Mothers feeding their babies

New mums need a lot of support in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding. What can friends and family do to support a mum who is breastfeeding?

Did you know?

  • Women are three times more likely to stop breastfeeding in the first two weeks if none of their friends breastfeed.
  • Almost 90% of women with friends who breastfed their children also planned to breastfeed their own babies. Where women didn't have friends who breastfed, the percentage was reduced to 51%.

'I was having a very bad day and a friend came up to me, put her arms around me, and told me that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and that I was doing a fabulous job... Prior to that no one had told me that parenthood was hard, I believed it would all come naturally...'

Grandparents and other family members may like the idea of feeding the baby. Mums can express breastmilk to feed the baby if they have to be apart, for instance if they are going back to work. However, it is important to know that introducing bottles of formula milk to a breastfed baby reduces the amount of breastmilk (see article 'About breastfeeding') their mum makes. It also reduces the health benefits of breastfeeding, especially if there is a history of allergies, eczema or asthma in the family. There is no need for babies to have bottles if a mum wants to continue breastfeeding for at least the first year. Babies can start using a beaker for water when they start taking solid foods.

Lots of new mums will share their experiences with other mums that they meet with their new baby. But old friends are just as important and if you are supportive of breastfeeding you will help her immensely.

If you've breastfed yourself, it may be useful to share your experience with your friend. If you do not have children or did not breastfeed yourself, you may feel awkward and lacking in knowledge or experience to support a friend who has just had a baby and is starting to breastfeed. But remember that she is just feeding her baby, so you don't need to feel any more awkward than if she was feeding her baby with a bottle.

What can you do?

  • Don't be embarrassed if she is feeding in front of you - remember she is feeding her baby - you wouldn't be embarrassed if she had a bottle of formula in her hand.
  • If you walk into the room and discover she is breastfeeding, don't try to escape and pretend you hadn't noticed - ask her if she is happy with you in the room.
  • If she would prefer to be on her own, remember that she is learning a new skill and needs to build her confidence.
  • Sit next to her, rather than opposite her - that way you don't have to 'avoid'  looking at her while she is feeding, but can still have eye contact while talking.
  • Don't assume that she will want to be alone/in private to feed her baby - most women hate being locked away on their own - she will probably want to chat and talk to you as normal.
  • Offer to help, by making her more comfortable or getting her a drink.
  • Try not to ask questions like 'how do you know whether the baby is getting enough milk?' - she may start doubting herself and worry unnecessarily.
  • Don't ask when she is going to give up breastfeeding and 'regain her body' - support her in her decision to breastfeed for as long as she wants to.
  • Help out your friend by bringing lunch/dinner when you visit her or offering to pop out to the shops for her.
  • If you are going out together, then check beforehand whether the place you intend to go to is breastfeeding friendly. If it isn't then go somewhere else.

"Don't recount horror stories that you have heard from other people. If she tells you she is struggling, then gently suggest that she seeks help."

Our breastfeeding line is open 8am-10pm with trained breastfeeding counsellors who will listen to her and help her.

'When I was breastfeeding my daughter, we went to a café/restaurant for lunch and I fed her at the table, quite undisturbed. When we were leaving, the owner came up to me and said, ''I'm really pleased that you felt comfortable about feeding your baby in my restaurant" which I found really supportive.'

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.

Healthtalkonline.org- comprehensive library of face-to-face interviews where parents share their experiences about breastfeeding, birth, parenting and many other issues:

The NHS has information on breastfeeding in public.

Best Beginnings Bump to Breastfeeding (watch video clips online).

The Breastfeeding Welcome Scheme aims to champion the support given to breastfeeding mothers.

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