How to Support Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is natural and had kept the human race going since the beginning to time, but that’s not to say that it’s easy and something we all just pick up easily the first time we do it. It’s a skill that both mother and baby have to learn. And even when mum and bub have positioning and attachment perfected breastfeeding itself can be exhausting, overwhelming, isolating, crowding – and seriously hungry work. Which is why it is SO important to support breastfeeding.
But how can you best support breastfeeding?
This is all just my opinion based on breastfeeding for most of the last 7.5 years, and I’ve linked off to the actual experts where appropriate.
For Everyone – Support Unconditionally
I genuinely think that this is the first step to effectively supporting mothers with breastfeeding is to start by respecting women’s choice to do – or not do – what they want with their own bodies. There is so much pressure, guilt and judgement around deciding not to breastfeed, or when breastfeeding doesn’t work. It needs to be safe for mothers to say “This isn’t working for us” – at whatever stage for whatever reason – knowing that she will still be supported (whether it’s supported to seek help and continue breastfeeding, or supported to supplement or switch to formula or expressed breast milk.)
And don’t ever let me catch you saying “I support breastfeeding, but…” (but only to a certain age, not in public, only when covered, etc etc) THAT is not support!
For Partners – Be involved in everything!
Be her cheerleader! Learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. Go with her to feeding classes if she attends them. Go with her if she sees a lactation consultant. Ask questions if you have any. Learn what a good latch looks like because it’s a lot easier for someone else to see how baby is attached in those early days. Talk to her about what she needs from you to support her.
Also, this should go without saying, but just in case – feeding is NOT the only way you can bond with baby. Burp baby after a feed, bath baby, dress them, hold them, rock them to sleep, change their nappy, wear them, have skin to skin time, play – all of that and more IS bonding. You don’t need to feed baby to bond.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association also have this handy page for Dads.
For Friends/Family – Take Care Of Her
In the early days of breastfeeding odds are her whole day will revolve around meeting the needs of the baby and even though they’re only small and their tummies are the size of a pea, they’re such energy suckers. They’re basically tiny vampires.
Some things that can be extremely helpful;
- Fetch her a glass of water every time she sits down to breastfeed; it’s very thirsty work.
- Ensure there’s plenty food for the family and make sure she’s eating.
- Help out around the house – when you visit don’t leave without doing (at least) one household task.
- If she’s struggling with breastfeeding don’t suggest that a bottle as the solution. Unless she lives under a rock she’s well aware of the fact that bottles exist. As well intented as that might be, it’s not helpful. Breastfeeding is largely a confidence game and pushing formula is an effective way to undermine her confidence. If you have concerns for their health, seek professional advice.
- Buy her an ABA membership.
The most important thing is that you be positive and encouraging, and unless she is specifically asking you for advice or opinion; don’t give it. It’s one thing to talk about what your own experience with breastfeeding, but try not to be prescriptive and tell her what she should be doing.
For Health Professionals – Get Educated or Leave The Boob Alone
Here’s my biggest gripe; health professionals who have clearly had not even had the most basic training around breastfeeding spouting off their personal opinion and acting as though it’s a medical one. Oh the stories I could tell from my 7 years of breastfeeding of doctors and nurses actively trying to dissuade me from breastfeeding – either suggesting I should wean, or breastfeed less – for one ridiculous reason or another. At best it’s unprofessional, at worst it’s dangerous. If they don’t know what they’re talking about then they need to refer mothers to someone who does (eg: her midwife, a Lactation Consultant, the Australian Breastfeeding Association etc.)
For Communities and Businesses
Embrace and accept that breastfeeding is a normal, natural part of daily life. If you own a cafe or restaurant consider becoming a registered “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” venue with the ABA. If you own any other businesses don’t discriminate against breastfeeding; don’t tell mothers to cover up, move away or really do anything at all! Just treat them as you would any other customer.
Also, be a breastfeeding friendly workplace for your employees; be flexible with breaks a mother might need to take around pumping or breastfeeding her baby. Provide her with a clean, comfortable and private place to pump or breastfeed (ie. NOT a bathroom or toilet) and somewhere to store her milk (some space in the staff fridge.)
I hope that helps! If you have any other tips or suggestions please comment below!