Breastfeeding support: Top 5 secrets

Breastfeeding can be really hard, especially in the beginning. According to the CDC, over 80% of mothers in the US begin breastfeeding but by 6 months we are down to only 50% of mothers doing any breastfeeding at all. What is going on?

We do have many barriers that impact breastfeeding numbers here. There is family pressure not to breastfeed, poor support in the hospital, returning to work, great advertising from formula companies, and lack of resources in general, once you leave the hospital. No wonder we are struggling.

Yet, many mothers do reach their breastfeeding goals. What makes the difference? In many cases, it is one person that supports the mother in a way that allows her to move forward. Resolving sore nipples, concerns about breastmilk supply, or returning to work. Someone who helps that mother overcome her challenge. No matter what the challenge is.

What do these people have in common? There are many qualities that can make or break a positive relationship between that support person and the mother. Here are the top five qualities that I believe can make all the difference.

Top five breastfeeding support secrets:

  1. The support person is kind and respectful to both mother and baby. This is simple but I do believe this is critical. They do not judge. They make a mother feel better after their time together then they felt before. They really listen to the mother. They don’t assume anything. They don’t try to make their story into that mother’s story. They treat both with gentle touches.
  2. They provide accurate medical information. Before they start sharing their ideas that make it clear where those ideas came from. One mother helping another can be great as long as both know that the mother is sharing her personal experience and maybe it will help, and maybe it won’t. This is what we used to do back in the day. Ask another mother what she did. Try it, if it worked, great! If not, ask another mother. Our breastfeeding wisdom lay in our community, not in a specialist. If you are a health care provider at all, make sure you stay current with the literature. Don’t tell mothers they have to wean if they are pregnant. That a medication is not safe for mothers and babies when you don’t know. This leads to the next quality.
  3. The support person knows their own limitations and know when and who to refer out to in the community. If you don’t know something, admit it! Say you have to look it up, consult with others, whatever, but don’t guess or make things up. They should know who the breastfeeding friendly doctors are, fabulous doulas, good body workers that have training with babies, who does a great job with assessing and releasing tongues ties, and where to go if there is an outside medical concern. No one knows everything.
  4. They are great communicators. They have checked in with the mother to make sure they really understand what is happening in her life that might impact their ability to reach their breastfeeding goal. They help the mother explore her options for increasing her milk supply so she can choose what is most appropriate for her. They don’t tell people what to do. This rarely works anyway!They help mothers make plans that seem like the right one for each individual family.
  5. At the end of the time spent together, the mother has a clear, doable nugget that moves her in the direction she wants to head in. The mother feels emotionally supported and more hopeful when they part ways. When mothers tell me that they left the (doctor’s office, the IBCLC) crying and feeling hopeless, you know there is something wrong.

As you might have noticed, the personal relationship, how the support person interacts with the mother and baby, is more important than whether they have special degrees or is a medical provider. This person could be a friend. A sister. A nurse at the hospital. It could be an IBCLC.

These five qualities are what I focus on when I teach my 90 hour professional lactation course. Breastfeeding support is much more than memorized, breastfeeding facts. How we interact with mother is just as important as our medical training. If you are not getting these five qualities from your breastfeeding support person, you might consider trying another person. Just like mechanics, not all are good! But you wouldn’t just walk away from your car, you would get a second opinion.