How Can YOU Support Your Nursing Spouse?
What is nursing?
Nursing is the most natural way of nourishing an infant who has just made his way into the world from his parent’s womb. Colostrum, which is the yellowish, sticky breast milk lactated and fed to the infant within the first hour after birth, is prized for its immune boosting properties and often referred to as “liquid gold”.
Breast milk is the first food for the infant and goes on to be the normal source of nourishment for the first six months of the baby’s life. Exclusive nursing is recommended for the first six months of the baby’s life and after start of weaning to solids, WHO recommends continued nursing for a minimum of two years of age or beyond.
While nursing comes naturally to a few, many struggle with it – over supply, under supply, mastitis, cracked nipples, poor latch – we could go on and on with the different challenges faced by a newly lactating parent. This is when, you, as a partner, can step in to help with support and encouragement. The success of nursing depends to a large extent on a partner who not only encourages the decision to nurse, but one, who also supports the nursing act itself in allied ways.
Why is nursing important?
Nursing, among numerous benefits, is:
- Free – It doesn’t cost a thing to nurse.
- Hassle free – It does not need any prep; no bottles or sterilization.
- Beneficial to the infant’s health – Babies who are exclusively nursed for the first six months have fewer illnesses, ear infections and bouts of diarrhea.
- An important factor in lowering the risk of childhood obesity - Studies have found that nursing lowers the risk of childhood obesity since nursed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow than become overweight children.
But while you can go on about the health benefits to a nursed child, nursing also improves the health of the nursing parent.
How can you support a nursing parent?
- Educate yourself about nursing – The internet is a mammoth sea of information and while some resources can undermine your chances to succeed at nursing, the more reliable resources have no hidden agenda other than to help you succeed. There are innumerable resources supporting nursing – La Leche League, Kellymom, Dr Jack Newman, The Leaky Boob, The Milk Meg, are some of the great pages I have scoured as a new nursing parent whenever faced with roadblocks. Know that nursing needs to be on demand- the more often and effectively the baby nurses and empties your breast, the more milk your spouse will make.
- Create a comfortable feeding nook – Set up a cozy feeding space, with reading material handy, soft pillows for back support, maybe a rocking chair to help feed baby Lying down and feeding baby is a great way to rest while also nourishing your child - do encourage your spouse to do this if she wishes to.
- Take over non-nursing related chores – This is a great way for your spouse to unwind from the tiring and nevertheless, exhilarating experience of giving birth. Take over cooking, cleaning, laundry – whatever needs to get done so that the baby can be nursed unhindered.
- Take over some of the baby related work – My spouse used to take the baby for nappy changes, burps and baths whenever at home. It was a relief for me to be able to sit back without a baby attached to my breast.
- Calories for the nursing parent – A nursing parent needs at least 1800-2200 calories or more per day. Keeping some snacks or fluids handy means she is ready to deal with those back-breaking cluster feeds!
- Bottle feeding breast milk – Again, a great option for you to take over a night feed with a bottle of pumped breast milk. Night time feeds for babies eat into the sleeping hours of a nursing spouse and you can help your spouse with this. Do this only after baby is 3-4 months old; it can hamper the nursing relationship otherwise, causing nipple confusion.
- Have your spouse’s back always – Nursing as a new parent is extremely overwhelming and one of the many ways you could make it less so is by limiting visitors in the initial weeks. While having family around is a great help for many of us, this also comes with a caveat – a plethora of well meaning advice regarding parenting and nursing, which might not necessarily be evidence-based. Keeping visitors to a minimum ensures a well rested partner, and also the establishment of a successful nursing relationship. It is your job to tell your family members to give your spouse some space.
- Baby wearing your child – The colicky nights, and growth spurts are hard on a nursing parent and baby wearing can help to soothe a child, while giving the cluster feeding parent a much-needed break. Slings are a great option for baby wearing infants and so are buckled carriers for folks who want something with a less difficult learning curve.
- Taking care of the older child - If this isn’t your first child, your nursing spouse will definitely need your support in taking care of your older children. So while your spouse is busy with nursing duties, step up and give attention to the needs of the older children to make them feel just as important as they did before the baby arrived.
- Supporting and encouraging seeking professional help for nursing issues – We know what you are thinking – nursing is a natural activity, why would there be an issue? But hear us out – there are a myriad number of issues that are faced during nursing – self doubts about supply being sufficient, poor latch, over supply, under supply, mastitis, tongue/lip ties, and so on. Nursing is never supposed to be painful, and if your spouse is finding it very painful, it is unnatural and professional help from trained professionals would go a long way in sustaining the nursing relationship.
- Finding a nursing friendly pediatrician - We at Nestery, also strongly believe that finding a pediatrician who is supportive of nursing helps the parents to persevere with their efforts to naturally nourish the child.
- Helping to normalize nursing – Encouraging your nursing spouse to do so in public, supporting them when they nurse without a cover, especially not treating it as a special condition requiring special confinement or diets unless medically indicated for, all contribute to normalizing nursing. For example, empower your spouse to nurse freely in the house instead of being cooped up in their room, or at the table when at a restaurant with family instead of leaving the table at mealtime.
- Extended nursing - If your spouse and child mutually wish to breastfeed post the minimum recommendation of two years, support it! - it is excellent for them.
- Supporting if supplementing with formula is required – This isn’t an easy decision and can be depressing for the parent who is trying hard to breastfeed. Support and help in understanding that this is a common experience, along with offering to seek professional assistance from lactation trained professionals to get back to re-establishing nursing.
Resources for nursing parents:
- Dr Jack Newman’s blog – ibconline.ca
- Kelly mom – kellymom.com
- The Milk Meg – themilkmeg.com
- La Leche League International – llli.org
- The Leaky Boob – theleakyboob.com
- Lactation Foundation - https://med.uth.edu/lactation-foundation/
- Nursing Support for Indian Mothers – bsim.org.in
*We, at the Nestery, believe in gender inclusivity, which is why you will see the term nursing, in the place of breastfeeding in this article – not everyone who nurses has breasts - there are a whole spectrum of people who do not identify as female choosing to nurse their children.