Why support a breastfeeding mother?

Breastfeeding is the recommended form of baby feeding. It provides optimal nutrition and protects newborns from disease. The evidence shows that breastfed babies enjoy better health outcomes than babies who are fed with alternative foodstuffs, such as formula. For mothers, too, breastfeeding can have important health benefits.

That said, keep in mind that it is ultimately the mother's choice whether to breastfeed and when to stop.

Breastfeeding is a natural act, practiced for over 200 million years by all mammals. However, it is also a learned skill. Problems with breastfeeding are common. Your support of a breastfeeding mother can mean a lot to a successful breastfeeding process.

Who supports a breastfeeding mother?

Traditionally, pregnancy, birth and baby care were viewed as primarily 'women's business', with little male involvement. Experienced mothers and doulas would have a major role in guiding and supporting a new mother. [1]

In current Western society, this situation has now changed; new mothers will rely on their partners for much of the support they need. Other sources of support can include family, friends, local mothers' networks and healthcare professionals.

Your partner can provide emotional support with breastfeeding. 

1. Shaker, I., Scott, J.A. and Reid, M. (2004) Infant feeding attitudes of expectant parents: breastfeeding and formula feeding. Journal of Advanced Nursing 45:260–268.

How to support a breastfeeding mother?

  • You can prepare yourself for breastfeeding by learning about the topic, planning any lifestyle changes you choose to make and arranging support and guidance. Learn about common breastfeeding problems and their treatments. These steps could save you time and effort in the busy time just after birth.
  • Different people can have very different expectations about breastfeeding. Discuss breastfeeding with the expecting mother beforehand, so you can be on the same page.
  • What you say matters - research shows that a woman's family or close friends' attitude toward breastfeeding is crucial to a woman's decision. This is especially true for partners. [2] [3]
  • Take care not to let your support turn into pressure, especially if your partner is finding breastfeeding hard.
  • Be positive! Your words have an actual physical effect: a well-meaning concerned question such as "are you sure you have enough milk?" can interfere with milk production and the let-down reflex. Saying things like "you two look so cozy together!" will increase the chance and ease of breastfeeding.
  • Make sure there is a space in the house that the mother will feel comfortable to breastfeed in without being worried about unwanted interruptions and stares. A calm mother feeds better.
  • Your partner needs plenty to eat and drink in order to keep up her strength, recover from birth and provide nutrition to a hungry infant. Keep the food and water coming. Make sure there is always a water bottle on hand, especially during hot weather.
  • Provide assistance: you can bring the baby to mum, take baby back, clean and bathe, change nappies, or burp the baby after a feed. Anything that will ease the load on the mum. This is especially helpful during night-time.
  • If breastfeeding is proving difficult despite professional help, you can support the new mother by bottle-feeding the baby with the breastmilk she expresses.
  • Breastfeeding is an intense emotional bond between mother and child, especially during early days. If you feel 'left out', try not to force yourself on the situation or express negative feelings. Seek opportunities to spend time with the baby and let the mother rest for short periods. Use these times to start forming an emotional and physical bond with the baby.
  • If you are the father, the first period of breastfeeding might be unnerving at first. Many new dads have never seen a woman breastfeeding before, and this new thing your partner's breasts do can take some getting used to. 

Let-down reflex

The release of milk from the nipple during breastfeeding, in response to sucking at the breast or other similar stimuli. The reflex is mediated by release of two hormones into the bloodstream - one hormone (prolactin) acts on the milk-making tissues and the other (oxytocin) causes the breast to release the milk.

2. Scott, J.A., Landers, M.C., Hughes, R.M., et al. (2001) Factors associated with breastfeeding at discharge and duration of breastfeeding. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 37:254–261.

3. Arora, S., McJunkin, C., Wehrer, J., et al. (2000) Major factors influencing breastfeeding rates: mother’s perception of father’s attitude and milk supply. Pediatrics 106:e67–e67.