“My body, my life, became the landscape of my son’s life. I am no longer merely a thing living in the world; I am a world. “
Being the center of a little human’s world, and nurturing that human with your own body, is a lot of pressure. For many mamas, it’s overwhelming. A quarter of moms surveyed think that they would have been able to breastfeed longer if they had more support. If you have a breastfeeding mom or parent in your life and you would like to support them, there are lots of ways you can do that. Read on for 13 ways to give a helping hand.
1. Be understanding
Whether things are going as planned for the breastfeeding parent in your life, or they haven’t quite panned out as expected, be understanding. Offer words of encouragement and support. Tell them they’re doing a great job and offer to help with tasks so that they can rest and focus on feeding their baby.
Help create a supportive environment for them to feel comfortable and confident nursing wherever they are. If you have breastfeeding goals for a nursing partner, don’t pass judgment if she’s struggling and doesn’t reach them.
2. Offer emotional support
Offer a listening ear. You may not have the experience to give practical advice, so just being there as a sounding box or a shoulder to cry on is enough. Or if you do have breastfeeding experience but it seems like she just wants someone to vent to, be that person for her. If you don’t think you’re the right person for the job, find a local breastfeeding support group that the breastfeeding mama can go to.
3. Be the researcher
If you hear that the breastfeeding person in your life is struggling with some aspect of the task, ask if they want you to do some research for them to see how others have dealt with the same issues. Or take it upon yourself to do so. Just be cautious if you start researching a topic to not bombard them with too much information all at once, and be thoughtful in how you present it.
It’s not unusual for new mamas to be overloaded with advice on every topic about motherhood. Not everyone will welcome unsolicited advice, so take a moment to think about the person you’ll be giving it to and whether or not they would be open to hearing your opinion.
4. Be on water duty
Breastfeeding women require more water than when they’re not lactating. While it’s not a substantial amount, many women will feel thirsty while breastfeeding. The sensation of thirst comes from the release of the hormone oxytocin into the body during the let-down.
You can help the breastfeeding woman in your life stay hydrated by bringing her a glass of water while she’s nursing, or by keeping her water bottle filled up (Mila’s Keeper MilKeeper not only makes a great breast milk travel cooler but doubles as a water bottle too). If the nursing mama doesn’t love drinking water and is struggling to drink enough during the day, try making her some infused water by adding some cucumber and mint, or adding a squeeze of lemon.
There are also lots of flavor packets on the market to give your glass of water some stronger flavors (just make sure they’re suitable for nursing mamas). Get more tips for staying hydrated while breastfeeding here!
5. Provide the meals
Breastfeeding can be a time-consuming endeavor and one that’s not always on the nursing mama’s schedule. Trying to get dinner on the table with a fussy baby demanding that you stop and sit down to nurse can leave many mamas frazzled.
One tradition that makes a lot of sense is for people in a community to provide meals for families after they’ve welcomed a little one. If you have someone in your life with a new baby who is breastfeeding, ask if you can bring over some home-cooked meals. Or if you don’t enjoy cooking, offer to get them takeout from one of their favorite restaurants.
If it’s your spouse that’s breastfeeding, make dinner your sole responsibility for a while. Offer to do the grocery run too, because even a quick trip to the grocery store can seem monumental when you’re a nursing mama (especially at the beginning).
So maybe for the first couple of months help out with the food shopping, or at least until the breastfeeding mama in your life reaches superstar status and can wander the grocery aisles while their little one nurses comfortably in a baby carrier- go mom!
6. Help with older siblings
Offer to take the older kids to story time at the library, out for lunch, or to the park. If you're the spouse of the breastfeeding parent, take on the task of getting them off to school or daycare in the morning, or if your work schedule doesn’t allow for that time, even just getting them breakfast and ready for the day is a big help.
7. Be the breast pump handler
If your spouse is pumping breast milk, whether it be at home or work, you can be a big help by managing the pump and its parts. If she pumps at work, make sure the breast milk she pumped throughout the day is put up in the fridge and that the pump and accessories are clean, charged if needed, and ready to go for the next day.
If she uses Mila’s Keeper glass breast milk storage containers with the coolers, make sure the ice pack gets into the freezer overnight. If she’s pumping at home and has a little station, restock her supplies and tidy it up for her. If she prepares bottles for the next day, make sure everything’s in order and the bottles are cleaned.
If she uses the pitcher method, make sure you know her system and help ready bottles for the next day- make sure you know the correct order to keep bottles in, freeze the excess and clean the pitcher. Or, if it’s something she prefers to do herself, make sure she has the time to go through the process uninterrupted.
8. Help her find breastfeeding-friendly clothing
Having some nursing tops may not seem like a big deal, but they can make breastfeeding much more comfortable. Nursing tops are designed to allow easy access for breastfeeding or pumping, while still providing coverage and support. They come in various styles, but most feature discreet openings that can be easily accessed without having to remove the entire top.
