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The important role dads play in feeding our babies (even when it comes to breastfeeding)

You won’t be surprised to read that I think dads are amazing and play such an important role in raising our kids. Modern dads are nothing like the incompetent louts we’re often portrayed as in the media. We’re hands on. We change nappies, wipe bums and blow noses. We’re not always the ‘fun’ parent. And, most definitely, we are NOT babysitters. We are parents and can do pretty much anything for our babies that their mum can. That is, apart from breastfeeding; the one area of baby rearing that we are genetically incapable of doing (*shakes fist* “Damn you, useless man nipples!!”). 

And yet, that doesn’t mean we can (or should) just put our feet up and leave the feeding duties to our other half until the kids are old enough to fend for themselves. 

Even though we can’t physically feed our babies in those early stages of parenthood, there are still so many things we can do to help with feeding our children and encouraging them to be good eaters throughout every stage of their development. Here’s how…

Weaning Dads

Pre-baby

Be prepared

I’ll never forget when Rosie was pregnant for the first time, we both attended a brilliant (and free) NHS breastfeeding clinic at our local hospital. They told us that when a new mum has the support and encouragement of her partner, she’s far more likely to be successful at breastfeeding (and breastfeed for longer too) than a mother who has no support at all. Which, when you think about it, makes complete sense (two minds being better than one, and all that).

At the clinic, we were shown countless videos explaining how to identify a good and bad latch, taught what to do if breastfeeding was painful, shown different ways to hold a breastfeeding baby, and given tips around increasing the mother’s milk supply. It was so interesting, and I can honestly say made a huge difference when Rosie started breastfeeding for the first time.

Breast Feeding Wing Man

By knowing about breastfeeding myself, I was able to help her through those early feeds with the midwife, recognising a bad latch from 10 paces, suggesting alternative positions to hold the baby that might be more comfortable, and better encouraging her when things weren’t quite going to plan.

So, new dads…make sure you learn as much as you possibly can about breastfeeding before your little one arrives. Do your homework. Attend a free breastfeeding clinic. Watch online tutorials or just read up about it in books or online. The more informed you are, the more help you will be!

Click here for a great step-by-step guide from SMA® Nutrition with helpful latching tips, different breastfeeding positions and getting baby to burp!

Newborn stage

Be the world’s best breastfeeding wingman

As rewarding as it might be, breastfeeding can nonetheless be pretty restrictive (not to mention exhausting) for new mums. It takes great effort and concentration to get started, especially in the first few weeks. Once the baby is latched on, the new mum is pretty much stuck in one place, feeding for up to an hour at a time. And there’s little respite for new mums, with most babies demanding a feed every two to four hours, day and night.

Breastfeeding mama

So, anything us dads can do to make the whole breastfeeding process as easy and comfortable as possible for new mums, the better. Think of yourself as her breastfeeding wingman, and take charge of the following:

  • Make it your responsibility to bring the baby to mum when it’s time to feed (especially in the middle of the night).
  • Be in charge of finding the nursing pillow before every feed and helping the two of them get in a comfortable position to feed.
  • Talk to her. Keep her company. Offer her a foot rub. Or even just make sure the remote control is within reaching distance. It can be quite a lonely activity, so don’t just leave her to it (unless she specifically wants you to!).
  • Bring snacks and drinks to your other half during every feed (breastfeeding mums need to stay hydrated and keep their energy levels up).
  • Or better yet, make a ‘breastfeeding treat basket’ for your bedroom (or wherever she breastfeeds most) filled with all her favourite snacks and treats, so they’re on hand when she needs a little energy boost.
Breast feeding treat basket

Doing things like this will help her feel comfortable, relaxed and cared for, which in turn will help her milk let down while keeping her supply up. So, even though us blokes can’t physically breastfeed the baby ourselves, we can still make a massive difference.

Be on the lookout

If something’s not quite working, the person closest to the problem can often be the last to realise. So, if you’ve done your research about breastfeeding and are involved enough to know if something’s not right or your other half isn’t coping, then you are the best person to spot it, and help fix it. 

