Supporting breastfeeding mothers
Many women anticipate that a natural activity like breastfeeding will be easy and expect that their breastfeeding experience to be trouble-free.
Unfortunately many have been shocked and upset to discover that the early days and weeks were, in fact, a really intensive time, with some unexpected hurdles, and absolutely tiring too!
However, it’s important to know that mothers and babies are hard-wired to breastfeed, but there is also a learning element to feeding your baby.
In the first 4-6 weeks, breastfeeding mothers and their babies work hard to establish milk supply, as well as working out which positions are more comfortable.
Coupled with that, every day their baby puts in more and more demand for milk and cause their mother’s body to make that little bit more milk each day.
This is a time of really rapid growth!
This intensive period is a great opportunity to offer practical and emotional support for her.
Many studies are showing that if breastfeeding mothers have good support from somebody close to them who is supportive of their efforts to breastfeed, then this really increases their chances of success.
So if you are a mother or grandmother or partner of a breastfeeding mother, then I cannot stress enough how important your role is.
It’s really interesting to read studies which take a look at different cultures and how each one supports breastfeeding.
Some cultures expect the mother will need to sit around for a number of weeks to enable her to get breastfeeding established. The supportive, often extended family members will attend to the household chores which may also include looking after older children too.
Whilst we may not have the same level of support in our culture, I would encourage you to know that your role is vitally important.
So If you’re supporting a breastfeeding mother, it can really be advantageous to find out as much as you can about breastfeeding.
You may wish to go along to a local antenatal class to learn as much as you can about how breastfeeding works, how to get breastfeeding off to a good start and the health advantages for mother and baby when breastfeeding.
Learn about how babies feed frequently, and how to know that the baby is getting enough milk. This information will help you to empower her when she’s going through this really intensive time in those first few weeks.
I truly understand that many people want to feed the baby in the early weeks, as a means of support. The truth is, however, that it’s far more important that the mother gets her breastmilk established in the first few weeks by feeding her baby as often as the baby needs and doing this at her breast solely, where possible herself. There can, of course, be much more flexibility later on.
Breastfeeding mothers often try to do far too much in the early days and weeks when they really need to be establishing their milk supply.
From a practical perspective, find out what type of help she may need, e.g housework, hoovering, cleaning, changing baby’s nappies; it could be a whole load of possible things.
It might simply be that she would value psychological support by providing a listening ear, without judgement.
If she has an older child, it may be difficult for her to find enough time to give to that child as well as getting breastfeeding established, so offering to do the school runs, or playing/occupying the child in some way can be extremely helpful.
Another really useful way to offer support is to offer to bring her along to a breastfeeding café or breastfeeding drop-in where she can get breastfeeding help.
It will also give her a chance to chat with other breastfeeding mothers.
It can be daunting to come out for the first time to a new venue. This will help to boost her confidence.
I cannot stress enough, however, the importance of your psychological support, as you help her to get to grips with breastfeeding. This builds up her confidence and helps her to reach her goals at all stages of her breastfeeding journey.
Review dates, references & further resources
Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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