Kirstie is the Professional Development Lead Health Visiting and Infant Feeding Lead for Berkshire Healthcare
Offering your support
If you have a breastfeeding partner, child, friend, or colleague, you probably want to help support them on their breastfeeding journey. But it can be difficult to know how to help, especially at the very beginning. Not only can you factor in the pain and healing from the birth, but exhaustion, elation and absolute terror can also be added into the mix!
So for all you breastfeeding supporters out there, what can you do to help?
Dads and partners
You’re right in the thick of it. You’re also experiencing the sleep deprivation and joy, and possibly also feeling like a bit of a spare part! Being able to provide physical and emotional support is going to be your very important role.
- Be your partner’s eyes and ears – be aware of those feeding cues your new baby is showing you. The small stretches, little movements, hands in the mouth and the “I will latch onto your shoulder or nose” game! These early feeding cues are your baby’s way of letting you know they’re starting to feel a little hungry. Let your partner know your baby is ready to feed.
- Help your partner to get ready to feed. Make sure she is comfortable and free from pain and discomfort.
- If you have been shown how to attach your baby to the breast, I recommend being the eyes in this situation, it can be invaluable. “That looks like a great position but….” or, “The Health Visitor mentioned pulling baby in a bit closer”. It’s a great idea to take a few pictures in the early days of that effective position and attachment to refer to.
- Be in charge of changing and winding – and take over at night. If your partner is up feeding, support her by changing, settling, and winding the baby, so she can get comfortable and get ready to fall asleep as soon as the baby does.
- Always ask your partner what she needs from you. Don’t assume you know, as hormones after the birth are all over the place and you are likely to get a different response depending on the time of day!
- Have a conversation with your partner about how soon to arrange visitors. Well meaning family and friends will naturally want to celebrate with you all, but don’t underestimate how exhausting it is hosting visitors and the additional pressure it can put on a new mother who is getting to grips with breastfeeding.
Family and friends
It’s only natural to want to see the newest member of your family or friendship group, but take into consideration the way your loved ones want you to meet the baby. As I mentioned above, hosting visitors can be particularly exhausting for a new family. Their days are unpredictable and sometimes what seemed like a good time to arrange a visit for, could end up being challenging. It can take some time to get the hang of breastfeeding, and mum may want to spend some time with her baby to focus on this. Be respectful of their wishes and show your love and joy in different ways until they’re ready for you to meet the new family face to face.
Here are some ways you can help support them:
- Lots of washing needs doing with a new baby! Offer to pick up and do the laundry for the family. This will be gratefully received!
- What about cooking a meal or offering to pop to the shops for them? Finding the time to cook and eat never seems to be a priority with a new baby around so having a nice homecooked meal or even snacks to graze on can be an absolute joy!
- Offer your ears or your shoulders – there may be times when your family member or friend just needs someone to offload to. Being there to listen, without judging or providing answers will be just what she needs.
- Respect their choices and decisions – this is their little human and sometime well-meaning advice can cause upset, which we never want to do!
I saw this poem on a social media post recently and I thought it poignant.
Dear Granny, or Nannie, Grandpa or Auntie Sue,
We want to say we're grateful for everything you do,
And with the greatest of respect, which we really do mean,
We'd love to talk to you about some changes that we've seen.
You see, we've done a lot more research since you had your babies,
And we're feeling pretty certain (though there are still lots of maybes)
That we've got a good idea of what we need to do,
And it may be pretty different from when your mum had you.
Now we are encouraged to feed them frequently, on cue,
For a healthy milk supply, good growth and lots of poo.
We use the breast for comfort, and for sleep and naps.
Where as previously we were often told these were tricks and traps.
We'll probably be feeding loads, sometimes it'll feel non stop,
And when we're not feeding they may still be down my top!
We may well use a sling a lot, to keep them safe close by,
We know that when we do this, they grow better and don't cry.
We won't be doing 'cry it out', or worrying we'll spoil them.
If they want cuddling or held for naps then we're going to hold them!
Far from causing harm, in fact the opposite is true.
But please don't feel this is a criticism of you!
What would really help us, is your practical support.
Help with cleaning, or laundry, or perhaps a chocolate torte!
Thank you for understanding this, and hearing what we say.
We're grateful for your love and help, today and every day.
So in a nutshell, whether in the early days or weeks or even 6 months down the line, your support is invaluable to helping your friend, partner or family member continue with breastfeeding. Tell her she’s doing a great job. Support her decisions, choices and thoughts.
Your health visiting service is also here to support you and your family with breastfeeding. Please get in touch if you need any advice or information about breastfeeding. We may not do the washing up for you, but we will certainly help with your breastfeeding issues! Visit our health visiting page for contact information.
We've also got lots of information on breastfeeding on our health and development pages.