When a mother is having trouble breastfeeding, it can be hard for their partner to know how to help. But according to new research out of New Zealand's University of Waikato, partners can boost moms' milk supplies by doing one simple thing: Make dinner. (And do the dishes afterward.)
According to masters student Angga Rahadian, whose research focuses on improving exclusive breastfeeding rates, psychological and physical supports from partners are vital to breastfeeding success. (Her research only looked at heterosexual couples, but it's no stretch to assume the same findings apply in all relationships.)
"Physical support is like massaging the wife when they feel tired and cooking or doing household chores," Rahadian told the Waikato Times, adding that psychological support can be as simple as encouraging a mom or just asking her what she wants for dinner.
She found that when the co-parent does chores and cooking, the breastfeeding mom has time to focus on feeding the baby and get the rest she needs to keep her milk supply up.
Empowered partners make for happier parents
For Rahadian, a mother herself, this research is personal. Her husband participated in a father-founded breastfeeding group just for dads, and she felt the impact of his participation in her own breastfeeding journey
"I have two young daughters, and was successful in exclusive breastfeeding thanks to the support of my husband," Rahadian explains. "But some of my friends weren't as lucky."
The goal of Rahadian's research is to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates in Indonesia, where she interviewed couples about the dads role in supporting breastfeeding. According to Rahadian, there's a lot of room for improvement in Indonesia's breastfeeding rates, and according to her supervisor, her research is applicable to other locations where breastfeeding rates are not meeting targets—such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
Moms need partners in breastfeeding, too
Dr. Polly Atatoa Carr, Rahadian's supervisor, hopes to see more breastfeeding campaigns targeting dads. That's because while the bulk of public health messaging around breastfeeding is aimed at moms, the research (and our experiences) shows partners can play huge roles, too. Rahadian is not the first researcher to make the link between the behavior of dads and breastfeeding success.
There is a growing body of evidence showing that partners are huge factors in mothers' breastfeeding choices and success rates. Researchers note, "paternal emotional, practical and physical supports [have been] identified as important factors to promote successful breastfeeding and to enrich the experience for the mother and subsequently the father."
Rahadian suggests standardized paternity leave policies are another piece of the puzzle here, because when dads get time off, they can devote more time to housework. But even without parental leave, partners can still do as Rahadian suggests and ask mama what she wants for dinner—so she can focus on making dinner for the baby.