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?
Whether or not you yourself have breastfed, you obviously want to do all you can to support your friend or family member who's become a new mum. If breastfeeding is something they’ve decided to do, your support does count. Here’s what you can do…
Try to offer your help
You can’t exactly join in with the breastfeeding but you could see whether she wants a nice warm cup of tea or a snack. You could go a step further and offer to bring her some lunch or dinner. You could even pop out to the shops for her.
While family members might like the idea of feeding the baby, there is generally no need for bottles when breastfeeding. That is unless mum and baby have to be apart and she has expressed her breastmilk. Formula feeds can reduce the amount of breastmilk produced and are likely to interfere with the benefits of breastfeeding (see our article About breastfeeding) (Fliesler, 2017).
Perhaps see whether the mum needs some space when breastfeeding
Plenty of women are happy to chat away as normal while they breastfeed but it’s best not to assume that’s the case with your friend or family member. Breastfeeding is a skill she’s trying to learn, so she might want to be on her own to build her confidence in it.
If you walk in on her breastfeeding, it’s worth asking what she’d prefer rather than trying to make a swift exit or pretending you hadn’t noticed.
On the other hand, if you do feel a bit awkward about the prospect of being there while the mum’s breastfeeding, you could sit next to her rather than opposite. That way, you might feel less like you’re looking straight at her breastfeeding.
Try to remind yourself that it’s nothing to feel embarrassed about – she’s only feeding her baby. And if she’s happy with you in the room, you can relax knowing that breastfeeding is becoming so normal to her that you can think of it like that too.
You could find breastfeeding friendly meeting places
If you’re going out to meet your friend or family member who’s breastfeeding, you could try to find a breastfeeding friendly meeting place. If your chosen spot isn’t breastfeeding friendly, you might not want to stick around.
There are some really welcoming places out there – here’s what happened to one mum in a breastfeeding friendly place:
“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.”
Try to think out any questions thoroughly
It’s a massive new mum thing – a whole load of questions are coming her way about sleep, feeding and who knows what. She’ll be glad you care but it’s best to keep the questions or stories that might make her worry unnecessarily to yourself. You could even google them later or ask someone who’s been there and done that years ago.
If you’re worried that your friend or family member is struggling with breastfeeding, you could gently suggest she talks to someone who knows all about it. Our infant feeding support line is open from 8am until 12am daily, with trained breastfeeding counsellors who will listen to and help her.
If you’ve breastfed before or just know the value of peer support…
It’s also great if you know the value of peer support, which in this case is women who are (or have been) breastfeeding supporting others who are trying to.
Women are more likely to plan to breastfeed their own babies and they’re less likely to stop in the first two weeks if they have friends who breastfed (Davis, 2016). So do try to open up and share your experience of breastfeeding with the new mum, warts and all.
Here’s what one mum’s friend said to her:
“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 hard, 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...”
Peer support is a massive help for encouraging long-term breastfeeding. If you haven’t breastfed but wonder if a new mum you know would like that kind of support, you could suggest they find a breastfeeding peer support group locally.
This page was last reviewed in October 2017.
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 support line 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.
Davis N. (2016) Low UK breastfeeding rates down to social pressures over routine and sleep. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/sep/09/low-uk-breastfeeding-rates-down-to-social-pressures-over-routine-and-sleep (accessed 28th January 2019)
Fliesler N. (2017) Breastfeeding protects against food allergy: we have evidence. Available at: https://vector.childrenshospital.org/2017/11/breast-milk-protects-food-allergy-evidence/ (accessed 28th January 2019)