In the first 6 weeks of giving birth when mums are feeling emotional and overwhelmed, the survey reveals that their partner is the number 1 most valuable source of support. The results reflect the instrumental role of the father in the early days of motherhood, ahead of the support from doctors, midwives, online communities and their own mothers.
The majority of mums, 90 percent, are content with the level of support they receive from their partners during this time. Most mums describe their partners as 'supportive" and 'embracing the role of being a parent". Only 3 percent feel like they 'need a lot more support" from their partner. Encouragingly, 4.5 out of 5 mums, have immense confidence and trust in their partners ability to look after baby – even more so than their own mothers, who boast the experience.
Support with cooking was in the top three most beneficial ways a partner could assist a new mother. Yet by far the most beneficial form of support a new mum receives from their partner during the early days of motherhood is emotional support (81 percent). This is followed by support with breastfeeding. Of the respondents, 80 percent of women indicate their partner is even more supportive than their extended family network and midwife with their breastfeeding journey.
These Australian results are in line with international observations. Prof. Diane Spatz (Director of the Lactation Program at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, USA) recently unveiled consistent research results at the International Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium: 'The father's role is critical in helping the mother to initiate and sustain breastfeeding."
Evolving trends show how this generation of fathers, more than ever, are participating in daily decisions and providing a more active role with routine care for their babies. New dad, Jarrod, 33, from Melbourne agrees: 'It took me a little while to get into a rhythm of how I can support my partner effectively. Now I know that even simple things can make a big difference in her life, such as cooking a meal or getting up during the night to help feed when the little one is crying."
Medela Australia is celebrating dads this Father's Day for the role they play in shaping the parenting and breastfeeding journey. If it takes a village to raise a child, thank you to dads for being a valued part of the team.
Katie is an Educator, Midwife and Lactation Consultant from Medela Australia.
Katie James has worked in the UK and Australia as a midwife, lactation consultant, educator, and as a sessional university lecturer and tutor. Katie has worked in postnatal and hospital wards, NICU and SCN, community clinics as well as privately as a lactation consultant.
Katie's role as Education Manager for Medela Australia, is to provide education and the latest evidence on breastfeeding, what's in mother's milk, and breastmilk feeding to families and health professionals.
Question: What surprised you most about these results?
Katie James: 90% of new mums are content with the level of support they receive from their partners.
This shows what a positive contribution this generation of dads are making and how their role and contribution to parenting can enrich the experience of mums. Dads play a much more equal role in the parenting journey than they have in previous generations.
Question: How does a partner influence a new mother in the early days of motherhood?
Katie James: The early days of motherhood can be a bit of a blur, and extremely exhausting for everyone! Babies feed incredibly frequently, often for long periods of time and of course not just during the daytime hours, this is totally normal! Breastfeeding is probably the main thing a mum will be doing in the first few weeks, probably taking up 10-12 hours of her day, and that's not including nappy changes, settling, visitors, and trying to fit in normal life activities! A mums needs to be able to rest and relax with her baby in order to listen to her instincts. Mums ideally shouldn't be doing much more than holding, cuddling and breastfeeding baby, and sleeping, resting, eating and washing themselves. Partners can be so helpful in doing the day to day activities like cleaning and cooking, but also the nice activities like bath time, massaging mums shoulders while she is breastfeeding, settling baby with cuddles or walks in the park so mum can get some sleep. But just as important is that partner acts as mums advocate and breastfeeding supporter. Regular encouraging words and letting her know she is doing a great job go a long way.
Question: How has the role of a new Dad changed over the past 5 – 10 years?
Katie James: It wasn't that long ago when partners weren't allowed into the birthing rooms and wouldn't have dared to attend the antenatal classes, but all that has changed and for the better. Who is better to support your through this big exciting adventure than the person you love the most?
Studies have shown that the more supportive and knowledgeable about breastfeeding a partner is the more likely a mum will succeed with breastfeeding. (Rempel LA, Rempel JK 2011, The breastfeeding team: the role of involved fathers in the breastfeeding family. Journal of Human Lactation 27(2):115–121, 187–189 & Tohotoa J, Maycock B, Hauck YL, Howat P, Burns S, Binns CW 2009, Dads make a difference: an exploratory study of paternal support for breastfeeding Perth, Western Australia. International Breastfeeding Journal 4:15)
Partners should attend the breastfeeding class offered by the hospital, join the Australian Breastfeeding Association together and sign up for Medela's Take 5 which provides you with regular emails, blogs and videos sent to you at the right stage in your pregnancy and after your baby is born. It's much easier to become educated about breastfeeding before baby arrives, rather than reading everything when you're surviving on a few hours sleep in the first weeks! Get up to date together so your partner has an opportunity to communicate her thoughts and wishes about how she would like you to support her breastfeeding journey.
Question: What advice do you have for new-Dads who are unsure of their role in the initial weeks of their babies' life?
Katie James: Partners are paramount, mums need lots of emotional support to help them with breastfeeding. Sometimes just telling your partner how much you love her and how she is doing an amazing job is all she needs. The simple things like bringing her a drink of water when she is breastfeeding, making meals and snacks plus being the gatekeeper to prevent too many visitors and changing those explosive pooy nappies can seem like small things, yet it makes new parenthood and coping with the frequency of breastfeeding that much easier.
Mums are going to need lots of rest during these early weeks in particular. Do not think that because you can't feed baby that you cannot help mum get more sleep! Babies need lots of settling and holding and this is a perfect time for mum to have a nap while you to snuggle up in skin to skin contact with bub. Baby loves hearing both yours and mums voice, so read anything out loud in a gentle tone; seriously it is your voice they love. Take time to communicate with your baby when they are quiet and alert. Even from the early hours and days if your baby is looking at you contentedly and you poke your tongue out and wait, eventually you will probably see your baby try to copy you! Babies communicate in very subtle ways at first, but they know who you are as they have heard your voices in the womb. Take time to just sit and observe bub, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much they 'talk" to you.
Question: Can you share tips for any males unsure of how to deal with an overwhelmed new mother?
Katie James: The baby blues occurs in about 80% of mothers and tends to lasts three to five days after the birth. Symptoms include mood swings, teariness, feeling overwhelmed and/or anxious. It is believed that it occurs due to rapidly changing hormone levels after birth, but a birth experience may also play a role. Baby blues go away on their own without needing any treatment. Partners can help by holding their partner and just listening to them; a new mum may not want any more 'advice" but instead a loving hug and sensitive affirmation that they are doing a great job. Overwhelm and teariness often gets worse with exhaustion, so helping your partner to take day naps is super important.
If a mums symptoms seem to be getting worse or do not settle after a few days it is important for her to talk to a health professional as it may be a sign of developing depression or anxiety. For more information http://www.panda.org.au/
Interview by Brooke Hunter