We All Benefit
We all benefit when our community is healthier. Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from bacteria and viruses. Breastfed children have fewer ear, respiratory and urinary tract infections and have diarrhea less often. Infants who are exclusively breastfed tend to need fewer health care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations resulting in a lower total medical care cost compared to never-breastfed infants.
The start is often rough. The first few months are the hardest, particularly if you have very few parents to look to as examples. Parents are counting on their family and their community to help them persist in the face of a challenge. We realize that breastfeeding, while beautiful, can be exhausting and time-consuming — especially if you’re feeding based on your infant’s cues. We should NOT expect new parents to be up, cleaning, and doing normal activities. We know that breastfeeding uses energy from the whole body. Especially if the mother is returning to work early, you can help families meet their breastfeeding goals with a little information about breastfeeding and plenty of access to support.
We all know that, in addition to the usual exhaustion that all new parents face, some breastfeeding parents also deal with the lack of understanding and the stigma that surround breastfeeding. Without support, many families can feel like outsiders in their extended family and in their community. The numbers are improving, though. The best way to improve breastfeeding success rates is to provide support and adequate resources to those interested.
Worth the Time
Supporting breastfeeding is worth the time to problem-solve. Here’s why:
- Breastfeeding saves lives! Human milk is always clean; requires no fuel, water, or electricity; and is always available, even in the most dire circumstances.
- Human milk contains antibodies that fight infection, including diarrhea and respiratory infections common among infants in emergency situations and in childcare environments.
- Human milk provides infants with perfect nutrition, including the proper amount of vitamins and minerals required for normal growth.
- Breastfeeding releases hormones that lower stress and anxiety in both babies and parents.
- Breast milk changes to meet the baby’s changing needs and promotes normal brain development
- The safest baby food is the parent’s own milk. Donor human milk is the next best option. Parents who cannot directly feed their babies also can be supported to express their milk.
- Parents who are stressed can continue to make milk. A quiet area to help parents relax can help their milk flow to the baby; however, parents can breastfeed even without the support of a quiet space.
- If a baby (or parent) becomes ill, the best thing the parent can do is to continue breastfeeding to provide baby with human antibodies that fight the illness.
- Support makes the difference!
- New research has shown that breastfeeding is important for the baby’s health and development and for the parent’s health, both now and in the future. It’s even good for the environment.
- Research has found that breastfeeding works best when the baby is fed in response to hunger cues, not on a schedule. That’s usually quite frequently, especially in the beginning, when the infant’s frequent feeding is establishing the milk supply. Fortunately, you can’t feed too often.
- Sore nipples aren’t an expected part of breastfeeding; they are a sign that something isn’t quite right. With some expert help, the parent should soon be breastfeeding comfortably.
- Most medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively—no formula or solid foods—for six months or so, and continue breastfeeding with solid foods added to their diet into the toddler years—even two years or more.
Much of this information may be new to you! But ultimately, new parents still need lots of help, lots of support, and lots of loving family members around to prepare meals or throw in a load of laundry. They need people to be patient with them as they figure out both breastfeeding and parenthood. And babies still need their grandparents and other loved ones to love and care for them. Your practical help and support are a golden investment in the baby’s future and in your lives together.
How to help
Remember that the birthing parent breastfeeds, and you feed the breastfeeding parent—NOT the baby. When a baby is frazzled, you may be just the difference that the parent needs.
Some things you can do:
- Bring the breastfeeding parent some water and/or food.
- Let the breastfeeding parent rest while you hold or rock the baby..
- Wear a baby in a sling or other carrier and go for a walk.
- Go out and about. Babies are social people and will love this.
- Read to baby—babies love hearing your voice.
- Change the baby’s diaper—even if the baby hates diaper changes now, they will love them very soon.
- Talk to the baby about things around the house.
- Give the baby a bath.
- Take the baby to the breastfeeding parent whenever the baby needs the parent.
- Sway. Babies tend to like side-to-side motion.
Your first job is to support breastfeeding, not compete with it. A “relief bottle” may seem helpful, but it’s more likely to cause breastfeeding problems and health risks for your baby. And remember that bonding with the baby does not require bottles.
Fussy Baby Ideas
Carry, walk, and talk are age-old baby soothers. Here are some additional ideas from parents who’ve been there:
- Walk outside
- Dim lights and provide soothing motions, if the baby isn’t totally wound up.
- A shared bath with dim lights (best if you have someone there who can console the baby while you get the bath ready).
For a baby who isn’t in total distress:
- Put a little “bump” in your walk.
- Dance together, especially once you find baby’s favorite music.
- Run water, radio static, or a vacuum or washer as white noise.
- Move to a change of scenery—a different room, a different angle, outdoors.
- Break the spell with a car ride and other sights.
- Bounce on an exercise ball or birthing ball while you hold the baby.
- Take a walk outdoors with your baby in a sling, if weather permits. This often soothes the baby and you get some exercise!
- Let the baby try to nurse again. Hunger isn’t always the initial problem, but nursing almost always ends up being the solution, as nursing is soothing to babies.
Infant Feeding Cues
- A baby starts with subtle nursing cues: eyes moving beneath eyelids, eyelids fluttering before they even open, hands coming toward face, mouth movements.
- Then the baby adds more obvious cues: rooting toward your chest, whimpering or squeaking.
- If the breastfeeding parent offers to nurse now, the baby will probably take the breast gently and easily.
- As hunger builds, the baby’s body and mouth tense.
- Baby may breathe fast or start to cry. Once the baby is crying, they have a harder time latching. Crying is a late sign of hunger.
- Breastfeeding is easier if you answer the baby’s requests instead of waiting.
- Don’t wait for breasts to feel full. A full breast has already started to slow down production.
- Offer breastfeeding even if the baby is not asking, anytime day or night.
Parents Love Your Help!
Life is very busy for parents with a new baby, and it would mean a lot if you could choose one item from this list to help the family.
- What else would parents like for you to do?
- Watch and enjoy the baby (see ideas above) as the mother gets her rest.
Thank you to our local La Leche League Leaders for helping Breastfeed Durham create this resource. We found many of these helpful suggestions in the “Tear-sheet ToolKit” of La Leche League International’s “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding“.