Preparing Your Family and Friends for Your Breastfeeding Journey
When it comes to breastfeeding, having a support system of loved ones to help you can make a big difference in meeting your feeding goals. Your IBCLC can also be an important part of your support system, giving guidance and encouragement throughout your breastfeeding journey. We talked with TLN IBCLC Caitlyn Parker about how to talk to those closest to you about your breastfeeding plans, how your support system can help you meet your goals, and the best ways to set boundaries and respond to unsolicited advice.
Communicating with Your Support System
Having a support system to help you in the early days of parenthood and your breastfeeding journey can be incredibly helpful. Your support system may include your partner, your parents or partner’s parents, and other close friends and family members. It’s up to you! The better the people you’ve chosen for your support system understand the importance of breastfeeding and the connection between you and your baby, the more supportive they can be.
You’ll want to talk to them about your breastfeeding plans before the baby is born. “Start the breastfeeding conversation early,” says Parker. “Discuss your breastfeeding plans, tell them your expectations, and the best ways they can support you while breastfeeding.” Prioritize those closest to you who will be available to offer support in the days and weeks following delivery. Don’t feel you owe everyone you know or who may be distantly related to you an explanation about choosing to breastfeed.
Parker says, “Having a conversation with family and friends about your plan to breastfeed can be beneficial. You can discuss your feeding goals, expectations, and how your friends and family can support you. This can help cultivate a supportive environment around breastfeeding well before the baby arrives.” At the end of the day, your support system will just want what’s best for you and your baby–so let them know that for you, that includes breastfeeding support.
How Your Support System Can Help You
When you talk to your support system, let them know exactly what they can do to help you on your breastfeeding journey. Simply being there for you when you need them can make all the difference. Here are just a few things loved ones can do to lend a hand:
- Listen to the nursing parent
- Provide emotional support and validation
- Make sure they’ve eaten and have had enough water
- See if they need a quick nap
- Volunteer to help with diaper changes
- Help around the house–for example, do dishes, meal prep, laundry, or manage older siblings or pets
As a current or expecting parent, share these ideas with your support system so they have an actionable list of things they can do to help you. Check out our article on How To Support Nursing Parents for additional tips!
Fielding Unsolicited Advice
Sometimes, even the most well-meaning friends and family members can overstep. Negative comments about breastfeeding and parenting don’t usually come from a bad place, but rather because a person cares for you and your baby–though that’s not to say that these comments can’t be uninformed or inappropriate.
Sometimes, comments are based on their personal experiences, such as difficulty with latching or struggling with milk supply. In other cases, people may take offense when you make choices contrary to their advice—particularly when your own parents see you making parenting choices different from theirs. No matter their motives, these strategies can help you take thoughtful control over your reaction.
Proven Response Approaches
There are several different approaches to responding, ranging from engaged conversation to deflecting with humor. But before anything else, Parker says, “First, take a deep breath. It can be challenging to hear unsolicited advice, especially if it does not resonate with you. I encourage parents to take what resonates with them and leave the rest.”
You can have a heart-to-heart with the person who has been making negative comments and explain to them how hurtful it is to hear, even if that isn’t their intention. If nothing else, this may make them rethink how (or if) they say things in the future. Or if they seem to be projecting their own negative experiences onto you, it may help to explain that your choices are the result of having different information available and a different parenting style than theirs. If those approaches don’t work, try simply asking them why they aren’t supportive of your breastfeeding.
Some of their ‘advice’ may come from outdated information, such as believing breast milk doesn’t provide enough nutrients, or that formula is better and easier. Tell them how good breastfeeding is for your baby and how good it is for you! Many people just aren’t aware of the incredible benefits of breastfeeding. In that same vein, they may also have old information on personal choices like whether or not it’s okay to have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee while breastfeeding. If you feel compelled, you can share the latest CDC research. But if you feel like you need to continually defend your choices with this person, it may be time to set a firmer boundary with them.
Setting Firm Boundaries
For some, the best method is refusing to discuss breastfeeding at all, particularly with stubborn loved ones who continue to make unkind remarks. Be polite but firm. Remind them that this is your choice, your child, and you don’t wish to continue discussing the topic. If they keep bringing it up, repeat the same phrase over and over, for example, ‘This is what works for our family.’ This will convey that you are no longer engaging with them on this issue. Hopefully, they’ll get the message.
At the end of the day, while it’s important to talk to your support system about breastfeeding, remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation, and not everyone is open to having their minds changed. Stand your ground. This is your baby, and you get to choose how you feed and care for them. “Know that it is okay for people to have different views on breastfeeding. Remember, you are doing what is best for your family,” says Parker.
Every family is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to building your support system and working through disagreements. Even if they don’t fully understand why you breastfeed, their support is important. Parker says, “There are so many emotional layers when it comes to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a unique feeding relationship with your baby. It’s important to have a breastfeeding support system to process your feeding experience and support your feeding goals.” Remind those closest to you that how you feed your baby is a deeply personal decision and one that should be respected. Don’t forget, your IBCLC can help you navigate any challenges that may arise and aid you throughout your breastfeeding journey.