I used to talk to the fathers in my breastfeeding classes about how important they were to helping their wives successfully breastfeed. I emphasized the father's role as encourager and support person for his wife. I suggested he bring her a drink when she was nursing, and offer to change the baby etc. All of those things are important. However, I recently met a very interesting Army midwife and lactation consultant who gave me a very different perspective!
Major Jarold (Tom) Johnson is much more than a healthcare provider in an army hospital. He is also the father of seven breastfed children. In the breastfeeding classes Major Johnson teaches, he helps fathers learn how to REALLY help their wives breastfeed. He teaches dads how to recognize a good latch and how to help both mother and baby nurse successfully.
So what exactly does Dad do?
Dad is in the perfect position to really see how baby's latch looks. So it is important that he know what to look for. He should look for a wide-open mouth with the nipple and areola deep in baby's mouth. Baby's cheeks will look full, and baby's chin and nose will be touching the breast. His lips should be flanged around the areoala.
Dad is also in a great position to help Mom evaluate baby's suck:swallow ratio. Once her milk lets down, baby should be swallowing with every suck or at least every other suck. Baby will have spurts of actively sucking and swallowing, then he may rest for a half minute or so before beginning another suck/swallow burst.
Breastfeeding should NOT be painful. Pain is an indication that something isn't right. Usually the problem is the latch. If Mom is experiencing discomfort, Dad can slide his finger between the baby's chin and Mom's breast, pulling down on the chin while he pulls baby's head in tighter to the breast. Sometimes it may take two or three tries, but this technique should deepen the latch and eliminate any pain.
A father's role in breastfeeding success cannot be overestimated. The husband who is willing to focus on evaluating his baby at his wife's breast will reap multiple rewards: a grateful wife, a healthy thriving baby, and the knowledge that he played an integral role in the process.