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What does support look like? What to do and not do to support a breastfeeding mother

Breastfeeding is the best thing for baby and mom.

Everybody knows it. So why are so many people, from health professionals, to friends, to mothers-in-law, to husbands, intent on making the mother feel inadequate and getting her to quit breastfeeding? I have to think that many of them are not doing it on purpose. That they are misinformed and uneducated about the benefits of breastfeeding, about how milk supply works, and about the normal course of breastfeeding.

If you want to support a woman that is breastfeeding, maybe your spouse, your sister, your friend, your daughter, your daughter-in-law, your colleague, your neighbour, your patient, your client, then this post is for you!

What not to do

Let's start by understanding what you shouldn't do. A number of people have written excellent posts on this already, so rather than repeat what they said, I am going to link to them. Please read them. It is important.

How to make breastfeeding difficult: This amazing article by IBCLC (that's International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) Linda J. Smith, written in 1986 (that's 22 years ago!), has been making the rounds ever since and is still as relevant today as it was back then. I've seen it crop up on at least 3 blogs in the past week, including two of my favourites The Canadian Lactivist and Parenting Baby to Sleep. This article busts a bunch of the myths about breastfeeding that misinformed people so often use to undermine breastfeeding mothers.

How to know a health professional is not supportive of breastfeeding: Written by breastfeeding guru Jack Newman, this handout helps you to understand if a health professional is supportive of  breastfeeding or not. Too many women blindly listen to their doctor or nurse without realizing that they often only have a few hours of breastfeeding education under their belt. If you like this, please also support the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic & Institute that is in desperate need of funding.

A plea to MILs and Mums everywhere (oh and Dads of course): This is a guide for the grandparents of the new baby on what they shouldn't say and also what they should do to support their breastfeeding daughter or daughter-in-law.

What to do

Now that you understand what not to do, here are some suggestions on what you can do to support a breastfeeding mother.

Tell her how proud you are of her: Breastfeeding isn't always easy (but don't remind her of that). Instead, tell her how proud you are that she is breastfeeding her baby. Tell her this when the baby is 1 day old, 4 weeks old, 3 months old, 6 months old, 1 year old, 2 years old, and so on. Breastfeeding doesn't stop being the best thing for baby at a specific age and many moms find that the support they have from others decreases exponentially as the baby grows. The World Health Organisation, Health Canada, and other key health organizations recommend at least 2 years of breastfeeding.

Help her get knowledgeable support: If she is struggling with breastfeeding, unless you have training in lactation, help guide her to someone that does have that training. Often people that have breastfed think they can give great advice to others. However, each mom's experience is different and things that may have worked for you may not work for others. For example, some moms can go for more than 3 hours without breastfeeding and not have their supply compromised and not get plugged ducts, but many many others cannot. Some moms can eat anything they want while breastfeeding and others find that their baby is sensitive to certain foods that they eat. Help the mom to get access to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), get her to attend a La Leche League meeting, or if she likes using the Internet for support get her to go somewhere with knowledgeable breastfeeding counselors assisting other moms like the Kellymom.com message boards.

Buy her a book or take one out from the library: Get her a quality breastfeeding book, like Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding, La Leche League's The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, or Martha and William Sears The Breastfeeding Book. Or get her to spend time online on the research-based kellymom.com Web site that provides lots of information and advice on breastfeeding.

Offer to help with everything BUT feeding: Everyone always wants to feed the baby. Sorry, but that is mom's job. But that doesn't mean that you can't help. You can change diapers, burp the baby, do laundry, cook meals, run errands.

« Raising a Feminist | Main | Pauline Marois: Profile of a feminist, mother, and leader of social change »

Reader Comments (35)

[...] a great article titled “how to make breastfeeding difficult”.  Today, I noticed that phdinparenting had blogged about it and added her own input on how to make breastfeeding easier.  I think it’s great and am [...]

[...] What does support look like? What to do and not do to support a breastfeeding mother [...]

November 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPhD in Parenting Blog

Thank you for this article. Too many times people don't know what to do to support a loved one.

Your #1 suggestion to do is what has helped me and continues to make my husband my #1 cheerleader. Everytime we hit a milestone (outgrows clothes, is another week old, learns and discovers something) my husband tells me i'm providing the nutrients and love for it to be possible.

And when folks get quiet or give looks when I say my goal is to bf for 1 year if not more, dh cites WHO and APA.

