How Do You Support Moms Who Struggle With Breastfeeding?

A hilarious quiz in Tina Fey’s new book, Bossypants, made me think about the difference between support and pressure when it comes to breastfeeding.  Nursing is hard work, especially in those early days, and new moms need encouragement, meals and commiseration.  (And humor.  They might need a copy of Tina’s book, or just a glance at the photo to the right.)

My best strategy for supporting new breastfeeding moms is to let them know that the really hard part comes right at first in those grueling early weeks.  It does get easier month by month, and more precious as babies start to become toddlers and those moments of snuggling start to disappear.

I also candidly share that I often totally felt exhausted and frustrated by nursing early on. New breastfeeding moms can feel physically chained to an infant and then have secondary feelings of guilt that they aren’t enjoying nursing.  It’s a relief to know that lots of breastfeeding women feel that way at some point.

What happens when we provide all of that support and advice and a few of our friends decide to switch to formula anyway?

Hopefully, we veer far, far away from pitying their child, loading them up with guilt, or reflecting on how great our breastfeeding experience was. Hopefully we let them know that they don’t have to make a hard and fast choice–that it’s possible to part breastfeeding and part formula and alter that ratio in whatever way works for mom and baby. And if they do switch exclusively to formula, we respect their choice.

What do you do to support new moms in their breastfeeding efforts?  What was helpful (or unhelpful) to you in those early days?


  1. Wow – I’m kindof bummed that no one has commented yet. I’m a first time mom and am now in my eighth month of breastfeeding. In the beginning, I thought I’d only make it through the first six weeks. I had no support at all from family or friends and I struggled! I wish someone had told me how much easier it would get after those first couple of months. Now, there’s no way I’d switch to buying formula, mixing formula, filling and washing bottles! If I encounter a new mom who is struggling with it like I did, I will tell her all about how much easier it got for me around month 3 – how I never have to worry about packing a bottle if I go out of the house – how I have one less chore to do since there are no bottles to wash – and how I got so much more rest once I started bringing the baby into the bed to side-lie nurse him (and snooze while he nursed!) for those middle of the night and early morning feedings!

  2. My first month of BFing was so hard. I had great support, but it was still exhausting and painful.

    I was so appreciative when friends brought our family dinner, when my husband brought me a glass of water, when some women from my birth class got together to sit around and nurse. Nursing can make long lonely days in the beginning.

    I was also fortunate to have a neighbor who was a Le Leche League leader who can over several times and helped me with the latch, assured me I wouldn’t be engorged forever, etc. I also had a Lactation Consultant help me through the Birth Center I used.

    I had a breast reduction 8 years ago, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to nurse at all. We do have to supplement our little guy with formula, which I don’t really like, but his health is most important. I’m so grateful for the support I received in the beginning and still now that he’s 4 months old. There were many days that I was doubting my supply and my ability to feed him and in that moment I wanted to give up. But my husband reminded me how important Breastfeeding is to me. I’m hoping to be able to continue for a long time. 🙂

  3. Lots of encouragement and know-how was great for me. My neighbor and sister-in-law were happy to buy me cold cabbage leaves to put on my engorged breasts and grab my boob and squash it to shove it into the baby’s mouth to help get the right latch. I think it does help to know it gets easier, and IS easier (usually) than bottle-feeding. My sister-in-law also told me to watch suspenseful movies during those long night nursings in the first weeks, so that I’d be EXCITED when the baby woke up at night so I could keep watching the movie. I did that until I figured out how to nurse in bed (and in my sleep). I appreciated it all — tips, advice from personal experience, hands-on help.

    I like to take new moms food. I loved being brought meals after a baby. I don’t know if this really helps BFing specifically, but it’s wonderful to be brought yummy food.

  4. Like your other responders, I often share my experience of struggling at the beginning. I also share this website and some others that I’ve found that really helped me (specifically, The Truth About Breastfeeding).

    While I acknowledge that breastmilk is the best food for a baby, I make it clear that I will support any decision they make. And that what METHOD is best for one family isn’t best for all. And that sometimes you might have to pump (I did) – for the duration or for a bit to heal – or use formula, or whatever. At the end of the day what matters is that you are ALL happy and healthy.

    It is so hard to find a balance on this issue. Because, truthfully, it is so hard that unless you are really committed to it, you’ll probably give up on it in the first few weeks. But, at the same time, it is easier to keep going if you know it is hard, that others have struggled, and that it will get better. Those two sentiments seem to contradict each other, but somehow they don’t.

  5. I had hard first days, but now it is already we have 2 month and I steel feed baby with breast and I love it. for me the most helpful was that my family supported me by taking care of home jobs and making a dinner for me and taking sometimes baby when he cried.

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