When she breastfed her first child, one thing Rebecca Bain found particularly hard was the lack of support from her husband. So hard that his negativity was one of the main reasons she nursed her baby for only the first eight weeks.

“I had lots of issues establishing feeding, but he was unsupportive and more concerned about knowing how much the baby ate and whether somebody would get a flash of my breast than what might be best for the baby (or me),” Rebecca, who lives in Suffolk in the UK, tells Healthline.

“I felt quite alone and I felt I couldn’t speak about the issues because he was bordering on unkind about it. My husband’s unsupportiveness definitely affected how long I breastfed.”

I myself was very lucky to have a husband who was supportive when I struggled to breastfeed both my babies — he came with me to see a consultant and his encouragement was one of the reasons I was able to carry on feeding until I was ready to stop, which was at five months.

“If you work with fathers, then it can have a real impact on continuance rates, which is better for the baby and better for the mother.” — Dr. Sheriff

But stories like Rebecca’s are sadly all too common, according to Dr. Nigel Sherriff of the University of Brighton, who’s been researching the impact of fathers and other partners on helping women to breastfeed.

A partner makes a significant difference to breastfeeding

“The evidence is growing that even a minimal amount of intervention with fathers can make a significant difference to the rate of breastfeeding at six weeks and beyond,” he says, citing trials like one carried out in Australia.

This 2013 trial showed a significant increase (6.4 percent) in nursing rates in a group where the fathers had attended breastfeeding sessions.

According to Dr. Sherriff, it’s important to encourage partners to understand breastfeeding better.

“If you work with fathers, then it can have a real impact on continuance rates, which is better for the baby and better for the mother.”

This awareness could help them avoid pressuring mothers to swap to formula when they thought things weren’t going well, or if the father felt like they weren’t able to bond with the baby.

But Dr. Sherriff says it’s also important to show them how they could support their partners in practical ways. This includes things like attending classes with them so they can help with positioning, doing domestic work, and helping their partners find places to feed when they were out in public.

“Breastfeeding is bloody hard and sometimes it’s just simply about being around,” he acknowledges. “3 a.m. nursing can be quite a miserable [and] lonely place — it can be nice just having someone there to talk to.”

“Without her support, I would likely have given up [breastfeeding].” — Kristen Morenos

His advice to partners of breastfeeding mothers is this: Learn about the process before the baby is born, and then get more support in the first few months after the birth. And again later, if the mother wants to continue to do extended breastfeeding.

Ideally, he says, this support would come from trained professionals, but even just reading about the process could help.

Another role fathers or partners have, he adds, is to advocate for mothers in the face of others putting pressure on her to quit nursing. This includes people who she might think she could rely on for support, like her own mother and health professionals.

One woman who relied on her partner is Kristen Morenos, who lives with her wife Stacia in Augusta, Georgia. Stacia stood up for Kristen when her mother was encouraging her to swap to formula.

“Without her support, I would likely have given up,” she said. “No one else seemed to be on my side. My mother kept telling me ‘everyone has to use formula at some point’ and the pediatricians only cared about numbers, not that she was gaining on her own curve and had plenty of soiled and wet diapers.”

Kristen, whose daughter Sawyer was born a year ago, said she’d found breastfeeding a lot harder than she expected.

“Lactation consultants just kept telling me I had a lazy baby, which was extremely discouraging.”

The breastfeeding parent relies heavily on their partner or family for support.

She struggled on with the support of Stacia who, she said, was extremely involved in the breastfeeding process. This included hiring a new breastfeeding counselor to come to the house, and staying with her throughout the consultation so she could help later with positioning.

“Stacia’s support was amazing and kept me going.”

Breastfeeding rates drop off by over half in six months

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding initiation rates in the United States are actually quite high: In 2013, four out of five babies started to breastfeed.

However, this figure had dropped to just over half by six months, indicating that many mothers weren’t continuing to feed as recommended and weren’t necessarily getting the support they needed.

Tina Castellanos, La Leche League USA Council President, tells us that most moms only stay at the hospital for a couple of days after the baby’s born — and in that time, they may not see anyone for lactation support. They’re then unlikely to get any help from healthcare professionals once they’re home unless they paid for it.

Instead, the breastfeeding parent relies heavily on their partner or family for support.

For this reason, Castellanos says, “We suggest that the partner take a breastfeeding class with the birthing parent and that the partner be present during the early days to help with latch and positioning.”

There’s no doubt that breastfeeding — if this is how you chose to feed your baby — is one of the hardest parts of early parenting.

There are a lot of practical ways that partners could help a nursing mother, she adds. It could be as simple as making sure she has water and a snack available while breastfeeding, to setting up pillows and a space to make her more comfortable.

However, she cautions: “We don’t suggest the nursing parent pump early for the partner to give a bottle, but instead that the partner wakes with the mom at night to help change the diaper, hold [the] baby, etc., while the mum gets set up to nurse.”

Finding support can be hard if you’re alone

Of course, not everyone has a partner to help them through those difficult early months.

Suzanne Locke is a single mother from London whose son was born 10 weeks prematurely. She said midwives were very helpful in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) but that once she had him home, she was on her own.

Luckily, she discovered a breastfeeding café at a children’s center close to where she lived where she learned about “laid back” breastfeeding. “It helped with my little one’s reflux as it keeps them upright — and gave me my hands back,” she tells Healthline.

“[Being able to lie back and feed without needing to use my arms to hold my baby] was an enormous benefit as a solo mum without a partner to help out. I could eat or drink a cup [of tea] while feeding — hugely important when my baby was cluster feeding, almost hourly at times!”

There’s no doubt that breastfeeding — if this is how you chose to feed your baby — is one of the hardest parts of early parenting.

Don’t wait until after birth to learn about breastfeeding

During pregnancy, many mothers focus solely on the birth itself and don’t think about whether they need to prepare either themselves or their partners for nursing their newborn.

As Dr. Sherriff explains it: A little bit of “homework” before the birth for both the mother and her partner can make a real difference. As can knowing what to expect when you have your second or subsequent baby.

Rebecca realized this, and by the time she had her second child, her husband had shifted his opinion and she fed for six months.

She increased this to a full year with her third. But with her fourth baby, born just a few months ago, she’s determined to go one step further. This time, she will only stop when she — and her baby — are ready.


Clara Wiggins is a British freelance writer and trained antenatal teacher. She writes about anything from science to royalty, and has been published by the BBC, Washington Post, Independent, WSJ, Euronews, and other outlets. She has lived, worked, and traveled all over the world, but for now is settled in the west of England with her husband, two daughters, and their miniature schnauzer Cooper.