5 ways you can help breastfeeding parents (part 1)

Audrey Rowe, USDA Deputy Administrator of Special Nutrition Programs, chats with the Shenandoah Valley Community Breastfeeding support group August 6 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Photo from U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If you happen to be someone who’s a strong supporter of breastfeeding, you may have had the thought, “How can I help other people achieve success with breastfeeding?” There is no shortage of literature about the effectiveness of peer breastfeeding support on breastfeeding initiation and duration. Truly, this is a place where it’s possible to truly make a difference.

I’m sure there are near-endless ways to families and their babies with breastfeeding. Here are five ways you can help support them just by being you. Part 2 will provide ways to help families on a more organized, professional level.

  1. Lead by example. Talk about your experiences with breastfeeding—the good and the bad—in an honest, open manner. One way to help others achieve their breastfeeding goals is to normalize the act of breastfeeding. Share what you’ve gone through. Nurse in public, even if you prefer to cover up. Be living, breathing proof that it’s possible to meet and exceed your breastfeeding goals.
  2. Get familiar with quality resources so that you know you’re sharing accurate information. The internet isn’t peer reviewed, so how do you know what is quality information and what isn’t? Look for information written by IBCLCs or other lactation professionals, and avoid information that you suspect might be biased or not based in evidence. If you run across an interesting piece of information, research its validity, whether by trying to dig up more information on your own, or asking a professional for her or his opinion. and La Leche League International have a lot of high-quality, evidence-based information on a wide variety of breastfeeding topics; you can find a solution to almost any breastfeeding problem just on those two websites.
  3. Know where you can send moms for help. Sometimes helping a person just means you’re sending them to a resource of which they were previously unaware. You can take it a step further and search for support meetings or lactation consultants that would be convenient. A newly postpartum or overwhelmed mom might not want to take on the additional task of hunting down a La Leche League group, so giving her the information outright may make it more likely she’ll find the help she needs. The International Lactaton Consultant Association and International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners have searchable directories of IBCLCs. The Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice has some other lactation support professionals in a searchable directory. The LLLI website and Breastfeeding USA will be able to direct you to support groups.
  4. Give help when it’s wanted. Moms can feel pressured to breastfeed and not many of us like to receive unsolicited advice. If you think you can help a mom, whether it’s by linking her to a website or telling her about your experiences, but you’re not sure if she wants help—ask. You can say something like, “It sounds like breastfeeding is not going well for you. Would you like me to help you find a lactation consultant?” or “It’s so frustrating when a baby is fussy and you don’t know what’s wrong. Would you like to hear what worked for us?”
  5. Support breastfeeding indirectly. Bring over a meal and some easy-to-eat snacks or offer to watch a new mom’s older kids. Mow a new family’s lawn or take their dog for a walk. Whatever you can do to take the pressure of new parenthood off of a family can help ensure breastfeeding success. It can be difficult for some moms to sit and breastfeed, knowing that so much else is undone. Give them the chance to relax, enjoy their new baby, and learn how to breastfeed together.

What other ways can you think of to help people achieve their breastfeeding goals?