Happy World Breastfeeding Week 2014! This year's theme is Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal - For Life, emphasizing the importance of increasing and sustaining the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding. For some moms, breastfeeding support is easy to find. They have seen it growing up or have been introduced to it through their circle of friends and family. But for other women who are not surrounded by any breastfeeding mothers -- and in fact, may have never seen anyone breastfeed in person -- the choice to breastfeed can feel like a radical decision.
In an environment like this, a new breastfeeding mama is paving a path -- not only her own path to motherhood, but an unfamiliar and perhaps unpopular path among all that she knows and sees. Being a trailblazer takes bravery and perserverance, and can feel lonely. Brianne, a mother of three who lives in a rural midwestern area, didn't know anyone who breastfed and had no support system when she gave birth to her first baby. "During my pregnancy, when I would talk about planning to breastfeed, most of my family made rude comments saying things like they thought it was 'gross'." Often times, people fear the things they don't understand and unfortunately, those feelings usually manifest in negative responses.
When Brianne had her first baby, she struggled with proper latch and postpartum depression. "I nursed, but supplemented a lot -- I never nursed in public and I felt like I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have." It wasn't until her second, and ultimately, third baby that Brianne felt more confidence in herself, her body, and breastfeeding. "When I became pregnant with [my third child], it was a given that I would breastfeed, but I also decided I would nurse in public with no shame." Brianne attributes much of her confidence building to the images, input, and support she found on social media, including breastfeeding mom blogs, parenting forums, and Instagram photos of moms nursing in public (NIP). "The Internet has helped me so much in being successful with breastfeeding -- I try to surround myself online with people who think like I do. I try to pay it forward by posting a lot about breastfeeding, too. I want other women in my circle who don't have the support system to know that they can come to me with questions."
So how can a new mother increase her chances for successful breastfeeding when she has little or no support or reinforcement? With a little forethought and peristance, your breastfeeding journey can be made a little smoother and you can find a supportive community.
Find virtual support. This one tops our list because, even though the support is "virtual," this is perhaps the easiest and most expansive support community to cultivate. Online breastfeeding and parenting support groups, forums, and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and blogs can be hugely helpful in making you feel like you aren't in the trenches alone.
Create a circle of in-person advocates. No breastfeeding advocates around you? Lead the way! Encourage your partner, a close friend, sister, mother, grandmother -- brother even -- to be part of your support and advocacy group. This may be difficult to do at first, but it's important you explain to them that you are about to embark on a beautiful and challenging journey and you're going to need the support of those closest to you. Tell them you'll help educate them along the way and let them know how they can best help you, including singing your praises to other family members and friends in your circle.
Take a class, bring a friend! Most local hospitals offer a breastfeeding class -- be sure to sign up, and ask your partner and a close friend or family member to come with you. Bring someone in your circle who will see you frequently after you give birth, and who you feel could benefit from understanding more about breastfeeding in order to support you. A childbirth or breastfeeding class is also a great opportunity to meet other local breastfeeding moms.
Attend a breastfeeding support group, even if you have to drive. If you're in a rural area, it's likely that the nearest large town or city will have a breasteeding support group, like La Leche League. Plan a day around attending a meeting -- you'll be surrounded by others who support and encourage breastfeeding, and who can provide you with answers to common questions and concerns.
Be prepared for misinformation. Sometimes, well-meaning friends or family will offer advice or question your decisions with outdated or inaccurate information. Especially for those who don't have experience with breastfeeding, the advice may not be appropriate. If you are presented with information that calls breastfeeding into question, consult your pediatrician, a lactation consultant, or reputable breastfeeding book or website.
Remember why you breastfeed. Even for moms who have lots of support from others, breastfeeding can sometimes feel like a lonely and long journey. Remind yourself why you chose to breastfeed (benefits, bonding, baby!), seek professional support when you need it, and know that you are doing a great job no matter what, mama!
Did you have to cultivate your own support for breastfeeding? What tips would you add?