Doing the Very Breast for your Baby

When families aren't supportive of breastfeeding


Kayla's looking for breastfeeding support weeks before her baby is born. Smart girl. Her family's not into the idea and is filling her head with doubt that she should even give breastfeeding a try. Kayla says, "They think it's too hard; their attitudes toward breast feeding are mostly negative and they think I won't be able to do it because of the mental obstacles." It sounds like the mental obstacles will primarily be the ones your family presents, Kayla. That's a tough way to start out with a new baby. Good for you for going with your gut. I'm proud of you. It's not easy to buck the family but this baby is the most important family member you have now. He or she comes first.

It's hard to believe in this day and age there are still people out there who doubt the benefits of breastfeeding. It's also hard to believe that so many people think ranting their negative experiences or opinions is more valuable than unadulterated support. You're going to get lots of advice from clueless people who had a lousy time with breastfeeding, labor, epidurals, and even parenting in general and they're going to "tell you like it is." Why? Probably to give their own failures and ignorance more weight than they deserve. It makes them feel better about themselves. It's a sad fact of pregnancy: lots and lots of unwanted advice, nagging and far too much negativity.

Kayla, you're a brave girl and an excellent mother already to plan on breastfeeding despite your family's negativity. You are absolutely in the right here. Let's make this clear: Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. Unless you have a physical or emotional reason why you can't breastfeed (breast reduction surgery, medications that pass through the breast milk, history of sexual abuse, etc...) you should make every attempt at exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of your baby's life and continue through the first year. That's the minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization are all over this. There is no better source of nutrition for babies than breast milk. It's also perfect for bonding—all that snuggly nursing combined with the natural release of oxytocin (the love hormone) while breastfeeding makes for a strong mother-baby attachment.

Bottle feeding has its place. If milk supply isn't enough for baby's caloric needs (on your pediatrician's or breastfeeding specialists recommendation), a little supplemental formula (given with a feeding tube at the breast) bumps up baby's intake while Mom continues breastfeeding. When baby's a little older and you want to go out for the evening but haven't pumped enough to leave a bottle, formula is fine. If you just plain hate breastfeeding, you've consulted with a lactation specialist and you still think it sucks (pardon the pun)—OK. You tried. Personally, I breastfed all my babies for way over the recommended year—except for my youngest. When she was only three-months-old, I got seriously sick, had lots of surgeries and tons of nasty medications. I had to wean the baby suddenly and formula became a lifesaver. I was stunned, however, at the expense. Sure, bottle-feeding is snuggly too but it's not the same as breastfeeding. Not even close.

So what to do about the family? Educate them. Go online and pull up some facts about the benefits of breastfeeding. Print out multiple copies and whenever someone blurts out why you shouldn't try—hand them one. Tell them you expect their support and if they can't give it—keep their mouth shut. This is your baby—not theirs. This will be just one of the many occasions where you'll do what you feel is best (and you've got the entire medical community backing you up on this one) for your child even though your family disagrees. It often seems that ignorance speaks louder than common sense and this is a perfect example.

So what do you do for personal support? Educate yourself by reading, taking breastfeeding classes and full advantage of all available lactation support your hospital, doctor or midwife has to offer. Search out a licensed lactation consultant in your area (your doctor or midwife should have referrals) for additional help. Log on to the La Leche League website and find out about breastfeeding support groups in your area. Then stick to your guns and prove the family wrong. If you're the first in your family to successfully breastfeed, you can pass this legacy on to other women in your clan and turn the tides. You know it's the right thing to do for your baby even if your family doesn't.