If the nursing mama is back at work and pumping, having cute, professional, nursing tops are great for pump breaks so she doesn’t have to expose too much of herself. While some mamas may not think they need clothes specifically for nursing, it’s much like putting on the first set of maternity clothes- they’ll wonder how they went so long without them once they try them out.
Luckily, a lot of maternity tops can transition to nursing tops, so hopefully, the breastfeeding mama in your life will have a few pieces to wear. If you don’t know what style of top the breastfeeding mama in your life would like, a gift card for a store that carries maternity clothes would be great.
9. Help with household chores
If there ever was a time to take on more of the household chores, this is it. Taking on more laundry, doing the dishes, and tidying up the home are all great ways to pitch in. Even though babies are small, they seem to create more laundry than adults at times, especially if you’ve gone the cloth diaper route. Making sure the baby's clothes and diapers are clean would be a big help.
If the breastfeeding mama isn’t your spouse, see if they’d be okay with you coming over to help with some of the household chores. Or even hiring a cleaning service for breastfeeding parents would probably be a very welcome gesture.
10. Assist with the night shift
Unfortunately for new parents, babies don’t arrive set on our schedule. They don’t care that you want to sleep at night- they want to eat throughout the night, and sometimes frequently! Waking up numerous times during the night to nurse can leave breastfeeding mamas exhausted.
One way to help is to be the one to get the baby when it wakes. The simple act of bringing the hungry baby to the nursing mama can be a tremendous help. Once you get her the baby, see if she needs water or anything else. When the baby's done, do the burping and diaper change if needed.
If she is exclusively pumping, you can do the feeding and caring for the baby while she is pumping. If the baby is sleeping through the night and she still needs to do "middle of the night" pumping, get her the MilKeeper! The MilKeeper stays cold for 20 hours so you can have it next to her before bed and she can pump and pour milk into the cooler so she doesn't have to get out of bed to place the milk in the fridge!
11. Be willing to go the extra mile if asked
It’s the stuff nightmares are made of... breast pain and tenderness, swelling, redness, a lump or hard area on the breast, fever and chills, nipple discharge. The symptoms of mastitis can vary from person to person, but these are some of the most common symptoms people with the condition can experience. Mastitis can be seriously uncomfortable to downright painful and is something that can throw someone off their breastfeeding game.
You may have heard that the discomfort can be so great that some women ask their partners to clear clogged ducts for them after not getting any relief from the often recommended ways of treating it, and some are happy to do so.
However, according to clinical guidelines from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), new findings suggest that we’ve had the cause of mastitis wrong. New research suggests the cause of mastitis isn’t a clogged milk duct as previously thought, but a narrowing of the duct caused by an imbalance of the breast microbiome, which in turn creates blockage as the milk is unable to flow through the narrowed milk duct.
Typically, women with mastitis are encouraged to nurse or pump frequently to try and clear the clogged duct. The results of this new research show that icing to reduce inflammation (as opposed to heat compresses) and decreasing excess stimulation might be better treatments.
So while you may not be asked to unclog your partner’s clogged duct anymore, you should let her know you’d be WILLING to do that for her, but then show her this article so you maybe don’t have to!
12. Celebrate their successes
It may seem silly to celebrate a week of breastfeeding, but many mamas have gotten through some big hurdles to get to that point. The breastfeeding mama in your life will probably have goals set for herself in terms of how long she wants to breastfeed, so help cheer her on as she reaches them. Acknowledge the hard work she’s done and encourage her to keep going (if that’s what she wants).
13. Respect their feeding choices
Every family has different feeding preferences, and it’s important to respect their choices. Whether they choose to breastfeed exclusively, supplement with formula, or end their breastfeeding journey, show your support. Not everything in life goes as planned. Many mamas have an idea of what their breastfeeding journey is going to look like, but despite their best efforts, it doesn’t always go the way they thought it would.
Some mamas will need to start adding formula to their baby’s diet due to an underproduction of breast milk, caused by a variety of situations. For many mamas in the US, maternity leaves aren’t what they are in other countries, and balancing work and breastfeeding becomes a challenge too great to overcome.
With the recent passage of the PUMP Act, hopefully, more working mamas will have better accommodations for pumping while at work and will have the support needed to continue breastfeeding for longer. If that’s not the case though, they may feel the best solution for them is to stop breastfeeding altogether.
Or maybe things have gone better than expected for them and after a year of breastfeeding, they choose to continue for another year, or longer, as new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend. Nobody wants or needs comments about when you think a child is too old to be nursing. It’s up to the nursing mama to make that determination, and we strongly suggest you respect her choice, whatever that is.
Keep Reading related blog: How Breastfeeding and Breast Milk Production Work
A female-designed and female-run company, Mila's Keeper is on a mission to empower women to thrive during their breastfeeding journey by offering reusable, eco-friendly breast milk storage solutions for their day-to-day needs. Get the latest tips and info on Mila's Keeper products by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.