This is a really common question for many parents. Often it is the question asked by the partner in the first or second week after birth.

This is because usually at the end of the first week a new mum is extremely tired, probably the most tired they have ever been – especially when they don’t listen to well-meaning advice to sleep when the baby sleeps!

Partners of course want to help out and understandably think that if mum can sleep through a feed whilst they feed baby with expressed milk it will help.

So I’m going to go through why it is maybe not the best idea just yet and of course when it is.

In the beginning your milk cells are laying down all the foundations to create a good sufficient milk supply. This takes around one month for the breasts to finalise. They initiate and build your milk supply through your baby frequently draining milk from the breast at every feed.

Babies are designed to feed frequently, between 8-12 times in 24 hours to help this process. In the first week some babies may even feed a little more frequently than this.

So understandably mums are exhausted and partners want to help out and give mum a break. But sleeping through a feed doesn’t always help in the early stages as mums often finds that the fullness in their breast wakes them up and they need to express whilst their partner feeds the baby. Not really giving you any more sleep!

The other issue is that if mums sleep longer than 5 hours straight in the first month when the breasts are building supply, it may interrupt and impact the future milk supply.

It is best to allow the body to establish your milk supply through frequent feeds as nature intended and lay down the patterns of breastfeeding first. Once baby is around 6 weeks it is a good time to introduce an expressed milk feed. This way you and your baby are well established and confident with breastfeeding and settling into a good pattern.

That said, there are still plenty of things which partners can do to help a new mum out instead of an expressed milk feed in the early weeks:

  • Help to settle and calm baby by holding them in skin to skin contact or carrying them around in a sling.
  • Take baby for a walk in the park whilst mum has some rest
  • Bath baby
  • Be the gatekeeper – Keep visitors at a minimum in the first few weeks so mum can get an opportunity to rest!
  • Do the household chores (yes, it’s a well said phrase but a very important one) many mothers say they can’t rest because there is too much to be done in the house. Keeping the house tidy and food on the table is exhausting for a new mum. Having someone to do this is really important and means mum can concentrate on bonding with baby and building her milk supply normally.
  • Help your partner to take naps! Lots of new mums say that they cannot sleep in the day. All it takes is some practice and they’ll be snoring away in no time! Make the bedroom dark and quiet. Ban all phones etc. during rest periods. Even if mum only lies down for 20mins of quiet time with no distractions this is resting her body. After a few practices of this the body will relax and eventually sleep. Even 20-30min power naps are very helpful, in fact they are essential!

Really in the first few weeks mums only “job” should be to feed, hold and care for baby and feed wash and rest herself! The rest can wait.

To share your tips and advice for coping in the first few weeks join us on our Medela Australia Facebook page.

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