The Breastfeeding Partner

Give the Man a Chance: Rules for Letting Daddy Learn How to Father

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that not all babies are born into homes with both a mother and father. Many babies are welcomed into homes with any number of different parenting scenarios. I must say, however, that I particularly like to lovingly poke fun at daddies and how mamas treat daddies. So, for the purposes of this blog, “partner” will be played by the role of “daddy.”  But grandmas, partners, and support people are all included.

Rules for Letting Daddy Learn How to Father

Since we cannot control others’ behavior, only our own (right?!), this blog is not about what he should do, but rather about what you, the mama, should do. Sorry, mama, you can’t just forward this blog to dad with the subject line “READ THIS!”

Every four to six weeks, it is inevitable that conversation in breastfeeding support group turns a little sour and moms start bitching about dads and how much they don’t________. Here are a few classic complaints:

“Every time the baby cries, he immediately thinks the baby is hungry and gives her back to me to breastfeed.”

“I can’t even take a shower without him asking me when I am going to be done because the baby is crying and probably needs to eat.”

“He gets up to help me at night, but he ends up just staring at me and nodding off.”

“He doesn’t even know where the baby’s pajamas are kept! I mean, how long has he been living here?”

“It is like his life hasn’t changed at all. He still gets to do everything he wants to do and I just stay at home with the baby.”

Now, I am going to break it down for you. Don’t be mad at me. Believe me when I say that I was once (and possibly still am) a classic example of each of these scenarios. I say this lovingly and I am going to ask you to lovingly take a close look at your behavior and ask yourself if this may possibly be you.

Let’s start with the first two complaints:

“Every time the baby cries, he immediately thinks the baby is hungry and gives her back to me to breastfeed.”

“I can’t even take a shower without him asking me when I am going to be done because the baby is crying and probably needs to eat.”

Here’s a peek inside your head:

This makes me so mad! I know that there are other ways to soothe the baby than breastfeeding.  He thinks the only way to soothe her is breastfeeding! Is that really what he thinks? That it requires nothing but boobs to parent our child?!

…Then again, what if she is still hungry? Did she feed well last time? Should I just nurse her again? I know that the baby is gaining weight great, but what if she isn’t getting enough? I guess I don’t 100% trust breastfeeding.

…And honestly, it feels really good to be able to instantly calm her at the breast. It isn’t fair to make her suffer in daddy’s arms like that when I could fix her problem instantly.

Here’s what happens next:

You decide to take the baby back and breastfeed her. She instantly calms at the breast, sucks three times, and falls asleep. Daddy sees this magic in action and thinks that one, he was right that she needed to breastfeed and two, he is completely incompetent as a father and that the baby doesn’t like him.  You feel resentful because he gets to go eat a hot meal and you are once again stuck on the couch, stomach rumbling, teeth grinding.

And here’s what’s really going on:

Your lack of confidence in breastfeeding is preventing you from letting your partner help you.  You need to know the difference between when your baby has eaten well and when she hasn’t, so that when you end the feeding and hand the baby to dad, you can confidently say, “She’s done.”

Your baby will cue to go back to the breast almost immediately after you hand her to dad, unless she is sound asleep. Why?  Find out in “Addendum to the Boob Rules.”

Next, Dad’s confidence is tested. Here is where you need to instill confidence in him.  He is at a severe disadvantage here. He doesn’t have food… and the baby knows it.  It is your job as the baby expert of the house to teach him how to confidently father your baby.

Here’s how:

Once you make the decision to hand the baby off, be it for ten minutes or three hours, commit to that decision and give your partner a clear time line. Speak with confidence (even if it is a little feigned).  Start with a statement such as, “She just ate really well. She won’t need to eat again until four o’clock. I am going to go take a long shower and I won’t be back out here to nurse her again until 3:45.  Please do your best to not interrupt me; I really, really need to shave my legs and scrub the stank of old milk off myself. If she cries, you can try the pacifier.


  1. Don’t critique.
  2. Don’t micromanage.
  3. Praise and observe.
  4. Give him space (leave the room if you can’t do that well).

In the shower scenario, you are out of the room and hopefully out of ear shot. This is the best way to do it. But, if you happen to be in the room together, follow rules 1-3.

Don’t critique. Bite your tongue if you find yourself saying things like “She doesn’t like to be held like that,” or “You’re not supporting her head,” or “You can’t sit down with her!”

Don’t micromanage. A daddy must learn his own way with his baby.  Children eventually learn that their parents have their own styles (children also learn how to use this to their advantage quite quickly). So, you can’t say things like “Support her head” or “Try holding her away from you” or “She likes it when you bounce on the ball.”  Let him figure it out on his own. That’s how you figured it out!  You didn’t get a manual on exactly how to take care of this baby; you had to go through hell to learn it.  He must do that too, so let him.

Daddy and Lucy belly bounce

Praise and observe. Without sounding sarcastic, condescending, or jealous, observe when something he is doing is working.  Something along the lines of “Oh, wow, look at that! She loves that. I will need to remember that one” or “She never settles for me like that. You must have the daddy touch” or “Hmm, guess she wasn’t hungry after all. She fell asleep with you!”

Just like any other human, a daddy needs to know he is doing something well in order to build confidence. If every time he tries to take care of his baby he is criticized and micromanaged, how will he every feel confident in his abilities?

Give him space. Now, for those of you who find it physically impossible to keep your mouth shut, I recommend you go away. Get out of the house, take a shower with a loud fan or music, take a nap and wear ears plugs.  He needs the space to make mistakes, have a horrible day, and eventually figure it out. That is how learning a new skill works.

I know, I know. You are thinking, “But Katie, I feel so bad for the baby! She shouldn’t have to suffer because he is incompetent.”  Well, mama, your baby did suffer through incompetence, as does each and every first child born into a house of idiots (mine included). And those babies turn out just fine.

Learning curves are steep on the way up, but smooth sailing on the way down.

Stay tuned, because next week I’m going to address the rest of the most common mama complaints. For now, use the tips above to help your partner become the best daddy he can be.