It takes a village: Building your breastfeeding support network
It may sound like a cliché, but it does take a village to raise a child. And when you're a breastfeeding mom, that village really needs to be there for you. Although more than half of African-American women start out breastfeeding, many moms find it hard to reach their breastfeeding goals without a strong support network.
In many families, the partner plays a strong role in the decision to breastfeed. Some partners may be against it for a number of reasons. Some partners may think that breastfeeding will change your breasts or affect his or her relationship with you. Or some may think the only way they can bond with the baby is through feeding.
These are understandable concerns. But one research study showed that when partners learn all the benefits of breastfeeding, almost 75% of mothers start breastfeeding when their baby is born. Plus, there are many ways for your partner to bond with your baby other than feeding: diaper changes, bath time, playtime, or bedtime. Your partner can also bring the baby to you for feedings or hold the baby after a feeding. (Tip: Skin-to-skin contact, also called “kangaroo care,” helps babies bond with both parents.)
If your mom breastfed you, she is more likely to support your decision to breastfeed. But even if she did not breastfeed, as long as she supports your decision, your mom can help you get through those first few weeks as a new breastfeeding mom.
If Grandma is not aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, tell her, along with your reasons for wanting to try. Once your baby is born, let your mom mother you again. She can help by doing laundry or housework, fixing you meals while you breastfeed, or holding the baby so you can shower or nap. She’ll get plenty of bonding time with her grandchild that way. (This could also include mothers-in-law or aunts!)
Your doctor or nurse
Getting good prenatal care is very important for you and your baby’s health. Whether you choose an obstetrician or a midwife, the person who delivers your child should support your decision to breastfeed. Let your doctor or nurse know that you’re interested in breastfeeding. As early as possible while you are pregnant, ask for breastfeeding information, class recommendations, and lactation consultant referrals.
Your hospital or birth center
To make sure you and your baby get the best start, it’s a good idea to check out the place where you’ll deliver. Hospitals and birth centers offer tours and classes for expectant parents, and some facilities are better equipped to provide breastfeeding support than others.
Even if you have a C-section or if your baby has to be in the NICU, you can still breastfeed if you tell the doctors and nurses that you want to. (Keep a copy of your birth plan to give to hospital staff and make sure your partner or birth support person knows about your plans.) Ideally, there will be a lactation consultant on staff who makes regular rounds. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) recognizes facilities that provide high-quality breastfeeding support, including breastfeeding within one hour of birth, among other things.
Your baby’s doctor
Choosing your baby's pediatrician is important. While you're pregnant, you can set up "interview" appointments with potential pediatricians. Ask about their views on breastfeeding, if there is a lactation consultant on staff, or for recommendations for new parent classes. A pediatrician is responsible for the child's physical well-being. You, as the mom, should consider him or her as your teammate in breastfeeding. After all, your breastmilk is what's contributing to your baby's growth and development.
Once you get the hang of it, breastfeeding should not be difficult. But, there is a lot to learn, and it takes practice. Sometimes breastfeeding issues don’t happen until after you’ve left the hospital, when your milk actually comes in. This is a key time for you to have extra support.
An international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) is a trained health care professional who is considered the gold standard in breastfeeding experts, so look for those initials after someone’s name. Many make house calls to help new moms and will check in with you regularly. If you don’t already have a referral from your obstetrician, midwife, hospital, or pediatrician, find a lactation consultant in your area or one who’s willing to travel. Also, call your health insurance agent to see if a lactation consultant is covered by your insurance. And you can always call us at 1-800-994-9662 Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern to talk to a breastfeeding peer counselor – another mom who has been there!
A doula (DOO-la) is someone trained to understand birth and labor and to help establish breastfeeding. Doula is a title that goes all the way back to ancient Greek times, but the practice has been making a comeback. Although not medically trained, a doula focuses on “mothering the mother.” The doula works with family members to support the new mother. Postpartum doulas help moms in those first few weeks after childbirth.
The mission of the Doulas Organization of North America (DONA) is to ensure that any woman who wants a doula has one, regardless of financial status. For more information, visit the DONA International website.
Your local WIC office
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is very supportive of breastfeeding. Not only do breastfeeding moms receive priority through the application process, but they also get counseling before and after birth with a peer counselor.
Benefits vary by state, but in general, moms who exclusively breastfeed for a full month receive a higher-value food package (since you’re eating for two) and can get benefits for up to one year, versus six months or less for formula-feeding moms. In some state programs, working moms or students may also receive a manual and/or an electric pump to help them reach their breastfeeding goals.
WIC is designed to serve certain categories of women, infants, and children, so not all women are eligible for WIC benefits. Find out if you qualify for WIC.
Breastfeeding peer counselor
Both WIC and La Leche League International have breastfeeding peer counselors. Although not medically trained, they are moms who have breastfed their babies and are trained to counsel breastfeeding moms within their communities. A peer counselor is like a girlfriend who’s been there and can help you or knows when it's time to get extra help. Peer counselors can help you over the phone, on the job, or in your home.
The National Breastfeeding Helpline from the Office on Women’s Health has trained breastfeeding counselors to provide support by phone. Just call 1-800-994-9662 any time between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern. The counselors can help answer common breastfeeding questions and help you decide if you need to see a doctor or lactation consultant. Help is available in English or Spanish.
Your child care provider
If you have to go back to work or school, the person responsible for taking care of your baby — whether it's a family member or a professional — needs to support your decision to breastfeed. If you are pumping and storing milk, make sure that your child care provider has refrigerator/freezer storage space and knows the proper thawing and warming technique and that you’ve found a bottle type that your baby will take. If you choose a child care facility close to work or school so you can breastfeed during your breaks, your child care provider needs to be aware of that, too.
Your employer and coworkers
As a working and breastfeeding mom, you'll need to pump several times a day if you're away from your baby for most of the day. Having a supportive work environment can make a positive difference in meeting your breastfeeding goals. And, the law is on your side. Most employers are required to give you the time and privacy to pump at work.
Be sure to have a conversation with your employer so you can make arrangements that will meet both your needs when you return to work. Read The Business Case for Breastfeeding. Also know the laws that support breastfeeding moms at work. Managers in all types of workplaces — retail, fast food, factories, and farms — have found ways to support breastfeeding moms on the job.
Local new mom groups
There is always power in numbers. You can meet other moms-to-be during a childbirth or breastfeeding class. Ask the health education program where you gave birth if there are any other local groups or classes. Each state WIC program has its Beautiful Beginnings Club, which is a local breastfeeding support group. If there is not a group in your area, you could even be bold and start one of your own!
Moms make a powerful network. And the Internet can be a new mom’s friend, especially if you’re frustrated at 4 a.m. Luckily, there are all sorts of online communities, blogs, message boards, Twitter chats, and mom groups on parenting websites and Facebook you can join.