Spouses, partners and family and friends can truly help a mom out by being her cheerleader against the naysayers and the societal hurdles.

November 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterpantrygirl

Thank you for the post.
All too often we're faced with well intentioned advice, and comments, that undermine breastfeeding.

My own GP informed me that breastfeeding is only useful for the first 6 weeks!

Building a support network to nurse your child is imperative, with the most important aspect lying in building the faith and confidence in yourself and your baby.

For with or without support, it comes down to a decision as a mother to breastfeed. And the courage, and confidence, and knowledge to do so are essential tools.

November 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKiera Pedley

[...] posted before about how to support a breastfeeding mother and I think that this is a topic that obviously needs to be revisited in more detail among [...]

Great post! I had an extremely hard time starting out nursing my daughter, and if it wasn't for the support I found in LLL resources and an older veteran breastfeeding mum, I might have given up. I got a lot of that "well-meant advice" about how I should give the baby formula or how it wasn't "that important" that I breastfeed. Even my own midwife recommended formula when it took a day or two for my milk to come in (common after inductions, I found out later.)

I am happy to say that a little bit of the right support goes a long way. My daughter happily breastfeed for almost two and a half years before mostly weaning herself about three and a half months into my current pregnancy. She still loves her "nanas"as she calls them. Keep posting this kind of thing....new breastfeeding moms and those of us looking to do it again both need to hear from other women that we aren't alone in what we're doing

December 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKaren McSpadden

[...] Mama Luxe from Mama Saga also weighed in on this topic. She put together a great discussion on why it is that so many women choose not to breastfeed or give up seemingly so easily. She touches strongly on the issue of support in her post, which I also feel is crucial. That is why I posted about how to support a breastfeeding mother. [...]

[...] I think educating one’s self is always a good thing. Of course, it’s impossible to prepare for every possible scenario, but if a woman knows in advance that breastfeeding jaundice is a normal occurrence and isn’t always a cause for concern, then perhaps she can make better informed choices with regard to her child’s care. If she and her doctor decide that supplementation is necessary, then knowing about a SNS/lactation aid and asking for the help of a lactation consultant could be invaluable. And then, if a woman finds herself in a situation where, for whatever reason, she has trouble with breastfeeding, knowing where to look for help at the first sign of trouble is key. It’s also helpful for family and friends to know what to do (and not to do) to support a breastfeeding mother. [...]

Oh, and don't balk whenever and WHEREVER she needs to feed her baby. The more a mom feels that she makes those close to her - as well as the unnamed public - uncomfortable, the more difficult breastfeeding can seem to her when she is going through the tough times. Please encourage breastfeeding moms. If you see someone feeding their child in public, let them know what an awesome job they're doing! Feeding our children, our future, is the most important job we have.

January 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterbabyREADY

Great post! I see too many moms give up too soon when the right support would have put them back on the right path. I love the part about having people help out with non-feeding jobs. Everyone always wants to help with feeding and cuddling, and yes it can be awkward to have your mother or mother-in-law do your dishes...so either explain that that is what you need or ask/pay someone else to do it for you.

January 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeyondPrenatals

[...] “expert” should read before they start telling a mom that she can’t breastfeed. What does support look like? What to do and not do to support a breastfeeding mother.The sad thing is for too many moms there just isn’t good advice coming at them. “Make [...]

February 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter» Breastfeeding Support

Great article!! I wish more people would read it. Breastfeeding is best and it would be great if everyone offered support. I always try to give a positive comment when I see a mom breastfeeding.

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy - Mommy News Blog

Oh this is great! I could have written How to Make Breastfeeding Difficult in the first few months after my son was born. And I have certainly found out that the support decreases the older they get. My current favorite question is, "He's how old? Oh. So you'll be done breastfeeding soon then." The next time around I know that I can find FANTASTIC support. Even if it is online from people I'll never get to meet!! Keep the great posts coming!

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReillyLife

Wow! Thanks for such a great article. While I was in the hospital learning how to breastfeed my newborn son I must have heard about 10 different things that I HAD to do that ALL contradicted each other. Luckily I followed the advice of a doula/friend, read the womanly art of breastfeeding and followed my instincts and was able to breastfeed for much longer than I originally planned. Most importantly I followed my instincts and tuned most of the people around me, including the nurses out.

