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It’s World Breastfeeding Week and what better way to celebrate than to talk about all of the ways you can support your loved ones who have chosen to breastfeed.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, up to 1 year with the addition of complimentary foods and beyond based on mom’s and/or baby’s preference.  The benefits of breastfeeding, which were affirmed by an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality review in 2007 and are supported by the CDC, include improved immunity for the baby, as well as  a potential reduction in obesity and allergic conditions. (More on the CDC’s efforts to support breastfeeding here)  However, this is not going to be a post that inflames the superiority of breastfeeding or shames formula feeding parents.  I firmly believe that one can support breastfeeding without shaming those that don’t.  This is a post specifically about the need to support women who have already decided to breastfeed.

Why do breastfeeding moms need support?

Breastfeeding is hard!  Especially without a support system.  Which is probably why many choose to switch to formula in the first place.  Breastfeeding is tiring, painful, emotional and doesn’t always go according to plan.  Furthermore, breastfeeding requires that mom is in a good state of health.  Yet if everyone involved can get mom past those first few trying weeks, breastfeeding can be successful and rewarding.

So what can you do to be supportive of the breastfeeding women in your life?

  • Don’t say “why don’t you just give a bottle”.  This isn’t helpful.  The first few weeks of life are a critical time to build up milk supply.  Replacing breastfeeding with bottles (unless recommended by a doctor for weight loss, dehydration or jaundice) can interfere with milk production.  It also sends a message to mom that she, or her breastmilk, isn’t good enough to feed her baby.
  • Offer to help the nursing mom with non-feeding tasks like diaper changing or putting the baby down for a nap.
  • Offer to shop or help around the house.
  • Offer to bring mom water or food while she is feeding the baby.  Mom needs to nourish herself as well!
  • Allow mom to sleep or take a break when she is not nursing.
  • Offer to attend a breastfeeding support group with mom.
  • Be mom’s cheerleader by offering words of encouragement.
  • Back her up if she meets resistance while feeding in public.  In the majority of states it is legal to breastfeed anywhere baby gets hungry.

Being supportive may also mean supporting mom’s decision to switch to formula.  However, if she is set on breastfeeding it’s important to respect that decision and help her make it work.

Make sure to talk to your pediatrician if you have any questions about feeding your newborn.

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