One parent gives their thoughts on how best to support a breastfeeding mum.
When my son was born and we were establishing breastfeeding I was lucky enough to have a lot of support from my friends and family. It’s no secret that those first few weeks can feel intense and you can find yourself feeling very unsure of yourself.
It’s a process whereby you work with your baby creating a very special relationship and reaching the point where you feel confident about feeding your baby.
Support really is key though. I remember my mother, sister, cousins, and friends asking me what they could do to help me. Many of them had never seen a woman breastfeed before and wanted to help me in any way that they could. Their support was truly invaluable.
It got me thinking, what are the things that a husband, mother, sister or friend can do to support a breastfeeding mother? It’s not even necessarily a case of doing anything or saying anything. Sometimes it is as much about not saying or doing certain things.
Here are my top tips on how to support a woman who has decided to breastfeed her baby.
Don’t suggest giving the baby a bottle.
I understand that many people suggest this with the best of intentions. The idea behind it is that the mother will have a break and won’t be sitting under the baby. This is actually probably the least supportive thing to suggest, though. Being close to the baby and feeding on demand is incredibly important when it comes to establishing a positive breastfeeding relationship. Instead, you could comment on how well the mother is doing, and how good the baby seems to be feeding.
Ditch the sleep talk.
Is it just me or are people now asking you is your baby sleeping through the night from what seems like the moment you leave the maternity hospital? Night wakings are a baby’s natural survival mechanism. They are not only perfectly normal, but are important in many ways. Breastfeeding on demand involves feeding through the night when the baby looks for it. It is very important in building and regulating your milk supply. Asking a woman about how her baby is sleeping can often make her feel worse. Sleepless nights are hard enough as it is. It will not help or support the woman in any way.
When you visit, bring some snacks or even better some sort of a dinner.
I remember my mother in law brought us over a massive pot of bolognese in those early days. It meant for a few days we didn’t have to worry about cooking and we had a healthy wholesome dinner at the ready. It allowed us to focus our precious time on caring for our newborn. Cluster feeding can generally occur in the evening time, and it is just one less thing to worry about.
Remember that breastfeeding is different to formula feeding.
Where formula is quantified by giving certain oz at certain intervals, breastfeeding is supply and demand. If your sister, wife, or friend seems to be feeding their baby twenty-four hours a day, it is completely normal. Comments such as “he couldn’t be hungry again?”, “that baby is spoilt”, “you're always holding that baby” are completely unhelpful and unsupportive.
Recommend a consultant.
If the woman appears to be struggling with breastfeeding, the best gift you could ever offer her is a visit from a lactation consultant. They will call to her home and give her one to one support, advice and practical tips to ensure that she is on the right path. It is completely invaluable. A one hour visit from a lactation consultant was the difference between me stopping breastfeeding at five weeks and now where we are happily breastfeeding for almost one year.
Encourage the woman to attend a support group .
Encourage the woman to attend a support group when the baby is born or even while she is pregnant. Cuidiu offers fantastic weekly breastfeeding support groups whereby breastfeeding counsellors and specialists are on-hand to help with any issue a woman might be having. It is also a fantastic reason to get out of the house, be in a room with many other breastfeeding mothers and have a hot cup of coffee and a treat.
Make her tea. Lots of tea.
She’s doing a pretty remarkable thing remember. This tiny newborn will soon be big and strong from his mother’s milk. It’s amazing really.
Disclaimer - this post is in no way associated with opinions regarding formula or how anyone decides to feed their baby. It is simply information for those who wish to support a breastfeeding woman and might not know how to.