Real support for breastfeeding parents

Andrea Syms-Brown is an IBCLC, a board-certified lactation consultant, that practices breastfeeding support in New York City and globally. Andrea is an IBCLC, which is a board-certified lactation consultant. She joined us to talk about how we can better support new mothers and parents in achieving their breastfeeding goals.  So what do new mothers really need?

Watch this video for the full conversation or scroll down and keep reading for highlights. And to find out more about Andrea’s lactation support, visit her website here.

How do we support individuals who are trying to breastfeed?

Other parents: It is important for families who are already breastfeeding their babies to discuss these issues with their friends who are pregnant. Most times mothers say to me, I have no idea that this is how this would be. It’s important for us as women to share the reality of what the experience of mothering is. 

Healthcare providers: It is important for families to be educated in breastfeeding information prior to giving birth. And it really does start with healthcare providers.  Ask the midwife or OB you’re seeing for prenatal care to examine your breasts and explain to you and show you the changes that should occur. There are three changes that should occur when you plan to breastfeed: 1) your breast should get larger and wider across the front, 2) Your areola should get larger as well and 3) your areola should get darker. If we’re not seeing those three changes, it could be a red flag that you may not be able to breastfeed as successfully. But it does not mean that you will not be able to breastfeed your child so education is key. 

So what are the most common barriers that you see for women who struggle with breastfeeding?

Nipple pain. Mothers are not necessarily educated me on the proper latch. A baby’s mouth should actually cover the areola. And people often say to me, I thought it was just supposed to be my nipple. Well, sucking just the nipple creates nipple damage. We want the baby to get that areola in the baby’s mouth. That’s the number one thing. 

Of course, there are so many barriers from the time you give birth. We establish breastfeeding ideally within an hour being born, but that’s not always possible so having a plan in place is key.

Sign up for a prenatal breastfeeding workshop. There is no reason not to have that understanding of what needs to happen when your baby is born. And certainly, if you’ve had breast surgery for any reason, your baby is coming into the world and needs to eat and your body will step up to that moment and do what it needs to do. The hard part is getting there so having support once your baby comes is key.

What kind of support should parents be asking for? And who should they be asking for?

There are organizations, like the Leche League, that are there to help, but it starts with you having that chat with your pediatrician, your obstetrician, your midwife, because they can direct you to good quality providers. 

For women who are breastfeeding and returning to work, what kind of concessions should they ask for from their employers or from their partners or from whoever else?

Oh, that’s a big one. I fully believe that we can do everything as women. We can do anything and we can do everything, but we do need help. If you plan to breastfeed, the minute you’re pregnant, go into HR and find out what support is available. 

If you work in a company that does not allow or doesn’t have that kind of support, seek it out, go to the boss and say, where do I pump for the next three months or six weeks? There must be a space, even if it is a room divider. The laws need to help us and help families do better. We can do this. It just takes a little more energy that you might have so families need more support.

Plan for support: Register for services, don’t register for stuff because that baby is not going to be naked. I promise you, people are going to help you pay for a doula, help you pay for an IBCLC, help you pay for the dog walker. And they’ll still send a gift in the mail. So register for services. And there are services that are willing to work with families who have less money, but all mothers from all walks of life need this kind of support and assistance or intervention. You know, it takes a village.

So what can society do because we’re not in villages anymore? We have community. 

Laws for breastfeeding in public or nursing have to be addressed. Right now in the US, you have the right as a breastfeeding family to nurse your baby wherever you want to but members of the public need to be supportive. When we see a woman being harassed for breastfeeding her child at a restaurant or on the subway or on the bus to step in because it’s a very vulnerable act. 

Imagine you’re a mother and you’re trying to feed your child in public and people are coming at you. It’s not fair for a child to be crying and crying because mom feels uncomfortable or unsafe nursing her child in public. It begins with us. It begins with every single individual walking around. Be that person to protect that family and it radiates from there.

What about support from other parents without judgement? We see a lot of judgement in the fed is best vs. breast is best discussions.

I don’t believe that fed is best. I don’t believe that breast is best. I believe support is best because whether you choose to breastfeed your child, whether you have no choice, but to breastfeed your child because of religious issues or familial issues or cultural issues, and including those families who choose to use formula or who don’t have an easy time breastfeeding and choose the pump and breast and bottle feed, you’re still a parent. 

It’s not just how you feed your child. It’s the support of raising a human being that we want to be a good person, compassionate, loving, supportive of the people around them. Don’t beat yourself up, manage your expectations. You know, when I say, manage your expectations, go into the act of family, raising and understand that if you choose to breastfeed that, and you’re having any difficulties, we have like eight kinds of eight levels of lactation support. 

You may also enjoy these blog posts on lactation support and nursing:

How do I find a lactation consultant near me? (And why you need one)

Breastfeeding and pumping 101

Tips for returning to work after maternity leave