By Holly Hurst
Breastfeeding can be one of the most beautiful relationships that we have with our infants. But anyone who’s been there can tell you that it is not without its challenges. Initiating breastfeeding or navigating the many twists and turns that relationship takes is more easily accomplished with the help of a village.
So how can you help?
Become a breastfeeding ally.
There’s no certification program or schooling that one needs to attend to become an ally. An ally is simply someone there to help and support in times of need. They actively listen and pool together resources in order to assist with making things better.
Personal experiences gained during your own breastfeeding relationship can be both informative and reassuring to women on their journey. It’s also helpful to remember that others find their own pathway by learning from their own experiences.
When your friends encounter obstacles, sharing what worked for you or didn’t can be helpful as she seeks out different options. She can then choose which strategies work best for her and her family.
So how do we offer that advice without making an already anxious mother feel overwhelmed? We’ve a simple strategy that will set you up to make you an even better breastfeeding ally.
1. Listen to their message
Listen carefully to their message. Are they venting and need emotional support? Are they looking for referrals or targeted information?
2. Ask a follow up question
Simple open-ended questions will often lead to important information being shared, and clarify what kind of information would benefit your friend.
“How does that make you feel?
“How does it feel when they latch?”
“Could you tell me more about that?”
These questions also signal that you are actively listening and can feel reassuring.
3. Affirm their feelings and validate their message
Let them know you hear them!
“That sounds really hard.”
“Your feelings of frustration are totally valid.”
“You’re right, it shouldn’t feel like that.”
“I hear you, it can cause anxiety to not know how much your baby is eating.”
It’s also helpful to normalize their feelings and let them know they aren’t the only ones who have felt like this or had this experience. It can be very reassuring and validating to know they aren’t alone and aren’t the first person who has been through this.
4. Offer possible options
Now it’s time to offer some possible options, and maybe solutions! With most breastfeeding obstacles, there is a lot of trouble shooting that goes into solving problems. Experienced women chatting allies will ask many questions to fully understand the situation prior to giving advice. This also gives your friend a chance to talk through the situation and clarify for themselves how to proceed.
Use curious non-judgmental language instead of directive language. Most people respond more positively to hearing, “I wonder if you have tried this idea,” instead of, “You should try this idea.”
No single strategy works for everyone. But sharing what worked for you or other evidence-based information can be very helpful!
5. When in doubt, refer to a professional
If your friend is still frustrated, not enjoying the breastfeeding relationship, or is unable to find a satisfying solution that works for them, now’s the time to refer them to an infant feeding specialist or lactation consultant.
Working directly with a breastfeeding professional can bring a lot of peace and significantly improve the infant feeding relationship. A professional will be able to observe a feed and counsel your friend on more specialized options available to help her and other strategies to try.
If your friend is feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and anxious about being a new parent they can also call Lifeline to talk it through. Lifeline is free, confidential, and anonymous and available 365 days a year from 10am-10pm (400821 1215 or WeChat ID: LifelineConnect).
Contributor Holly Hurst is a longtime breastfeeding ally, director of Doulas of Shanghai, and an infant feeding specialist.