A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo
En Español
Its Only Natural Logo
divider line

It takes a village: Building your breastfeeding support network

What's a doula?

A doula (pronounced 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 in addition to family members. Sometimes she works in place of family when there is none. 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 should have one, regardless of financial or ethnic status. For more information, visit the DONA International website.

The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding

If you want more information on what we can do to remove some of the obstacles breastfeeding moms face, check out Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Dr. Benjamin's Call to Action identifies ways that families, communities, employers, and health care professionals can improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding. You can read the full Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding here.

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. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin said, “Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed. They shouldn't have to go through it alone.” Although more than half of African-American women start out breastfeeding, many moms find it hard to reach their breastfeeding goals without the right support network. A variety of people, including family and friends, can be on “Team Baby.” Below are some suggestions on how people in your support network can play a role in your breastfeeding goals.

Dad

In many households, dad plays a strong role in the decision to breastfeed. Some dads-to-be may be against it for a number of reasons. Some dads may think that breastfeeding will change your breasts or affect his relationship with you. Or some dads 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 dads-to-be learn all the benefits of breastfeeding, almost 75% of their partners start breastfeeding when their baby is born. Plus, there are many ways for a father to bond with his baby other than feeding: diaper changes, bath time, playtime, or bedtime. Dad 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.)

Grandma

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. 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 make your wishes known. (Keep a copy of your birth plan to give to hospital staff.) Ideally, there will be a lactation consultant on staff who makes regular rounds. And, if necessary, you can rent a hospital-grade breast pump. 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 breast milk is what's contributing to your baby's growth and development.

Lactation consultant

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 arise 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, go to www.ilca.org to 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.

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 prenatal and postbirth counseling 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 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 800-994-9662. 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, there is a short period of time when you'll need to pump several times a day if you're away from your baby for most of the day. Research shows that returning to work is associated with moms stopping breastfeeding earlier, but it doesn't have to be that way. Having a supportive work environment can make a positive difference in meeting your breastfeeding goals. 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 that there are laws in place that support breastfeeding moms at work.

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!

Online support

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. You can even share your breastfeeding success story on our website.

Related links

Content last updated: April 04, 2013.

Return to top