4 Ways to Support a Mom Learning How to Breastfeed
Early motherhood and the demands of caring for a new baby includes an adjustment period. It all requires plenty of emotional and physical support to get through. This is especially true when it comes to learnning how to breastfeed. Did you know that when a mother is supported in her breastfeeding journey, she is more likely to continue breastfeeding? Yes, support can make all the difference.
Why Support is Essential During Breastfeeding
According to the CDC, the percentage of infants that are ever breastfed is relatively high at about 84%. But by the six-month mark the number drops to 56%, and then down to 35% at the one-year mark. The truth is, breastfeeding can be hard. It is one of the most natural things in the world, but does not always come naturally. You must learn how to properly latch baby to the breast, understand how milk supply works and troubleshoot other issues.
In order to successfully breastfeed, a mother requires support. Support from her family, support from her community, support from her workplace and support from other moms. Research has shown that mothers who are supported in these areas are better able to reach breastfeeding goals. And the support may look different for everyone. A mother may want to exclusively breastfeed or combo feed with formula. She may want to breastfeed for only the first few months, or up to the first year and even beyond. Whatever the case, understanding her needs will help remove unwanted pressure or unsolicited advice from others, and in turn, provide the specific kind of support she needs.
What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
The benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breast milk contains the perfect mix of nutrients for babies. As your baby grows, breast milk composition changes to meet additional nutritional needs. It can protect against a variety of health issues for baby, including respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases and a number of allergies. It can also reduce the rate of SIDS by over one third. In addition, there are known health benefits for the mother. Mothers who breastfeed are reported to have a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. It’s a major reason why experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, if possible. As an added bonus, if breastfeeding is going well, it can be a great way to shed some pounds and work smartly toward your pre-baby weight.
When a Mother is Not Supported
Lack of family support has detrimental effects on a mother and her breastfeeding experience. The physical demands of being attached to a baby (with sore and leaking nipples) all day are exhausting. Plus, knowing that you are baby’s sole food source and can’t get a break, adds to the mental load of motherhood. Similarly, if a mother wants to breastfeed around other people and/or in public, but feels uncomfortable or shamed, she may stop breastfeeding earlier than intended or quit entirely. Also, some women who desire to breastfeed, but are unable to for one reason or another, are more susceptible to postpartum depression. They may feel like failures or like they aren’t a good enough moms. Mental and physical support for breastfeeding mothers is crucial in so many ways.
What Supporting a Breastfeeding Mom Looks Like
Here are some important ways to support a mom who breastfeeds:
One of the easiest ways to support a mom who breastfeeds is through encouragement. As you now understand, breastfeeding is hard, both mentally and physically. Sometimes moms need a little reassurance that they are doing a great job — however they decide to feed baby.
- Remind her that you’ll support whatever decision she thinks is best.
- Let her know that you are there for her if she needs to talk.
- Help her find a lactation consultant if she desires one.
- Connect her to breastfeeding support groups so she can hear about other experiences.
Bring Her All the Food and Drinks
Many times, partners or family members don’t think they can do much to help a breastfeeding mom, given that they are not the ones lactating. But simply bringing her food and water can be a huge help! Did you know breastfeeding burns about 400 to 500 calories a day? That’s why it’s common for moms who breastfeed to have a ravenous appetite, since their bodies are working hard to produce milk and supply it to their babies. Breastfeeding moms don’t need to eat or drink that much more than normal, but they do need to make up for the calories lost. Experts recommend eating to appetite and drinking to thirst. So, if you want to support a mom, don’t let her get too hungry or thirsty. Be proactive and provide her with a variety of nutritious snacks and drinks to stay hydrated as she feeds around the clock.
Make Places Breastfeeding-Friendly (inclusive)
One other unfortunate truth about breastfeeding is it can often make moms feel excluded from everyday life. She can’t come and go as she pleases, not when baby relies on her for feeding around the clock. She also might not feel comfortable breastfeeding with extended family around, and might retreat to another part of the house. Mom is typically the one gathering all baby’s essentials, burping and changing diapers after feeding.
It can all add to the feeling of being excluded or overwhelmed when she has to step away to find privacy or tend to baby. Accommodating her wherever she needs to feed her baby is essential. This may mean normalizing breastfeeding in the presence of family, so people become more familiar and accepting of it. It may mean offering breastfeeding-friendly areas for mom to pump. It may mean offering to burp and change baby as mom takes a second for herself. Or it may mean continuing to invite her places, include her in conversation, and letting her be the judge if she wants to accept.
Buy her Breastfeeding Essentials
And of course, what list of breastfeeding support would be complete without a few breastfeeding must-haves? While breastfeeding is technically “free,” there are indeed a variety of costs that come with it, from pads and ointment for treating sore nipples, pumps to express the milk, or simply something to keep baby occupied while feeding. If you know a mother is breastfeeding, ask her if she needs to restock on any items or even better, get her specific wish list online.
Here are a few breastfeeding items she might find helpful:
- Breastfeeding pads
- Breastfeeding-friendly clothing
- Nursing bras or shirts
- Nursing covers
- Nipple butter
- Nursing necklaces
- Nursing pillows
- Burping cloths
- Bottles for storing milk
If you’re planning to breasfeed, remember to ask for from your “village” as you begin this journey. It can be an incredibly rewarding and healthy one for both you and your baby.