As a soon-to-be mom, you are making a lot of decisions about how you want to care for your baby, including choosing if you want to breastfeed. How you decide to feed your baby is a personal choice. Breastfeeding can be extremely rewarding and special. It can also seem overwhelming. Whether you’ve already made the decision to breastfeed or are still trying to understand your options, it’s important to know you don’t have to do it alone!
Building a powerful support network is one important way to put yourself on a path toward breastfeeding success. Your support network will be a group of people who will support your decision to breastfeed, celebrate your achievements, and help you continue when challenges arise.
So, how do you build a breastfeeding support network? Identify the people who can play a role in helping you meet your breastfeeding goals. Whether it’s a partner, family member, your health care team, or your employer, this circle of support can be the key to your success. To make sure your circle is ready to support you, talk to them early on so that everyone is prepared when your baby arrives so you can get off to a good start. Here’s a breakdown of ways people in your network can support you:
Your partner. Some partners have concerns about breastfeeding, such as worrying it’ll affect your relationship or that they won’t be able to bond with the baby if they don’t help with feedings. But there are many ways your partner can feel close to you and your baby while supporting your decision to breastfeed. They can bond with the baby by bringing the baby to you (especially in the middle of the night!), during diaper changes, bath time, playtime, snuggle time, or bedtime. They can support you by bringing you water or snacks while you are feeding the baby, or by taking care of household chores.
Pro Tip: Skin-to-skin contact, also called “kangaroo care,” can help your baby bond with your partner. Encourage your partner to hold and cuddle your baby against his or her skin.
Your family. Helping you take care of the baby and yourself is a powerful way to support you while you breastfeed. Let your family take care of you by doing laundry or housework, fixing meals while you breastfeed, or holding your baby so that you can shower or nap.
Pro Tip: Talk with your family about the benefits of breastfeeding, and include them early on so they can see how you and your baby are learning and bonding through breastfeeding.
Your healthcare team. Ask your doctor for breastfeeding information, class recommendations, and lactation consultant referrals. Lactation consultants are trained to help you learn to breastfeed and make sure the baby is getting the milk they need. Check out the hospital or birth center where you plan to deliver your baby. They may offer classes or tours for expectant parents. Ideally, there will be lactation consultants or trained staff who can help you get off to a good start by helping you breastfeed right after your baby is born and support you in the weeks following.
Pro Tip: Schedule “interviews” with potential pediatricians. As your baby’s future doctor, he or she is an important member of your breastfeeding network. Ask them about their views on breastfeeding and if they have recommendations to help you prepare to breastfeed.
“Most employers must give you reasonable break times to pump for up to a year after your baby is born…”
Your employer. It can be tough to return to work after having a baby. Finding ways to continue breastfeeding may make it more challenging. Make the transition easier by having a conversation with your employer to make arrangements that will meet both your needs when you go back to work. If you’re worried about finding time and space, know that many moms and their employers have found creative solutions for all kinds of workplaces. Also, remember that there are laws in place that support breastfeeding moms at work. Most employers must give you reasonable break times to pump for up to a year after your baby is born and a place other than a bathroom to comfortably, safely, and privately express breastmilk each time you need to.
Pro Tip: Let your employer know that breastfeeding benefits them, too!
Your network doesn’t stop here. There are many other sources of support, including peer counselors, friends, and other new moms, whom you can meet through local groups or classes. You can also turn to the Office on Women’s Health’s resources on womenshealth.gov, including the easy-to-read, downloadable publication Your Guide to Breastfeeding. Or call our certified breastfeeding peer counselors at the OWH Helpline (800-994-9662, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday) for free advice.
By Nicole Greene, Acting Director, Office on Women’s Health