Breastfeeding Awareness Month: Here is how families can support breastfeeding mothers
August marks World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and in the first week from 1st to 7th, the World Breastfeeding Week. This month seeks to advocate, protect and support breastfeeding by women globally. This annual awareness is organized by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). Breastfeeding is promoted because it provides babies with a healthy start to life. Some of the health benefits of breastfeeding include improving the baby’s immunity, creating a chance to bond with the baby as well as a convenient and affordable way to feed the baby.
This year’s theme is ‘Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding’. Initiating and promoting breastfeeding is not a preserve of the nurse or doula alone. It does take a village to assist mothers start and continue breastfeeding. Part of this village constitutes the family. To empower parents and enable breastfeeding, here is how families can support breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a family affair
For a long time, breastfeeding has always been thought to be an act solely between the mother and her baby. To say that breastfeeding is a family affair sounds like a paradox. Research shows, however, that the whole family can and should get involved in breastfeeding if these goals are to be achieved globally.
While it is true that only mothers can physically nurse their babies, the ability to breastfeed well largely depends on the support that the breastfeeding other gets from those around her. This support system typically consists of the mother’s partner, immediate (and sometimes extended) family and friends. It is well known that this support has a direct bearing on the period of time that a mother will breastfeed her child. Additionally, this support also impacts the quality of breastfeeding. That is why, in line with this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, families play a crucial role in empowering parents and enabling breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding improves the bond between the baby, mother and the family
It is often said that breastfeeding improves the bond between the baby and the mother, but how exactly does this work? Studies have shown that each time a mother breastfeeds or expresses milk, her body produces a hormone known as oxytocin. This hormone is known to aid in creating the bond, not just between the baby and the mother, but with other people as well. For nursing mothers, this has a key role as it helps her feel closer to her child.
For partners, just because they are not physically breastfeeding does not mean that they miss out on the opportunity to bond with the baby. In fact, research has shown that during pregnancy, men also experience hormonal changes in their bodies. This change is not as significant as that in the woman’s body, but it causes an increase in the levels of oxytocin, particularly as the woman nears the end of her pregnancy and prepares to give birth. Men who are actively present in the baby’s life will often interact with the baby, thus creating the bond between couples.
When a breastfeeding woman receives this kind of support when nursing, she is likely to continue despite some of the challenges she may face. A recent research done showed that overall, mothers re more receptive to breastfeeding when they feel supported by their partners, as well as when partners are actively involved. Let us look at some of the practical ways in which families can get involved to ensure that parents are empowered in their breastfeeding journey.
Practical ways for how families can support breastfeeding
Get information about breastfeeding
This is particularly important for partners. Getting information on breastfeeding allows partners to be aware of the changes the new mother is going through. Just because breastfeeding is natural, does not mean it comes ‘automatically’ to the mother. Learn all that you can bout breastfeeding is incredibly helpful for a successful breastfeeding experience. One of the ways in which Tunza Mama cares for breastfeeding mothers and families is through its Postnatal Nursing Care service where caregivers provide assistance for new mothers in their nursing experience (link).
Get actively involved in caring for the baby
Breastfeeding can be exhausting, especially in the first few months after birth. Actively caring for the baby involves taking up some of the things that the new mother is tasked with doing. One of the most basic tasks is that of changing the baby’s diapers/nappies. Newborns have approximately 12 feeds in every 24-hour period, and with these feedings, numerous diaper changes. Partners and families can help with changing diapers so that the mother has a break from caring for the baby all through. During this break, she can nap, rest or simply have an uninterrupted bath.
In addition to changing diapers, families can also take time to bond with the baby. Whenever possible, skin-to-skin contact is encouraged because it allows for baby’s development. Whether this means bathing the baby, burping them or simply soothing the baby to sleep, there are countless opportunities to bond with the baby and help the breastfeeding mother.
For the extended family as is the case in many communities across Kenya, some of the ways to help may include babysitting so that the mother gets some time to rest, helping with expressing milk or even assisting at the clinic visits. Family can also be of help as far as limiting the number of visitors is concerned. New moms require time to rest and recuperate after childbirth. Helping to restrict visitors provides much needed space for recovery.
Take up feeding sessions
For mothers who express milk, as well as for babies who take to the bottle, it is easier for their families to take up feeding sessions and share responsibility. Family members will often enjoy feeding the baby from a bottle as this also provides them with a chance to bond with the baby.
It also helps when partners get up at night together with the breastfeeding mother. Some simple yet profound ways to help may include offering company as she nurses, propping a pillow behind her back or even simply helping to burp the baby after night feeding sessions.
Take up house chores
Breastfeeding is the only task that a mother must do alone. Other house chores may be picked up by the rest of the family. These will often include cooking, cleaning dishes, laundry and getting groceries. Cooking healthy nutrient-dense meals is also helpful for moms as it aids in milk production.
Older siblings should also be involved in supporting the breastfeeding experience, particularly when they are assigned roles that are age-specific. Such tasks include singing to the baby, playing with the baby, cleaning the house, taking out the trash and making the bed among other tasks.
For partners, keeping the relationship alive
In addition to families supporting breastfeeding, it is important that partners acknowledge the relationship too. With all the work that goes into taking care of a baby, it is easy for the mother to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. If this is not checked, it easily causes the relationship to fizzle. It helps to create open communication channels. This way, if either the mother or the partner is struggling, there’s less isolation. What’s more, when tasks and the responsibilities of caring for the baby are shared, breastfeeding allows parents and families to be closer to each other.
All of this month, Tunza Mama will be sharing relevant articles on breastfeeding to mark Breastfeeding Awareness Month 2019. Note too, that Tunza Mama offers different services for those planning to have a baby, pregnant women and new mothers to ease their transition. Tunza Mama caregivers are trained to help ensure that these women have safe and successful deliveries. Contact us for more information on the different packages available on 0709 256 200.