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTara Marchese

I will add something that feels maybe a tad redundant, but bears repeating: we need to talk positively about it. Too often, even women who did breastfeed their children don't really discuss it or how really wonderful it is. Yes, it can be difficult sometimes. So can birth. But as long as we continue this culture of negative speak about these things, no one will really understand the very real emotional benefits of doing things the healthiest way possible. Now I'm excited about this topic (I guess I always am, lol!), and I'm off to write a post on it. http://www.wonderfullymadebirths.wordpress.com

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

[...] March 7, 2009 at 9:24 pm · Filed under Breastfeeding, Essay and tagged: attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Childbirth, natural parenting, postpartum, support What does support look like? What to do and not do to support a breastfeeding mother | PhD in Parent.... [...]

[...] If a mom is struggling with breastfeeding, please don’t tell her to quit at two weeks if it isn’t working out for her. Instead, tell her that you know how hard it is. Tell her that you are proud of her for trying so hard. Tell her that it is her choice whether to continue or not and that you fully support her no matter what her decision is and that she is a great mother no matter what decision she makes. Give her a hug. Let her cry. Then let her heart guide her about when or if to give up. Read up about what it really means to support a breastfeeding mother. [...]

Great article, as always. Especially love the link for the MILs and other family members. That's what I needed in the early days. Sheesh!

April 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

[...] that they can’t be good mothers and breastfeed at the same time. I wish there was more good quality support for those moms to help them through the difficulties that they are [...]

[...] to women that might be struggling with breastfeeding? Do they send any messages to their friends and family about how to support them? Not [...]

[...] in Parenting has an excellent post up right now about supporting a breastfeeding mom – check it [...]

When I took my first baby for her 4 month check up, the doc informed me that I should consider introducing solid foods (like baby cereal) because my breastmilk was no longer nutritious enough to meet her needs! Fortunately, my baby's 18 pounds of healthy chub and my own research were enough to convince me to never see that doctor again.

Husbands can do all sorts of things to support breastfeeding, especially at night. (This is a main reason I hear for introducing formula- to share night duty.) In the early days, my husband brought baby to me in bed (from the bassinet in our room), and changed her diaper after each night feeding so I could go back to sleep right after nursing her down.
Thanks for great information. I'll be sure to tweet it again!

August 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Angstadt

[...] What does support look like? What to do and not to do to support breastfeeding moms [...]

[...] about how fortunate we are that formula is adequate to sustain life now, or perhaps even bemoan the lack of support women have for establishing and sustaining breastfeeding, or discuss the local milk bank or milk [...]

[...] her decision is and that she is a great mother no matter what decision she makes. Read up about what it really means to support a breastfeeding mother. Give her a hug. Let her [...]

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSix Week Check-Up « Chil

[...] Mama Luxe from Mama Saga also weighed in on this topic. She put together a great discussion on why it is that so many women choose not to breastfeed or give up seemingly so easily. She touches strongly on the issue of support in her post, which I also feel is crucial. That is why I posted about how to support a breastfeeding mother. [...]

[...] What does support look like? What to do and not do to support a breastfeeding mother [...]

[...] Ultimately, if the point of WIC is to improve the health of low income mothers and babies and if the goal of the CDC is to increase breastfeeding rates in order to improve the health of the nation, all decisions about how WIC’s support to moms and infants is provided should be done with a view to supporting breastfeeding first and foremost, with formula as an option only available upon specific request. These moms do not need to be guilted into breastfeeding, but they should be given all the support in the world to help them be successful. [...]

Great advice! Thank you and Happy New Year!

January 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPro Breastfeeding

[...] posted from PhD in Parenting blog [...]

[...] as a “breastfeeding prize”, the impact of formula samples given in the hospital, and ways to know that your health care professional is not supportive of breastfeeding. All of those issues, all of those posts, originate from the premise that the vast majority of [...]

[...] need to keep providing medical, technical and moral support to women who are struggling with breastfeeding. That will always be a requirement. But to truly [...]

[...] family members who didn't support you failed [...]

[...] mom who wants to breastfeed (that is 95% of Canadian moms) to be supported in that decision with quality support and barriers removed. That is all that I ask. Share| Cancel [...]

[...] failed you. …the hospital that gave you formula to take home "just in case" failed you. …the family members who didn't support you failed you. …the health insurance or medicare that didn't cover the cost of a lactation [...]

August 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMy heart hurts… «

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