Breastfeeding ... with ABA blog. 14 July, 2021.
How dads, partners, grandparents and loved ones can support new mums and babies.
What is the best way to support a new mother? Often the first thing people think of is ‘I can give baby a bottle so mum has a break’. But there are lots of other ways you can support a new mum, no bottles required. I asked a bunch of breastfeeding mums what was the best support when they had their babies. The number one response was healthy food that mum doesn’t have to cook; and number two was help with household tasks.
So there you go, feed mum and do something useful, blog done!
Seriously though, feeding mum and doing household tasks so mum can concentrate on feeding baby really are helpful, whether you’re a friend dropping in for a meet-the-baby visit, grandma staying for a month while mum settles into parenthood, or the partner/co-parent who is around most of the time. Bring food whenever you visit, drop off a casserole, prep dinner, or make mum a sandwich. (Bonus points for food that mum can eat one-handed while feeding a baby!)
Some mums appreciate it if others offer to take baby for a walk after a feed so mum can nap or shower in peace. Some mums prefer to keep baby with them, but appreciate having company and a spare pair of hands. Friends can offer to come with mum to mind baby during a postnatal physio appointment, a dentist check-up, or that first haircut for months. If you have a car and can drive mum and baby places, you can be immensely useful for a mum who has had a c-section and can’t drive for 6 weeks.
A particularly useful offer might be coming with mum to her local ABA meeting. Partners, grandparents, friends and any support people are welcome to attend ABA meetings with breastfeeding mums. We know that many new mums are shy about coming to a new group where they don’t know anyone, but we also know that talking to other breastfeeding mums is super helpful when you are a new parent trying to figure everything out.
If you’re an experienced parent, the new mother might be extra sensitive to comments you make about how well she is caring for her baby. She will really appreciate your positive support. Of course you might have some suggestions for things to try, but remember that new parents need to find their own way. Some recommendations may have changed since you had your babies, so it helps to check the latest information at reputable sites like: www.breastfeeding.asn.au and www.raisingchildren.net.au.
Partner support is the most important of all. Research shows that mums are more likely to reach their breastfeeding goals if their partner supports breastfeeding. You might think breastfeeding has nothing to do with you if you don’t have functioning boobs, but you can still be a major part of it! The first step is learning how breastfeeding works. If you have time before baby is born, you can attend a Breastfeeding Education Class or Live session (online). After the birth, our booklet Breastfeeding: an introduction has the important things you’ll need to know. You can help mum by watching for baby’s hunger cues, counting the nappies so you know that baby’s getting enough, looking up what’s normal, or ringing the National Breastfeeding Helpline (on 1800 686 268) while mum is busy feeding.
Some partners take on part of the night as their ‘on duty’ time. Mum goes to bed to catch up on sleep, you bring baby in for feeds but otherwise do all the nappy changes and settling. If mum is expressing for someone else to give an evening bottle it can actually result in less sleep for mum. Her breasts still need to be emptied regularly to avoid blocked ducts, and expressing may take longer than breastfeeding directly. Plus there’s the washing up! Some partners worry that baby will not be able to bond with them without being fed. While it’s true that breastfeeding is a lovely bonding experience, there are plenty of ways to bond that don’t involve feeding.
In fact a key role of the non-feeding parent is to show baby that their needs can be met, and love can come without food. How? You can cuddle baby. Babies enjoy skin-to-skin cuddles on chests with and without breasts! You can settle baby to sleep by walking, rocking, bouncing, wearing in a safe baby carrier or sling, or singing. You can make daily baths your special time with baby. Even something like nappy change time can be an opportunity to bond with baby. Many babies love having a kick around without their nappy, so it’s a great time to get some smiles. Count their toes, play ‘This little piggy’, blow a raspberry on that adorable tummy!
A special note for families with two mums. Sometimes the non-birthing mother might want to induce lactation to breastfeed, or some couples plan to each have babies close in age and both mums breastfeed both babies. This is wonderful! But it can take a bit of juggling while you are both establishing your milk supply. Many wait until after the baby is born to relactate or induce lactation knowing that in the early weeks after birth the baby will be feeding from the body of the birthing mother, receiving colostrum and helping them establish their milk supply. ABA can help: see our booklet Breastfeeding: relactation and induced lactation or give us a call.
Finally, remember that emotional support is just as important as physical support. Ask the new mum how she’s feeling, and listen. If she tells you things aren’t going so well, don’t feel that you have to offer solutions. Often it’s enough just to vent that motherhood isn’t a bed of roses and have someone listen and empathise. Respect her choices about how she’s feeding her baby and appreciate the effort that she’s putting in. Offer whatever practical support you can, and listen to her preferences about what will be most helpful. (She might be exhausted and want you to keep visits short so she can nap or she might be desperate for adult conversation!) Keep checking in as the months go past. Things can get easier and then hard again. If she needs more help than you can give, find out how she can get it. Watch her interacting with her baby and tell her what a great job she’s doing.
For more information and ideas, you can check out our booklet Breastfeeding: supporting the new mother. And on behalf of mums everywhere, thanks for your support. We couldn’t do it without you.
WORDS // Jessica Edquist
Jess is a former academic and current breastfeeding counsellor (since 2013). She lives in southeast Melbourne with her partner and their two children. Jess loves geeking out about cool breastfeeding facts, helping mums over breastfeeding hurdles, and feeling the love and oxytocin at ABA meetups.
For breastfeeding counselling, please call the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum2mum or 1800 686 268. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is staffed by trained, volunteer counsellors who answer calls on a roster system in their own homes. The National Breastfeeding Helpline is supported by funding from the Australian Government.
Here are more ways you can get information and support right now:
- Tune into our companion podcast on this topic. Search for 'Breastfeeding ... with ABA' on your podcast app or listen here.
- Download our free breastfeeding booklet Breastfeeding Confidence.
- Download our mum2mum app via the App store or Google Play.
- Join the Breastfeeding with ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) Facebook group and answer the joining questions.
- Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Chat with a volunteer via LiveChat on our website.
- Sign up for an interactive and informative breastfeeding class.
- Get books and resources on general and specialist breastfeeding topics.
- Join ABA as a member to get your free copy of our best-selling book Breastfeeding … naturally + free access to all premium content on the mum2mum app + discounted breastfeeding classes + half-price breast pump hire + unlimited access to ABA events + more!
Find out more about Breastfeeding … with ABA.