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How to be a Supportive Community for Those Who Breastfeed

by Laura Wilson, RN, BSN, IBCLC | July 12, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Laura Wilson is a lactation consultant in the Family Birth Center at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital (Photo/Dom O'Halloran).

Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful, empowering journeys a mother can choose to embark on with her baby. This doesn’t discount the fact that, for many moms, this process is one of the most challenging components of the early days of motherhood. In these days, weeks and months following the birth of a new baby, the women a breastfeeding mother encounters have the potential to impact her experience.

Supporting a breastfeeding mother and her baby not only elevates them in the moment but has implications for future personal health, the health of the community and beyond. In support of the breastfeeding mom, research gives evidence that she has a decreased risk of ovarian and breast cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In regards to the baby, breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, leukemia, obesity, upper respiratory infections and gastrointestinal disturbances, and also promotes good dental health and healthy brain development. Beyond mom and baby, the health benefits of breastfeeding reduce absenteeism at work, decrease the risk of infant hospitalizations by 50% or more and could save over $3 billion each year in the U.S., according to a 2010 study by Melissa Bartick and Arnold Reinhold.

How can each of us as grandmothers, friends and coworkers support and empower one another in our families, friendships, churches, workplace and communities?

The role of a grandmother is instrumental in assisting a mom in achieving her breastfeeding goals. Regardless of how a grandmother fed her own children, she is essential and has valued input. Education is a vital component; a grandmother would be welcomed into a breastfeeding class. Family members are her advocate, giving support and encouragement. Grandmothers are a resource: aware of who a breastfeeding mother can call should the need arise for assistance. Within a grandmother’s home, create a safe, welcoming, positive breastfeeding environment. In addition, offering meals, sitting with the baby while the mom takes a shower or nap, and running interference on calls and visitors are helpful measures.

A friend is an integral part of a breastfeeding mom’s support system. An important role is to simply be available, including checking in and genuinely asking how they are adjusting. When in public, a friend can offer to meet in breastfeeding-friendly locations and help to encourage her best version of comfortable. A friend should be aware of breastfeeding rooms, should she desire a quiet location while in public. Additionally, if a friend has experience with breastfeeding, they should be available if she seeks advice.

World Breastfeeding Week

The week of Aug. 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week. This year's theme is “Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a Difference for Working Parents.” We emphatically need to strive to make the workplace a breastfeeding-friendly environment for our employees, friends and coworkers. In April 2023, the PUMP Act expanded the rights of a mother to allow adequate time to express breast milk for her nursing child. According to the Office on Women’s Health, women with children are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Greater satisfaction and retention are established by taking the initiative and creating a safe breastfeeding atmosphere not only with a deliberate, beneficial, physical space, but also a positive breastfeeding climate.

Regardless of your relationship or role you have in this process or where you encounter a breastfeeding mom, you have the opportunity to have an empathetic and positive experience impacting a mom, baby and community.

Laura Wilson, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant in the Family Birth Center at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. As a certified health professional who specializes in breastfeeding issues, she is happy to assist mothers with questions about breastfeeding. Moms are welcome to call St. Mary’s Hospital at 573-681-3399 or email [email protected].


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