Knowing who to turn to if your partner is struggling to feed can make a huge difference. Depending on the scale of the problem there is so much help out there for breastfeeding mums who need it. From your GP, health advisor or local breastfeeding groups to brilliant free resources like SMA® Nutrition’s Careline service – a free phone number and live chat service (8am-6pm) which you can contact for expert tips and advice from a dedicated team of expert parents with first-hand experience in everything related to babies, from breastfeeding to weaning.

Nobody benefits from suffering in silence. As parents, we’re all just learning as we go. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Weaning Stage

Be proactive

According to NHS guidelines, you can start weaning your baby from around the six-month mark1; maintaining their regular milk feeds but introducing new tastes and textures to their diet with veggie and fruit purees. Although mum has been the primary source of sustenance for the baby up until this point, now is the time when dads can really come into their own and get more involved in the feeding process.

It really takes no time at all (in the evening or over the weekend) to be proactive and prepare a few meals in advance, which can make such a big difference to a mum’s already hefty workload. My top tip to get started is to buy some root vegetables, which are ideal for this first stage of weaning…

Just steam cook a carrot, half a swede and a parsnip (steaming is better than boiling as it maintains more of the vegetables’ nutrients). Once cooked and suitably soft, puree the whole lot together, allow it to cool, then spoon the orangey mix into an ice tray and pop it into the freezer. Once frozen, the individual cubes can be defrosted in the microwave by mum or dad, when needed, as a quick and easy meal. Simples!

Weaning ice cubes

Mashed banana is also a firm favourite in our house – just make sure you use really ripe bananas, as little tummies find it harder to digest non-ripe fruit.

For more weaning tips, head over to the SMA® Nutrition website for a really useful guide to healthy eating for babies and toddlers (including a recommended a list of foods to include in their diet and which to avoid).

Toddler Stage

As babies start to grow up, their relationship with food is closely correlated to their early eating experiences during these formative years. So, it’s important that both mums and dads work together and do everything they can to make meal times as enjoyable and stress free as possible for our little ones. If they feel pressured to eat, more often than not it will lead to tantrums or untouched plates. And ain’t nobody got time for that… 

Be patient

It’s totally normal for toddlers to go through stages of fussy eating. Or to love a certain food one day and then completely reject it the next. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like it (or won’t eat it in future). It’s hugely frustrating…sure. But don’t worry yourself too much. As I said, it’s completely normal and just a phase some toddlers go through. 

Dealing with fussy eaters

If you do find yourself with a persistent fussy eater though, here are a few things you can try: 

  • Don’t overwhelm them with large portions – start them off with small amounts of food on their plate. They can always ask for more if they like it! 
  • Don’t worry about trying to get them to completely finish their plate if they don’t want to. This can lead to food refusal which can make them anxious about mealtimes. 
  • Try to think more about what they are eating over the course of a day, rather than getting too hung up about one particularly bad meal time. If they don’t eat much at lunch, they almost certainly will make up for it later in the day.
  • And add a bit of variety to each meal so they can try different things and find something they like. 

If you’re stuck for inspiration, you can find a handy meal planner for toddlers here with some practical meal ideas for every day of the week!

Be positive

Mr Positive

As a ‘slightly’ fussy eater myself, I’ve been guilty of this in the past. But whatever you do, don’t let your personal hang ups or food dislikes project onto your child. Talk positively about food at every opportunity. Say everything is yummy (even if you don’t like it yourself). Basically, anything you can do to avoid negative language and make meal times a positive experience, will pay dividends for years to come.

Be together

And finally, I’m a firm believer that eating together as a family is one of the best things you can do to encourage your toddler to be a good eater. Not only is it a real time saver (being able to cook just one thing for everyone), family meal times and preparing meals together are also great bonding experiences for you and the kids, while helping them develop the important conversation, social and motor skills that will set them up for life.

Feeding toddlers

This sponsored post has been written in collaboration with SMA® Nutrition

References: 

  1. NHS, Your pregnancy and baby guide (2019). Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/solid-foods-weaning/
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