I am currently training to become a breastfeeding peer supporter and as a peer supporter, it is my duty to provide each mum with the latest evidence-based information, so that she can make informed decisions throughout her journey. It is also my duty to make the mother feel supported, to pass no judgement on her, no matter what. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes all the difference in a women’s success with breastfeeding. Which is what brings me to the point of this article.
There are many reasons a woman may not continue breastfeeding and health professionals and peer supporters do all they can to prevent/correct those issues. However, one very large, underlying issue is the lack of support a breastfeeding mum can receive from the people around her.
Often, you’ll find it’s the most well-meaning, close family and friends that can cause the most damage and they don’t even realise it.
So, if you have someone close to you – your daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, granddaughter, friend, colleague, who you know really wants to succeed at breastfeeding, read on and see how you may be able to help her.
Don’t wait until the baby is here to start supporting her.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has forgotten the art of breastfeeding. Bottle feeding culture means that many people don’t know much about breastfeeding. They assume it’s pretty much the same as bottle feeding, so all the advice must be the same – feed baby every 4 hours, give baby a bottle of water on a hot day etc… Well, not only is breastfeeding different but advice towards breastfeeding has changed over the years, so even if you breastfed your own children, it’s very likely that advice has changed since then.
Often, mums are met with a lot of conflicting advice because the people around her know that things were done differently when they were parents and their children turned out OK. Before you go down that road, put yourself in the mums shoes. You, of course, did the best you could with the information you had at the time and if you had been given the same advice, then, that the mum has been given, now, I’m sure you would have done things differently. Support her in her choices. She knows what is best for her baby and needs to learn how to trust her own instincts. People telling her she is not doing something right will only cause her to loose confidence in her ability to do so.
What you can do, is help her brush up on the latest breastfeeding advice. There is so much information online and it’s really easy to access. Websites like Kelly Mom, The Breastfeeding Network, La Leche League and The Milk Meg, all offer the most up-to-date information on breastfeeding. Learn it together or mention a little fact about breastfeeding when you see her. She will love your enthusiasm and may even learn something she didn’t already know that will help her at some point down the line.
Encourage her to listen to her baby instead of the people around her.
If you’re a mother yourself, you will know that no-one knows your child like you do but sometimes, your instincts can get confused with the advice from the people around you. Help her to have confidence in herself and to block out the people around her. Those post-partum days can be an exhausting and overwhelming time and it can be hard for a mother to speak up for herself. Do it for her! Tell Aunt Know-it-All to hush down, in the nicest possible way, of course! 😊
Do not criticise her, in any way, shape or form, for breastfeeding.
You might think this one is easy, right? Well, I wonder if you would consider simple comments or questions about breastfeeding as criticism? Often, and again because our culture just knows so little about breastfeeding, the people around a breastfeeding mum tend to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of comments about it. While to the spectator, they are harmless, they can be absolutely detrimental to a breastfeeding mum’s confidence.
“Wow, is she feeding AGAIN?!”
This can either translate as, “There is something wrong with your baby” or “If the baby was formula/bottle fed, she would probably feed less and cause you less stress.” This was my personal feeling towards those comments. Who knows? Other mums may have something to add to that.
Asking if a baby is feeding again, once again disturbs the connection the mum has made with her baby. She has spent a long time getting to know her and learning her cues. She’s pretty sure she knows when her baby needs feeding but if you’re so shocked that she’s feeding her ‘again’, maybe she doesn’t… You see?
Another comment I had was about breastfeeding in front of people. Now, I can’t stress enough, when a baby is born, THEY ARE HUNGRY!! They are growing, fast! Their tummy’s are the size of a marble, meaning what goes in, soon comes out and must quickly be replaced. And it doesn’t end there. They keep growing and being hungry and needing milk and don’t get me started on growth spurts! Basically, this means mums need to feed their babies as often as that baby needs and comments like, “Do you have to do that here?” do not help.
I won’t blame you for feeling a little confused at this point if you bottle fed your children, because bottle fed babies act differently. A breastfed baby needs to work to get the milk out, so it takes a little longer and once they are full, they stop. A bottle fed baby actually gets fuller much quicker and, often, overfeeds slightly, so they might not feed as little and as often. It’s important to let the breastfeeding mum know and feel that this is normal! Her baby is acting just like any other breastfed baby. You can not feed your breastfed baby too much!
What you can do to help, is make her feel comfortable. Talk to her while she is feeding her baby. Don’t avoid eye contact or look uncomfortable. Ask her if you can get her a glass of water. Breastfeeding is thirsty work and not only will you help her quench her thirst but you will help make her feel really supported to feed her baby wherever and whenever he/she needs.
To continue on and elaborate, questions are not good. I’ll give you some examples.
“Didn’t he just have a feed?”
“How do you know he’s full if you can’t see how much there is?”
“What happens if you give him too much?”
“Is that why he’s sick a lot, because you overfeed him?”
