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Supporting Breastfeeding as a Friend or Family Member

If you’ve heard us say it once, you’ve heard us say it a thousand times: breastfeeding is amazing. 

To start, breast milk is the most nutritious and nourishing first food for babies. It offers children important antibodies that help prevent illness and provides a lifetime of health benefits. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of jaundice, prevents allergies by supporting the development of good bacteria in the gut. 

It can even reduce pain in babies before and after vaccinations!

The breastfeeding experience provides a host of important benefits for parents as well as for babies. Because it releases hormones like oxytocin, breastfeeding helps with postpartum pain and promotes an intimate bond between parent and child. It also reduces the risk of developing postpartum depression, certain cancers, and even medical conditions like diabetes.

With such an impressive array of benefits, it’s no wonder many families want to breastfeed. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many families do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to. The data shows that rates of breastfeeding drop sharply in the first year; 62% of infants begin with exclusive breastfeeding, but after three months, only 45% of babies are still exclusively breastfed. The rate drops to 24% of babies by six months of age.

This suggests that there’s a need for more education and support around breastfeeding. Caring for a newborn can be challenging, and families require resources if they are to meet their breastfeeding goals. Strong support—especially for the breastfeeding parent—is essential. 

If you’re wondering what you can do to support breastfeeding as a partner, grandparent, or friend, here are some simple ways to support a breastfeeding parent.

Challenges for breastfeeding parents

Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes easily for every new parent. And even if the breastfeeding relationship does begin seamlessly, the physical and emotional transition to the postpartum period can be challenging to navigate for both new and seasoned parents.

To begin, catching enough sleep during the early weeks and months of a new baby can be daunting for all parents, whether they breastfeed or not. Moreover, breastfeeding parents need to consume an additional 450–500 calories each day and drink lots of water to keep their bodies nourished and continue to produce adequate amounts of breast milk.  

New parents may also experience social isolation as they adjust to caring for a new baby. Because of this, they may need special attention from friends and family and access to support groups.

Fortunately, with a strong support system, parents can overcome many of the challenges that arise during the postpartum period. With some thoughtfulness, partners, family members, and friends of breastfeeding parents can support their loved one and their breastfeeding goals.

Ways to support breastfeeding as a non-breastfeeding parent

Breastfeeding benefits from steadfast commitment from both parents. Although one parent may be doing most, if not all, of the actual feeding, the non-breastfeeding parent has an important role to play in helping reach breastfeeding goals.

The most important thing a non-breastfeeding parent can do is to encourage the breastfeeding parent. 

Meeting your breastfeeding goals may require more persistence, time, and energy than you realized, especially when growth spurts or cluster feedings arise. Resist the temptation to suggest that the breastfeeding parent stop breastfeeding or use formula every once and a while, and instead, listen to their concerns patiently and with an open mind. Suggesting that they give up may jeopardize your mutually agreed-upon goals and cause discord between you and your partner.

Before the baby is born

Help prepare your home for the breastfeeding parent. Create a space with a glider chair or a couch where your partner can comfortably breastfeed, and prepare a kit of supplies. Fill your fridge with nutritious snacks and drinks so you’ll be prepared when the baby comes. 

Another option is to attend breastfeeding class together so you are well-informed about the breastfeeding process—in fact, we highly recommend this! Attending a class together will show your partner that they have your support on their breastfeeding journey.

While in the hospital

Hold the baby often when the breastfeeding parent isn’t feeding, so they can catch up on their rest. If a lactation consultant visits while you’re in the hospital, record their advice or take notes so you and your partner can reference it later.

After coming home

There are many things you can do to support your partner when at home!

Take the lead on household tasks like cooking or cleaning and caring for other members of the household. Many new parents feel pressure to use their time between feeds to do laundry or vacuum. Create space for your partner to get some much-needed rest by handling the household tasks while the breastfeeding parent is feeding. 

Ensure that your partner has snacks and water since breastfeeding makes many parents very hungry and thirsty. When able, take the baby off your partner’s hands—this will not only give you and the baby a chance to bond but also give the breastfeeding partner time to shower or nap. If the breastfeeding parent is using a breast pump, wash and sterilize pump parts between feeds for your partner and help keep milk storage organized. You can even bottle feed the baby during overnight feeds while the breastfeeding parent pumps. 

“If you do decide to help your partner out by giving the baby a bottle,” shares Nest Collaborative IBCLC, Katie Cohen, “Keep in mind that it’s generally recommended to wait to introduce bottles until breastfeeding is well established, which is usually around 4-6 weeks postpartum.”    

Finally, act as your partner’s advocate. If your partner needs time to get comfortable breastfeeding, limit the number of visitors in the first few days or weeks after bringing the baby home—and the length of their visits. If friends or family members offer unsolicited breastfeeding advice, calmly but firmly establish appropriate boundaries. 

And if the breastfeeding parent needs additional support, initiate the process to help connect them with a professional lactation consultant.

Ways to support breastfeeding as a grandparent

Grandparents may not reside in the same household as the new baby, but that doesn’t mean they can’t support the breastfeeding relationship. 

The most important thing to remember as a grandparent is to respect your child’s breastfeeding decisions. Be mindful that some recommendations, like how important breastfeeding is or how long it should continue, may have changed since your children were born. Although every grandparent was a new parent once, take a step back before offering unsolicited breastfeeding advice. Empathy is often more powerful than advice at this stage.

Support the breastfeeding parent by ensuring they have food and water during feeding sessions and preparing meals or cleaning while they’re breastfeeding. If there are older children in the household, entertaining them for a few hours can make space for parents to take a rest. Be sure to always ask what you can do to help, and respect the answer you receive. Do not take the baby from the parent unless requested.

Ways to support breastfeeding as a friend

Like partners and grandparents, the best way friends can support breastfeeding parents is to offer unwavering encouragement and solidarity. Even if you’re a parent yourself, refrain from offering breastfeeding advice unless asked. Try to listen without judgment. 

Bringing over home-cooked meals, taking care of older children or pets, or holding the baby while your friend naps can make a big difference. If you are hosting a breastfeeding parent, offer them a comfortable place to nurse or pump and a place to store breastmilk if they need it. 

If your friend wants to share their experiences with breastfeeding, listen empathetically. Whatever the situation, show your friend you support their breastfeeding goals in all that you say and do. 

For professional breastfeeding support, connect with a Nest Collaborative IBCLC

Sometimes, the best way to support a breastfeeding parent is by helping them obtain professional breastfeeding help. Nest Collaborative’s board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) are multilingual, LGBTQ+-friendly providers able to support breastfeeding parents with a host of challenges from poor latch to slow weight gain to mastitis. 

To access breastfeeding support from the comfort of your home, book a convenient online video appointment with a Nest Collaborative IBCLC today.

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