What Not to Do if Your Friend is Struggling to Breastfeed
#2. Tell her to try harder.
If you’ve struggled to breastfeed, then you’ve heard it all.
Everyone has an opinion about your body and your baby, and how if you just tried, or just relaxed, or just did it more or less or not at all, then your problems would melt away. The truth is, the first months after giving birth are often exhausting, lonely, and filled with anxiety.
Whether you’re a friend, family member, or even a partner (who’s not sure your role here, because you’re not the one making milk), there are things you’ll want to avoid saying. But good news: There are also lots of ways you can be supportive.
Here are the worst things people say to those struggling to breastfeed:
1. “It’s supposed to be easy.”
Yeah, well, it’s not easy. Even if it was easy for someone else, this parent is struggling, and telling them breastfeeding is easy causes shame and isolation.
2. “You need to try harder.”
This one acknowledges it’s hard, but still puts the blame on the nursing parent. Trying to function on no sleep with intense hormones, this is likely the single hardest thing they’ve ever done.
3. “You need to relax.”
Somehow try hard and relax at the same time? Yes, relaxing is good for milk production, but telling someone to relax does not relax them.
4. “Your baby looks really small.”
If breastfeeding is a struggle, the biggest fear is that baby isn’t getting enough milk. New parents are definitely monitoring this. Babies are all different sizes, and your unprofessional opinion is not helpful.
5. “You’re nursing too much.”
Babies are at the breast a lot at the beginning. Sometimes part of the struggle is how others don’t understand why you’re nursing again.
6. “It’s SO IMPORTANT to breastfeed!”
Really? I’ve never heard that before. Nursing parents put in this amazing amount of time and energy because they already understand that breastmilk is incredible.
7. “What’s the big deal? Just quit.”
Breastfeeding decisions are up to the nursing parent, with the help of professionals, and they’re not for you to decide or to minimize. When my mom mailed me formula, I felt angry and alone, but when a lactation consultant told me I’d made a superhuman effort but it was time to add donor milk, I felt appreciated and relieved.
Ways to Actually Support Your Breastfeeding Friend:
- Provide food and water, right where they’re most comfortable nursing.
- Gift a Boppy nursing pillow or some nipple balm.
- Do the dishes and walk the dog, so they can concentrate on the baby.
- Say, “You are amazing.” Tell them you’re sorry it’s hard, that you see and appreciate how much love and energy they’re giving to their baby.
- Ask if they’d like company or privacy while they nurse.
- Ask how they’re feeling. Make it clear you really want to listen.
- If they have unanswered questions, offer to call a lactation consultant to make an appointment for them; or refer them to KellyMom, a website full of reliable, evidence-based information on breastfeeding, run by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
Post-partum can be such a difficult time, but no one needs to struggle alone.
I personally struggled with breastfeeding, but my friends saved me. Here’s my story: