World Breastfeeding Weeks starts on Thursday, and what better way to get you all ready than by sharing an inclusive, pro-mama blog by the force behind Creative Lactation? Jessica is all about empowering mothers, and this year she’s sharing her tips on finding the right support for breastfeeding success and how to give valuable support to others. Even if you’re not a breastfeeding/chestfeeding mom, giving the right kind of support is crucial to creating a positive experience for moms who are, so this post is for you!
I really enjoyed reading this post. After I was unable to breastfeed my first daughter, a preemie, I was so fortunate to have a supportive network of family and friends when it came to nursing my second. If you knew me in 2013-2014 you know that I breastfed anytime/anywhere. But the experience wasn’t always easy. She suffered from reflux and screamed constantly, and one of the nurses at our pediatrician’s office suggested a bottle. It was then that another nurse got me in touch with the office IBCLC, and she made all the difference. Thanks to her help, we had breastfed for 14 months.
Do you have an amazing memory of a time someone was supportive in the perfect way when you needed it most? I would love it if you’d share it with us in the comments!
Support Matters: How to get the support you need and give support that others deserve.
Statement of Inclusivity regarding the word “breastfeeding/chestfeeding”: In this article breastfeeding/chestfeeding is defined as human milk feeding at the breast and/or chest of an individual. Yes, together they are a long word but our words matter and I’m working on being supportive too!
Giving birth and breastfeeding/chestfeeding a baby is a defining moment in a person’s life. It is a deeply intimate exchange between two people but did you know that the people and professionals in that person’s life have much more to do with meeting breastfeeding/chestfeeding goals than the class they took or the way they gave birth?
According to the Center for Disease Control 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card* nearly everyone wants to feed their baby human milk but by 3 months less than half are exclusively breastfeeding/chestfeeding and by 6 months three quarters of parents are no longer exclusively breastfeeding/chestfeeding. Why this is happening is a complex issue but everyone agrees that lack of support is clearly a big reason that people aren’t meeting their goals. “You should definitely breast feed that baby” is coupled with a society that at every turn seems unsupportive of the very thing they are cheering you on to do.
We are talking about the influence that support or lack thereof has on a person but there are complicating factors that are interwoven within support. Where you live, where you give birth, your socioeconomic status, if you live with a large extended family or if you’re a single mother with no family nearby are all a part of the bigger picture. If the single mom has one person cheering her on and giving her good information she may have a much easier time than being surrounded by a family who doesn’t really think you can do this. Some circumstances we can’t change but what about the people who we pick and have influence over?
What people are doing to be supportive is a better indication than what they are saying. Every pediatrician will say they are supportive of breastfeeding but have they been to an Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine conference or have a referral sheet of support groups and IBCLCs they work with? A hospital tout great initial breastfeeding rates but do they delay first baths for at least 24 hours and educate everyone coming in contact with a breastfeeding/chestfeeding pair? These examples extend to the workplace and daycare settings as well. Are they actively supportive or are willing to learn and change? Questions about how a doctor or daycare center are supportive of the families they serve can really help you make an educated decision about who to see and where to go.
So much of the emotional and day to day support we get is online. Finding a truly supportive environment is sometimes tough but one thing they all seem to have in common is active participation from moderators, a collective cohesive vision, zero drama and no easy answers. If you post a question about low supply you shouldn’t get 50 replies about supplements to take, someone should be asking questions about why it’s low and/or encouraging you to reach out to someone who can help you sort things out. Chances are the people who can help you sort things out: peer counselors, lactation workers, IBCLCs are also the ones who know where the great online groups are.
As with good research, if you’re ever in doubt, follow the money. Good information is backed by state or federal research for example, not in a booklet sponsored by Similac. Whose logo is at the bottom of the page or on the back of the brochure? Information from those who have a vested interest in your failure to meet your goals is mostly right but sprinkled with enough misinformation to make your IBCLCs head spin.
Now that we’ve taken a minute to think about our outside influences let’s turn an eye towards ourselves. What makes a supportive partner, spouse or family member? How can you help an employee or patient to meet their goals? The first thing is to examine our own biases. We all have them. These are usually shaped by our own experience or lack of it. If someone seems to be having a similar problem we offer what worked for us without asking that person about their problem. The way we perceive people also shapes how we treat them. As evidenced by the maternal health crisis of black women in the United States, this has real and tragic outcomes. Let’s get those out, work on them and hold ourselves accountable.
We also love to railroad people with our experience or advise them without really listening. Part of being a great support person is doing much more listening than talking. This isn’t a skill most people work on developing in life but when you know better, you can start to do better. Listening to the person who is having the problem, asking them questions, offers of specific help (as in, can I wash your dishes vs call me if you need anything) and giving them a few minutes to voice concerns without interjection can go a long way. In the workplace this can look like anticipating the needs of employees and asking what they might need. You can set up a lactation room or look into policies on bringing infants to work. If you have a patient who is from a culture that you’re unfamiliar with you can talk about differences in infant care or feeding.
As an IBCLC I help with all aspects of lactation care, including things like weaning and formula use. As we are challenging others to be supportive of breastfeeding/chestfeeding we also have to confront the realities that sometimes others have different goals, different challenges and different ideas of success than our own. Being a supportive person includes good information and encouragement but also listening and empathy when someone waves the white flag or doesn’t want to feed their baby in the way that we might want for them. The road must go both ways.
Being supportive of breastfeeding/chestfeeding people in your life is something everyone can do and that makes it just a little easier for those who need it to be able to find it in their lives.
About the author:
Breastfeeding gives mothers a unique and special closeness to their babies that is irreplaceable, but it can be extremely challenging, and many mothers lack the support needed to breastfeed successfully. For those mothers who find breastfeeding difficult, Jessica Sypolt is a calm, reassuring voice that provides real solutions to breastfeeding difficulties, and positive encouragement in discouraging moments.
For over ten years, Jessica has devoted her time and energy to helping families achieve their personal breastfeeding goals. Calling upon her years of experience, Jessica problem-solves with mothers, creating a roadmap for their breastfeeding journeys. Jessica prides herself on evidence-based methods, clear communication, and a thirst for knowledge that leaves no stone unturned.
As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Jessica provides lactation consultant services to families in Loudoun and eastern Clarke county, Virginia. She contributes her expertise to the Loudoun Breastfeeding Coalition and several online breastfeeding support forums. She is also a member of the International Lactation Consultant Association and the United States Lactation Consultant Association.
Jessica lives in Round Hill with her husband, their three children, and their cuddly boxer, Dexter. Whenever Jessica isn’t fulfilling snack requests from her kids, she can almost always be found with her nose in a book.
References and Resources:
Programs and Organizations for support people:
How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk
(also works very well with adult/adult conversations)
ROSE (Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere)
Addressing breastfeeding disparities among women of color