“How will he ever get used to anyone else if it’s only ever you holding him?”
If you are really interested in knowing the answers to these questions, why don’t you go online or pick up a breastfeeding book and find out? It’s likely that the mother doesn’t even know the answers to all of your questions yet. All she knows is that it’s natural, it feels right and she trusts it. Your questions will do nothing but make her feel undermined and under supported.
Please, don’t tell her she will spoil her baby by holding him too much or by co-sleeping.
So, thanks to those lovely, cold-hearted Victorians, who quite frankly, kind of hated children, us Brits still hold certain ideas that holding a baby too much or letting them in your bed, will spoil them.
Thankfully, we now know very different. Not only does holding your baby often, help a mum keep a good milk supply, it helps calm a baby, making them feel safe and secure. This means they cry a lot less and inevitably, reduces a mum’s risk of post-natal depression.
What can you do? Does your mum need a good rest? Help her to look up how to bed-share/co-sleep safely. Telling her not to bed-share is actually a lot more dangerous, as it can lead to her falling asleep, exhausted, with her baby, under unsafe conditions. If she plans to co-sleep, she can make sure it is done as safe as possible.
It’s also worth remembering that when co-sleeping is done safely, it is actually a preventative factor against SIDS. Check out the Behavioural Sleep Laboratory website for more details.
Please, don’t tell her, her baby should be sleeping through the night.
One of the most common misconceptions about normal infant sleep, in our society, is that there is something wrong with a baby if they don’t sleep through the night. In fact, the opposite is true. It is very normal for most babies not to sleep through the night.
According to Infant Sleep Information Source, “In cases where we are unhappy with our infant’s sleep development it may not be the baby that is problematic, but our expectations regarding sleep and babies’ needs.” In other words, raising mums expectations that her baby should be sleeping through the night, can actually cause her more stress than her baby will by keeping her up. Do you really want to be adding to her stress?
Instead, try reassuring her that it is completely normal for her baby to be waking and that there are numerous reasons for her doing so, all equally important as each other, such as hunger, thirst, comfort, a nightmare, a growth spurt. By encouraging mum to respond to her baby’s needs, you will actually help to enhance her mental health and relationship with baby. 10 points for you!
Help her find the local sling library and offer to go with her to the first meet.
Slings, as far as I’m concerned, are the best thing since sliced bread.
Without my sling, when my husband went back to work, I wouldn’t have been able to feed myself, drink a cup of tea, nip to the loo, wash the pots etc…
Some babies are great and are born with the ability to settle in a crib, quietly for an hour or two at a time. I did not have one of those babies! And neither do most of the world’s mums!
Sometimes, a mum needs help and giving a mum help with learning to carry her baby, so she can do things for herself, can make all the difference to her mental well-being.
Much like breastfeeding, humans in our modern society have also forgotten the art of babywearing. For centuries, humans carried their babies in some form of cloth and for good reason, too, not just because prams hadn’t been invented yet. When a baby cries less, so does his mummy. Happy baby, happy mum! 😊
I can’t stress enough how important it is to help mum attend a sling meet, while she is pregnant. There is so much to learn and take in when a new baby arrives, learning how to use a sling is the last thing mum needs. If this isn’t possible, then simply supporting her to learn will still make all the difference. To find your local sling library click here.
Have to hand all the information she needs, to access breastfeeding support services.
Locally, nationally, breastfeeding cafes/groups, Facebook groups, her local Infant Feeding Team, the National Breastfeeding Helpline, her local NCT breastfeeding counsellor, nearest lactation consultant (IBCLC). All can be found on google or by contacting your local health service. Having this to hand means that if she does start to struggle, finding the right phone number and knowing who to call, will not be a worry for her. Something so simple can mean all the difference in a crisis. Those early days with a newborn, really do destroy your brain cells and it’s hard figuring out who to turn to when things don’t go as planned. Having someone else to rely on for things like this can be immeasurable help to a mum-in-need.
Sit back and let a mum do what she has to do.
It’s super important for a breastfeeding mum to spend as much time as possible, in the early days, with her little one.
As I discussed above, keeping baby close, helps regulate a mum’s supply. It also means she can look for and learn her baby’s cues. A mother needs time to get to know her baby and that just isn’t going to happen if people keep coming and taking the baby off her.
Again, it’s a tough one because I know that family and friends are all so well-meaning when they do this. They think they are giving the mum a break, along with the added bonus of getting a good squeeze from the cute tiny baby and sometimes, mum does need a break and someone to hold the baby. The best way to solve this, is to just ask if she would like you to hold the baby. If the answer is no, leave it at that! Simple. 😊
And last but not least…
Print this out or save it to your computer and refer back to it as often as possible. Share it on Facebook or Twitter to help spread the message to other family members and friends. We need to get the message out there if we want to see women succeed with their breastfeeding goals! It won’t be easy but together, we can get there. 💪🏻
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