It doesn’t take a pandemic to keep grandparents from being able to help out after a new baby arrives. Work schedules, finances, geography, ill health—there are many reasons why you may not be able to be on the scene to support new parents. But there are still ways you can help! So far we've covered hiring a postpartum doula, sleep consultant and household help.
Today Katie Clark of The Breastfeeding Mama shares how breastfeeding support can help new mothers.
According to a UC Davis study, the vast majority of new moms report having trouble breastfeeding - around 92%. Through my own experience, the number one thing that helped when I was struggling to breastfeed my own children was support - especially from my own mother.
Breastfeeding and infant nutrition recommendations have changed over the years, and the prevalence of breastfeeding has increased as well. This may make it difficult for grandparents to know the best way to support their breastfed grandchild and his or her parents, especially if they aren’t familiar with breastfeeding.
To a new mom, just knowing she has someone in her corner cheering her on can make a bad day a little bit easier. Even if the new mom isn’t struggling with something specific, the early days of breastfeeding can be exhausting! Kind words go a long way.
How Can Grandparents Help?
First of all, be gentle - new moms have tons of hormones and emotions that are all over the place. Even if she’s doing something different than you did, try to be kind in your recommendations.
Be encouraging - simply having someone say, “I’m here for you” can make a world of difference. Saying something like, “Just give a bottle” or “Formula works just fine!” might not be the best approach. There may come a time when a mother needs to be told it’s okay to stop breastfeeding, but I would avoid jumping to that at the first sign of trouble. The vast majority of breastfeeding problems have solutions with the right support.
Encourage the new mom to take a breastfeeding class and attend with them if they need you to. Online breastfeeding classes are affordable, can be taken at home, and are a good resource for grandparents who want to be as helpful as possible.
Educate yourself - there’s so much information available on breastfeeding these days. My favorite website is KellyMom.com for up-to-date information on pretty much every topic related to breastfeeding. I also have many useful articles on my websites, The Breastfeeding Mama and Clarks Condensed. Breastfeeding Essentials is one of our mini classes that might be especially helpful for a grandparent.
Offer to find help - if you see a mother struggling, reaching out for help might be difficult for her. Being sleep deprived and overwhelmed, she might not even know where to start. Thankfully, there are a lot of lactation specialists available these days, so when you find you can’t offer the support you want, you can help direct a new mom in the right direction. It can be a little overwhelming to know exactly what each kind of lactation specialists does, so here is an overview of the three main categories:
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC, is the only breastfeeding specialist that is officially called a Lactation Consultant.
An IBCLC is the gold standard for breastfeeding care - especially when it comes to treating and solving complex issues. IBCLCs go through a very comprehensive training that includes 90 hours of lactation training, multiple college-level courses, and between 300-1000 hours of experience.
IBCLCs specialize in the clinical management of breastfeeding, and it is the only breastfeeding certification that is currently recognized as a medical profession.
Women who are struggling with latches, tongue ties, low milk supply, oversupply, recurrent clogged ducts or mastitis, and other complex issues can especially benefit from working with an IBCLC because they are able to do physical exams on both the mom and baby and work hand in hand with their pediatrician or OBGYN.
There are quite a few different certifications that you can get in the lactation field. While these can vary a little bit in scope of practice, for the most part, those who hold any of these certifications are ideal for helping to support and educate mothers with breastfeeding, solving basic issues, and directing mothers to medical professionals for more complicated issues.
Some of the best support a mom can get is from her peers! The following titles aren’t certificate programs, but they generally require between 18-50 hours of training. They are able to offer information, education, and friendship to mothers. They typically run local support groups.
I am a big advocate for support groups for new moms. There are typically in-person groups where a mom can get individualized help, talk with other moms, and often even do weighted feedings and make sure her baby is growing appropriately. These groups are run by various breastfeeding specialists, and they are typically free or inexpensive. I have seen them offered by individual breastfeeding specialists, health departments, local libraries, and even hospitals.
The La Leche League is probably one of the most well-known breastfeeding organizations around, and it can be a great place to start when looking for a support group and local breastfeeding support. You can find a local meeting here.
There are also tons of online breastfeeding support groups available. I have run “The Breastfeeding Mama Support Group” for many years, and it’s a resource I have grown that provides research-based information for new moms. We have had many grandmothers join over the years seeking help for their grandchild!
Be aware that not all online support groups are helpful. Many of them are filled with incorrect information, drama, and stress that a new mom does not need. I suggest joining one that has lots of rules in place, requires information to be research-based, and has a zero-drama policy.
How to Find the Right Lactation Expert
Just because someone has a certification doesn’t mean they are inherently the right fit for a breastfeeding mother. When searching for a lactation specialist, here are a few tips for finding one that can best help your grandchild and their mother:
When is the Best Time to Contact a Lactation Specialist
The best time is anytime! I would recommend looking up lactation specialists and support groups before they are needed, just so you don’t have to be running around trying to find help at the last minute. I think it’s so helpful for a new mom to be evaluated by a professional as soon as possible following birth.
However, any time a new mom or baby is struggling, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out. Small problems can get bigger fast, so at the first sign of trouble - get help!
It can be hard to know how to broach the subject of breastfeeding - especially when you see a mom struggling. If you feel she needs help, the best thing you can do is just ask something like, “It seems like you might be having a hard time. Please let me know if I can help you find support and what I can do” is a great place to start.
Offering a new mom support and a listening ear can be one of the greatest gifts you can give her. Whether you decide to learn all you can about breastfeeding or you just need some resources to point a new mom to, I hope that this article has pointed you in the right direction!
Katie Clark is a mother to three wonderful little boys, and a Certified Lactation Educator through CAPPA. She helps mothers through the trenches of breastfeeding and pregnancy on her website The Breastfeeding Mama, and shares articles for making family life just a little more enjoyable on Clarks Condensed.