How can your family help while you breastfeed?

The family’s role

The family plays a major role in the breastfeeding relationship between you and your baby. One of the most precious gifts a family can give is to take care of you and encourage and support a healthy breastfeeding relationship.

For example, family members can do the many household tasks that take your energy away from nursing the baby. They can also call your health care provider or look in the phone book for community breastfeeding (lactation) resources if you have any problems breastfeeding once you get home.

There are many rewarding ways for family members to be involved in caring for the baby. Burping, diapering, playing, giving the baby massages, comforting (holding and rocking, etc.) and taking the baby for a walk are wonderful ways to help. They are also a good way to get to know the baby. Bath time is a great opportunity for eye contact and play for the whole family.

As the mother, having people help and encourage you are some of the most important things you will need to breastfeed successfully. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are important. It is a time for learning what works best for you and your baby. It is also when your milk supply is being established. It can be a very frustrating time as well. You have just gone through labor and delivery and may be physically tired and emotionally drained. You and your baby may need to try several breastfeeding positions before you find ones that work. With strong support from family, friends, health professionals and volunteer counselors, mothers who may otherwise have given up on breastfeeding during the first weeks are able to succeed.

A good support network can help in many ways, such as providing accurate information about breastfeeding and helping you resolve any problems quickly. By doing other “duties,” your support network enables you to put all your energy into breastfeeding and getting to know your baby. Most important, they can help you feel confident in your ability to breastfeed your baby.

The most important support person for most new mothers is their husband or partner. Other support persons may include your mother or mother-in-law, other family members, friends who have breastfed, and health professionals, such as your physician, midwife, pediatrician or lactation consultant. Volunteer counselors from the Nursing Mothers Counsel, LaLeche League, WIC and other local breastfeeding support groups are also great resources.

How can your family and friends provide the best support for you?
The best thing they can do is to attend a breastfeeding class with you. In this class, they will learn about the benefits of breastfeeding, how to establish a good milk supply, and how to manage common breastfeeding problems. Your own mother may or may not have breastfed you. Either way, she can learn new things from a breastfeeding class, as there is a lot of new information on breastfeeding and its benefits. Sometimes even well-meaning family and friends can put your milk supply at risk by giving your baby bottles and pacifiers or advising you to limit nursing time or to “get the baby on a schedule.” The more your partner and family know about breastfeeding, the more they can help you.

It is very important for your support people to provide encouragement and emotional support during the first days when you and your baby are learning how to breastfeed. Many mothers decide to give up on breastfeeding during this period. Remember that it will take time for both you and your baby to get comfortable with breastfeeding. Even if you have breastfed before, each baby is different. You and your baby will learn what works best for the two of you during the first several days or a week or two together.

Your support people can help you with other household tasks, such as cleaning, laundry, shopping and cooking. Physical fatigue from trying to do too much can affect your milk supply. Nap when your baby sleeps to help in your physical recovery. Some women feel “low” or “depressed” after delivery. Exhaustion can make this feeling worse. Let others do things for you. Only you can breastfeed your baby. You should put all of your energy into recovering from your delivery, breastfeeding and getting to know your baby.

Finally, you and your partner should both be patient about resuming intimacy. You may temporarily lose interest in having sex after giving birth. This is common and can happen whether or not you are breastfeeding. You may have concerns and negative feelings about your body after pregnancy and delivery. Breastfeeding does not “ruin your breasts.” Although you may experience breast changes after childbirth, these changes were caused by pregnancy, not by breastfeeding. Breastfeeding does not make you gain weight. In fact, it may make it easier to lose your pregnancy weight when combined with proper diet and moderate exercise.

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