When your family member or friend has a baby you may be wondering how you can support the breastfeeding new mother. There are ways to help her while being supportive of the breastfeeding relationship that is being established. Here are my tips to get you both through those early weeks with a new baby.
Line up breastfeeding support
If you are close to the mother and will be helping with the baby, line up breastfeeding support ahead of time. If you can find some breastfeeding resources and have the information ready that could be very helpful if the mom runs into any breastfeeding issues. Find a local a La Leche League group or the phone number for a lactation consultant. This way if the mother is struggling you have the information ready to go and she does not need to search for it. Sure, she may have already lined this info up herself, but sometimes we don't think about these things ahead of time.
Learn about breastfeeding so you know what to expect
If you do not have a lot of experience around breastfed babies and have not breastfed yourself, it will probably be very surprising how much and how frequently a breastfed baby eats. It's completely normal.
I have heard of well meaning family and friends suggesting that a mother may not have enough milk if she needs to feed her baby frequently. Please do not make unhelpful suggestions such as having the mother supplement with formula, or having the mother pump so someone else can feed the baby. You may believe this is helpful and will give the mother a break, but when breastfeeding is being established we need to spend as much time feeding our baby as possible.
Do not ask why the baby needs to eat again, or act surprised at anything related to breastfeeding. This can be very undermining and make us question ourselves if it's our first time breastfeeding.
Help in other ways
You will not be able to feed the baby, in fact you shouldn't even really try to hold the baby much unless the mother encourages it. If you really want to help a mother with a new baby you should come at an agreed upon time, bring food if you can, help with any dishes or cleaning needed, and basically just be as helpful as possible without getting in the way or making more work for the mother. Try not to overstay your visit either.
Expanding on the part about holding the baby..
I know that when a new baby is born everyone is very excited to meet the new family member and of course hold the baby. I found with my first baby we had a lot of visitors and everyone wanted to hold the baby. I let them all hold her and it really left me feeling anxious and uncomfortable. This was nobody's fault but my own. They all had the best intent and were excited to meet a new family member. But, newborns breastfeed a ton and all the skin to skin bonding time with the mother is so helpful for bringing in milk supply and establishing breastfeeding. Those first few weeks are critical, so if you can try to only hold the baby briefly and help in the other ways listed it will be much more helpful than you realize. There will be plenty of time to hold and play with the new family member in the future.
Hopefully these tips are helpful. The most critical time for a new baby and mother is the first week or two in regards to breastfeeding. It is so important that the mother be able to relax, rest and spend as much undistracted time feeding her baby as possible. Anything you can do to support this goal will be very helpful!
Please let me know, do you have any additional tips or ways to help a new mom out?