostrum is truly one of the most amazing substances on the face of this planet. What’s even cooler is that it’s made by a woman’s body! Colostrum is the first type of breastmilk a woman produces. It is quite thick and almost has a syrupy consistency. It can range from white, to yellow, to brown, to pink! It usually flows out from the nipple very slowly....bead-by-bead. But every drop is precious. We actually refer to it as ‘Liquid Gold’ because it is so GOOD for your baby. The colostrum prepares the GI tract for feeding as it has many similarities to amniotic fluid, which is what your baby has been drinking in the womb all these months. It is low in volume but high in energy and helps with the early passage of meconium (the baby’s first bowel movements) which in turn assists in preventing jaundice. It is loaded with protein and antibodies that help ‘immunize’ your baby in the best, most natural way possible. As it is rich in vitamins, and immune factors, it will help your baby fight infections. Colostrum is important because it contains brain boosting fats and hormones to teach a baby’s intestines to move and digest. Colostrum also contains protective cells that can destroy some disease causing bacteria and viruses. The first few days after delivery, your baby’s stomach is super small. We are talking about the size of a chickpea. The belly does not need large volumes of anything at this stage. Colostrum is the only perfectly designed, nutrient dense food your baby requires. It is digested very easily and this is one of the reasons why breastfed infants feed every 2-3 hours.
Some of the other widely known benefits of breastmilk include the following:
· Decreased rates of GI infections, ear infections, asthma, allergies, and eczema
· Lower rates of obesity and diabetes
· Some studies have reported higher IQ’s in breastfed infants
· Helps the brain and nerves develop in a far superior way
· Increases closeness and bonding
· Lower’s a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer
· Helps mom lose pregnancy weight faster
· Better for the environment......breastfeeding has no carbon footprint!!
· Breastmilk is always the right temperature, it is convenient and saves time and money
Your wife’s mature breastmilk will start to ‘come in’ around 4-5 days after delivery. Her breasts will start to feel heavier and fuller. The veins on her chest and breasts will become more prominent. She may need some help at this stage with breast massage or even manual expression. Sometimes the breasts become so hard (engorged) that she experiences pain and has a hard time getting the baby to latch properly. You can encourage her to have a hot shower, or help to massage her breasts with a warm wet facecloth. Sometimes it helps to manually express some milk before trying to latch the baby as the areola can become too hard for baby to grasp onto. After she’s done feeding, it may be helpful to have her ice the breasts for 10 minutes/side.
Now comes the most important part of this blog.....what to REALLY expect in the first few days after your baby is born. I think one of the hardest new things to adjust to when becoming a new parent is sleep deprivation. It’s rough for us mommies but dad’s also suffer......but often in silence. Nothing can prepare you for this part of parenthood. But I am forewarning you now.....you will be exhausted, you will feel like a zombie during the day and you will not sleep well for a very long time. But you still have to be helpful and supportive and all those other amazing things that are expected of you as a new father.
So what’s the best way to be all those things when you feel like hell. Well you have to suck it up buttercup and just do the best you can. Your wife is also going to be exhausted from her labour and delivery. She may be in pain and not be able to move around well. You can help by asking her what she needs. Usually a breastfeeding mother is quite thirsty and hungry. Make sure she always has a full glass of water or even better a water bottle at her bedside. You can also have food available that she can easily snack on like fruits, veggies, cheese and crackers, and nuts at her bedside. But also make sure she is eating 3 well balanced meals during the day. Breakfast is especially important. Foods that are high in fibre are really good for milk supply. So go to the grocery store and buy some oatmeal and make her a bowl every morning!!
Some new fathers aren’t quite sure how or where they fit in to the picture with a new baby in the mix. Dads are really great at changing diapers or getting the baby undressed for skin-skin before breastfeeding. And......dads are also encouraged to do skin-skin with their babies as much as they like. Most of the father’s I have worked with, love that special time when holding their baby on their bare chests. Just be prepared that your baby may try and latch on to you!!!! You can also help by keeping track of when baby is pooping, peeing, and feeding. It helps to have these details recorded on a piece of paper for the first little while.
You can ask your wife if she is comfortable when she is about to begin breastfeeding. Being comfortable when feeding is really key. If she is awkwardly sitting or positioned in the bed or chair, it will affect the way she is able to feed the baby. If she is in bed, she may need to get up and sit in a supportive chair. If she is in bed, make sure she has good back support and a few good pillows within reach. You can also help by bringing in the pillows to support her and the baby, once she has gotten the baby latched on. I am usually not a fan of using a breastfeeding pillow before the baby has latched as it can sometimes lead to a shallow latch. But once the baby is latched well, feel free to snug in some pillows for support. It’s usually the elbows and wrists that are going to need more support. You can roll a receiving blanket or face cloth and slide it under the wrist that is supporting baby’s head. When we are breastfeeding, we tend to carry a lot of tension in our shoulders. Remind her to take a deep breath and relax her shoulders after the initial latch. You may even want to give her a gentle shoulder massage during the feed. If she is relaxed and feeling calm, then her milk is going to flow more easily.
Pain control is also super important. She doesn’t have to be a martyr and just deal with the pain she is having. It’s important for her to stay on top of her pain. You can help by making sure she is taking hermedication regularly and checking in with her to make sure her pain is well controlled. A woman that is in pain will not be able to effectively breastfeed her baby.
Try to encourage her to sleep when the baby is sleeping. If mom and baby are resting, this is your opportunity to get some shut eye as well. You are going to have a lot of family and friends want to come over and visit the first few days you are home from the hospital. Really try to limit the number of people you have over or at least try and keep the visits short. Babies are nocturnal creatures for the first few months so the daytime is really the best (and only time) to catch up on some missed sleep. It’s really hard to do this when you have to entertain guests!! Your wife will so appreciate this gesture if you take control and say, “We would love to see you and have you meet our new little one, but it’s going to have to wait a bit.” But if the offer is put forward to bring some meals over, graciously accept and allow that food to be brought over!!!!
There will be times when breastfeeding is challenging. Your wife is also going to be hormonal and quite emotional the first few weeks after delivery. She may burst into tears for no reason at all. She may yell out of frustration and exhaustion. The best thing you can do is remain calm, cool, and collected. Offer words of love and encouragement. Tell her how proud you are of her and what an amazing job she is doing. The first few days home from the hospital, your baby will do a lot of cluster feeding ( short but frequent feeds especially at night when the prolactin hormone is at its highest) You are both going to be exhausted and drained but stay calm and relaxed. Babies really pick up on the energy of the people in their environment. If you and mom are calm, baby will feed a lot better.
If her nipples become cracked and damaged your wife will be in a tremendous amount of pain and start to panic that she can’t feed her baby. Let her know there are options and support (Me!!!!) out there that can help her get through this rough patch. When I get a phone call from a dad, I know the situation is dire and help needs to happen ASAP or the breastfeeding journey may come to an abrupt halt. The worst thing you can do is say, “Just give the baby a bottle then.” No mother wants to feel that she isn’t capable of feeding and nourishing her baby. You may think that offering a bottle is the answer but I’m telling you straight up.....it’s not and I can guarantee it will only lead to more complications. Seriously, call me and I will come over and get the situation under control (that’s a promise). But in the meantime, if the nipples are too sore for your wife to properly latch the baby, have her hand express or you need to make a trip to the neighbourhood pharmacy and rent a hospital-grade pump. Expressed milk can be given to the baby with a spoon, a cup, or a needleless syringe. Avoid the bottle in the first 4-6 weeks!!!!!!!
When the baby is breastfeeding, the best indicator of a good latch is how it feels. There should be no pain or pinching, just a strong pull/tug on the breast tissue. There are some things that you can look for when the baby is feeding. Check baby’s bottom lip and make sure the lip is flipped out and sitting on the lower part of the areola. The bottom lip should not be right under the base of the nipple. You can also help your wife by massaging or compressing the breast throughout the feed. Just don’t compress too close to baby’s mouth or you can disrupt the latch. This will help the milk move a little quicker for the baby and keep him more actively feeding. Newborns are pretty sleepy in the first week or so. Always make sure the baby feeds skin-skin and you can help keep him awake by rubbing his hands and feet. Offer to change the baby’s diaper after he finishes feeding from the first breast. This will be a good way to wake him up and then he can feed from the second breast.
Sometimes it is helpful to take a video or a screen shot of the baby breastfeeding when your wife feels the baby latched on well and there are nutritive sucks and swallows being heard. It’s also really important to know what a swallow sounds like. It is a suttle, gentle ‘KA’ sound. You won’t hear it after every suck in the first few days, but as the milk starts to come in, you should hear the baby swallow more frequently.
Well I think that about sums it up. I covered the most crucial factors related to being a superdaddy in the first few days after having a new baby. There is a lot of information in this blog that I hope you found useful and informative. Like I always say, knowledge is power. As new father’s you cannot get enough knowledge in order to be helpful and supportive to your wife and to your brand new baby. I am always available for questions or comments.
Enjoy a happy, helpful, breastfeeding journey!!!
Leanne R Rzepa RN BN IBCLC