For those of us who have experienced successful breastfeeding, it's sometimes hard to know how to be supportive and encouraging with pregnant friends and new mothers. The pressure goes up even further when talking about relatives – sisters, daughters, sister-in-laws, daughter-in-laws, cousins and others. So how can we help others we know and love to share in the joy that we have found through breastfeeding?
Be Available – The most important thing we can do to encourage breastfeeding is simply to be available. As your friend approaches their due date, let them know that breastfeeding sometimes goes amazingly easily, and sometimes it has challenges. But mostly let them know that while the physical act of making milk is a natural process, throughout time, the practice of breastfeeding is learned. Historically, women have supported one another through this process and that you can make yourself available to them 24/7 as much as you are desired or needed. Remember that the hardest breastfeeding moments inevitably happen in the middle of the night. Make yourself available, and make it incredibly clear that you will be. This may not register before the baby is born, but when your friend at 2 am with a baby who won't latch, it may just make sense then, and they may pick up the phone for some support or help.
Offer Perspective and Appropriate Help – Nearly two years ago, I met a women who was the mom of one of my kindergarten daughter's classmates. I had asked her if she was breastfeeding, and she mentioned how the baby had been underweight and she'd been advised to switch to formula feeding to ensure growth. She'd been feeding her new baby formula exclusively for about a week.
I gently mentioned that if she still wanted to breastfeed, that is was actually still possible, that I'd gone through the low weight thing with my first daughter, and been able to sustain exclusive breastfeeding with help. I told her I'm not any sort of consultant, but that I'd be happy to take a look and talk her about my experience and how she could rebuild her milk supply, if she was interested. She was interested and followed me home, where we talked for a few hours about what she could try and what I went through. Not only did she successfully switch to exclusive breastfeeding, and has maintained nursing after nearly 2 years, but she's now one of my best friends.
If you can't offer breastfeeding help on your own, offer to find some. New moms are tired. Get on the internet and/or phone and find a local La Leche League leader or lactation consultant. Find a more experienced mom. Attend a breastfeeding support meeting with them. Do what it takes to get them help if they are too tired or stressed to find it on their own.
Set an Example – The best way to encourage breastfeeding is simply to breastfeed. Talk about the joys and put the inconveniences in perspective around unmarried and childless friends. Demystify and proudly display breastfeeding whenever you can. If women show curiosity, encourage them to look at a good latch and ask questions. Talk about how the early struggles cede to convenience and benefits later on.
Helping a friend to breastfeed can be the best gift you'll ever give to her, and to her baby. Gently making it known that your support and help are available, and then following through if they take you up on it, can make all the difference to a tired and struggling new mom.
My favorite breastfeeding books to recommend to friends: