How fathers can make (or break) breastfeeding

Fathers can make a huge difference to a new mother’s happiness in the first few weeks and can help them to breastfeed more successfully, says health visitor, Sarah Beeson MBE, author of Happy Baby, Happy Family.

In her experience fathers are often better than mothers at settling a baby after a feed and they can provide invaluable support during breastfeeding. “You’ve got to let fathers do it their own way – if a nappy isn’t on completely straight, don’t fret about it,” she says. “They can be so useful in so many other ways.”

The chapter of her book entitled Everyday You Breastfeed Is A Huge Achievement, contains a wealth of advice for both mothers and fathers and includes breastfeeding illustrations have been created from the woman’s point of view so – for once – we can actually see what is meant to be going on.

Here are Sarah’s 8 top tips for new fathers:

Tell your partner how well she’s doing

Small signs of affection go a long way in the first few weeks and can make a new mother feel so much more confident, which helps with breastfeeding. Tell her how much you love her and what a good job she’s doing – and try not to respond over-sensitively to her, however tired and cranky you’re feeling.

Don’t be a spare part

Many fathers feel a bit redundant in the early days when their partners are so busy breastfeeding and settling the baby but there is so much you can do around the house (bad luck!). Wash up, sterilise baby bottles or dummies if required, cook meals and make sure the washing is hung up to dry. It might be a bit of a role reversal but you’ll enjoy it all more if you’re part of the team and your partner can focus feeding the baby.

Help with breastfeeding

It’s amazing how much you can do in this respect. If your partner is breastfeeding, you can be on hand to make sure she’s got the right cushions, that baby is in the correct position (take a look at my book for more on this) and to hand her drinks, snacks and her phone. And if your baby is being fed some or all feeds in bottles, you can be even more hands on by offering to do them – particularly at night.

Be the gatekeeper

See it as your role to manage visitors. This way you will ensure you’re not getting bombarded by too many people at once, which is exhausting for new parents and can lead to a screaming, over-stimulated baby. Read friends bring cake and don’t stay too long – and they won’t mind if you cancel at the last minute.

It’s good to talk

If you’ve found the whole labour experience traumatic but don’t feel in a position to talk to your partner about it, talk to your best friend or mother. You’ll feel much better (and be much more useful!) when you’ve got all the pent up anxiety off your chest.

Bond with your new child

Just because you’re not breastfeeding, doesn’t mean you can’t have skin to skin interaction with your new baby. Other good ways to bond are to take them out for walks in the pram while your partner sleeps, change nappies, and settle them back to sleep after they’ve been fed (see next point). All these things give your partner crucial time to rest and recover.

You are the baby calmer

This is one of your most important roles of all. You don’t smell of breastmilk, so the baby is less likely to get less worked up around you. There’s also something soothing and comforting about the dexterous hold and firm grip of a father.

After baby has been fed, take them into a calm, darkened room to settle them. If you’ve got a particular way of holding that calms them, do it. Otherwise try the Up and Down technique described in my book, with one hand under baby’s head and the other under the bottom. It’s an ancient way of calming infants and in my experience it works almost every time.

 You know best (or at least you do sometimes)

Yes, you might not be the best at putting on a nappy but you are the one who spends most time with your partner and will be the first to know if something isn’t quite right. New mothers are often reluctant to open up to health visitors or their general practitioner about any problems they are having. If you think something is not right, it’s your job to make sure the GP knows the whole story.

  • Happy Baby, Happy Family: Learning to trust yourself and enjoy your baby by Sarah Beeson MBE, Health Visitor is available in paperback, ebook and audio on 
  • About Sarah Beeson MBEIn 1969, 17-year-old Sarah arrived in Hackney in the East End of London to begin her nursing career. Six years later she went into health visiting, practising for over 35 years in Kent and Staffordshire, and building up a lifetime’s expertise and stories through working with babies and families. In 1998 Sarah received the Queen’s Institute for Nursing Award and in 2006 was awarded an MBE for Services to Children and Families by Queen Elizabeth II. She later married and became Sarah Beeson.Now she divides her time between Staffordshire and London, writing and meeting wonderful readers and parents. Her first book, The New Arrival, published last year, is her true story of training to be a nurse in Hackney. She also writes regular pieces for parenting publications including Gurgle, Mother & Baby and Prima Baby and Pregnancy.For more information visit:

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