The importance of partner and family support for the breastfeeding mum.
With World Breastfeeding Week here, there is a wave of information for the breastfeeding mums to digest. At Hatch, we support all families to make their own informed decision on how they will feed their baby. However this week, we want to acknowledge each unique breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding is more successful when the people closest to the breastfeeding mum support her. Our midwife, Ryndell Levkovich, shares some tips for partners, friends and visitors on ways to support a new mum on her breastfeeding journey.
For some women, breastfeeding is a beautiful and joyful experience, and for others it is challenging. No journey is the same, and over time each dance between mother, baby and breast continually evolves. The decision to breastfeed, to continue to push on (sometimes with extreme pain or trauma), or to change feeding methods is not always easy or simple. There is no right or wrong decision with feeding, there is only one that works for the overall health of both the woman and the newborn.
Here are some tips for those close to the mum to support her on her breastfeeding journey.
1. Hold the mum, not the baby!
Everyone loves to cuddle newborns, but in the first few weeks the close contact between mum and baby is needed for a variety of reasons. Too many cuddles from visitors can overstimulate a baby’s senses. Yes, baby will sleep comfortably in your arms, but as evening approaches, bub can struggle to regulate, resulting in mum having an unsettled baby when she needs rest. Rather than wanting to hold baby, bring mum a tea or coffee and sit and chat while she breastfeeds or while baby sleeps. Offer to take photos and admire baby, but we would encourage the first visit to be more focused on the mum, rather than the baby. Allow the new mum to share her birth story or feeding journey, or perhaps even share some juicy entertainment gossip! Often mum is craving some normal pre-baby conversation with someone whose nappies she is not changing.
2. Respect her choice to breastfeed, even when she is struggling.
For many couples the birth of a baby can make you feel more deeply connected as a couple. However, adjusting to the demands of parenthood can also put new strains on your relationship. Breastfeeding, especially in the beginning as the feeding patterns are being established, naturally leads to less sleep, and less quality time to spend together. This might mean you disagree more often and have less energy or patience to solve issues as you both navigate your new roles. Ensuring you have open communication, and a respect for one another to learn at your own pace can help nurture a healthy partnership. If mum is struggling with breastfeeding issues, rather than giving unsolicited advice or comparing your baby to one that is formula fed, be the reassurance she needs and help her find support. Have the discussion antenatally about her baby-feeding preferences, gain an understanding for yourself about how breastfeeding works and some common issues that may arise. Your enthusiasm to support her choice and actively help her to master this new skill set can be a godsend for the new mum.
3. Educate yourself with evidence-based information.
Breastfeeding is something you can do as a team. Learn for yourself the benefits of breastfeeding; how it works and normal expectations so you can offer practical solutions and boost her confidence. There are a variety of Australian online resources that you can access – fact sheets, articles, and contact details for lactation consultants and support networks. Please see below for some recommendations:
- The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA)
- The Milk Meg
- Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ)
- The Thompson Method
- Raising Children Network
- Mater Mothers Pregnancy Support Centre
4. Don’t offer to give the baby a few bottles while mum rests.
This can be a hard one to hear for support people. It is only natural to want to help as much as possible when mum is exhausted. For some mums, trying to get this balance right can be a long and demanding challenge. It seems so simple, just one bottle of formula can’t hurt can it? Actually, missing a breastfeed can impact more than you might think. Whenever baby is at the breast, regardless if it is for nutritive feeding or for comfort suckling, the baby is sending messages to the mother’s breast. The breastfeed signals how much milk to make, what needs to be in the milk to support that baby’s immune system at that time, and when the milk will be needed. The well-intentioned bottle of formula can therefore interrupt the delicate supply and demand cycle, especially in those first few weeks.
5. Share the roles and find your own opportunities to bond.
As partners, sometimes you may feel a little helpless and left out. Mum is spending all those hours snuggled up with baby breastfeeding and you feel like you’re not able to contribute. Trust us, she often wishes you can latch that baby on your nipples too! Look for opportunities to create your own special moments and one-on-one time with your new baby. A great opportunity for this is the bath/shower routine. You can extend it by adding in some baby massage and story time as this provides stimulation and developmental assistance for baby. Mum can use this time to have a break, shower, make herself a cuppa, go for a walk, or just watch dad and baby interaction and enjoy some adult conversation. Additional ways to help out during these first few months are ensuring you balance your work and home life. Take on extra household duties like cooking and washing or attending to the pets.
6. Babies have bad nights, too.
If mum is up all night with an unsettled baby this is when you are most likely to offer a bottle to help settle. Instead you could bring baby to mum after first doing a nappy change, or offering to settle baby by walking the floor or providing a middle-of-the-night relaxation bath. Even if baby is only settled for a little while, a small rest for mum can recharge those batteries at 2am like no coffee can!
7. Remember every baby is different and has a unique personality.
Comparing another baby, even a sibling, to this new baby can be detrimental to a fragile mother. Hearing stories of babies who slept through the night, or who were never unsettled only adds to the maternal guilt of, “Am I doing everything right for my baby?”. Newborns are designed to wake and breastfeed at least 8-12 times per day. Research informs us that for breastfeeding babies waking overnight and having a carer attend to them is an inbuilt defence against SIDS. It is their biological norm! All babies have their own sleep requirements, and most newborns don’t have definitive day and night sleep patterns. Similarly, babies breastfeed for other reasons than hunger, whether it be separation anxiety, overstimulation, illness, growth spurts, or for comfort.
8. Find community supports for mum.
Encourage your partner to share and connect with other breastfeeding mums going through similar experiences. The ABA has local community groups, Maternal & Child Health Clinics have a number of drop-in clinics and new parent groups, and of course there are other support networks such as local mothers’ groups or Facebook community groups. It’s not to say her friends aren’t important, or not supportive. It’s about encouraging mum to meet other breastfeeding mums to normalise all those night-time feeds and discuss what that odd-coloured poo may represent.
9. Don’t mention how tired or run down she looks.
Being up a lot through the night impacts anyone’s energy levels, mood, appearance and motivation. Please don’t mention how tired a new mum looks – this may be a sensitive topic. Rather, consider leaving her food parcels that have minimal preparation time, drop off tea or coffee if she mentions she has been having a rough time with sleep, or fold some washing while she breastfeeds. Those small acts are often the ones remembered long after the baby has outgrown the cute clothes.
10. Be her positive voice.
Mother guilt is rife. A new mum will often agonise over every decision and look to blame herself. Remind her that having a baby means learning a new set of skills. Breastfeeding can take at least 3-4 weeks to master. The more confidence she gains, the more positive she will feel. No matter how long a new mum’s breastfeeding journey lasts, be it a day, a week or a year – remind her that she has given her baby a wonderful start to life.