Supporting your breastfeeding friend or family member
You might know someone who is pregnant and thinking of breastfeeding. Or someone who has just started their breastfeeding journey. They might be having a straight-forward experience; or they might be finding it challenging.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t always come easily. It can be demanding – both physically and emotionally. You can help to make it a more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Whether it’s your friend or family member, there are lots of things you can do to help make their journey smoother. For the difficult days, and for all the others, there is lots of free support available.
There are lots of ways that you can help.
One of the biggest things that changes when you have a baby is your social life. We know that many parents choose to stop breastfeeding sooner than they had planned because their feeding routine made them feel isolated from family and friends. Lots of parents love the time that breastfeeding gives them to spend with their babies, but they also told us they missed friends and family.
If you have a breastfeeding person in your life, be there for them. Arrange to visit them at home, or maybe a place nearby, to avoid disrupting their feeding schedule. Ask them how they are – and listen to their answer. Find out if there’s anything you can do to help.
Prepare for plans to change. Breastfeeding parents often need to work around a feeding schedule (this includes expressing).
Try to make plans around their schedule. Be ready for plans to change. Ask: ‘Is there something we can change to fit the plan around you?’.
Know when to give them space.
Whilst it’s important that breastfeeding families don’t feel isolated, there are times when they may value the time alone. Breastfeeding can be exhausting, for both the breastfeeding parent, their partner, and the rest of the family.
Read their cues and recognise when they need time and space to recharge. This is especially important in the early days, when parents are establishing a feeding routine.
Give moral support.
Trying anything new for the first time is scary. That includes breastfeeding in public! It can feel like a big leap to go from feeding in the privacy of your own home to feeding in public surrounded by strangers. The majority of parents we spoke to hadn’t had a negative experience of feeding in public. But many said they would have found it much easier and less scary if they’d had a friend or family member with them for the first few times.
Could you be there to support the breastfeeding person in your life on their first experiences of feeding in public?
Ask how you can help.
Many breastfeeding families face similar challenges. If you have a breastfeeding person in your life, try not to assume that you know what’s best for them. Everyone’s different. Some breastfeeding parents choose to feed when they’re alone with their baby, but some people like having friends or family keep them company.
Don’t be worried or ashamed about asking about breastfeeding – or asking how you can help. You could start with: ‘How are you finding it?’ or ‘Are there any things I can do to give you more time to feed?’
Talk about the challenges – if they want to.
For many families, breastfeeding is part of everyday life. However, there is still a resistance in society to talk openly about breastfeeding, especially the challenging parts. One mum we spoke to said that their friends were so uncomfortable when she spoke about her breastfeeding challenges that she just stopped trying. This led her to feel isolated from her friendship group and stop breastfeeding before she had planned to.
Have an honest conversation. Talking about the challenges of breastfeeding is just as important as talking about all of the benefits.
Be their cheerleader.
Tell them they’re doing great. Remind them of how far they’ve come. Help them to get support when necessary, and always be prepared to listen.