This week, support is the theme of Breastfeeding Celebration Week
There’s so much to celebrate about breastfeeding, and for me one of the most special things is how much we can learn from each other as mothers.
Of course there is information everywhere, often far too much of it, and there are medical professionals to give technical support, check our babies’ health, and prescribe any treatments that are needed. But in my time as an LLL (La Leche League) Leader, I’ve noticed that passing on pure information is a tiny part of what we do. What brings mothers to our meetings, and turns them into loyal regulars, is the talking – the chance to share their strong feelings about their unique developing breastfeeding relationships.
The simplest of questions: “how do you know when your baby wants to nurse?”; “what surprised you most about breastfeeding?” can easily set off half an hour of discussion. Dazed new mothers with tiny newborns share their shock and wonder; seasoned mothers on their third child talk about how still, every day, there’s something new.
And of course mother to mother conversations like these provide a safe space for complaining. As one mother put it to me: “LLL meetings are the only place where I can sit and moan about breastfeeding without being instantly told to wean”. When a group starts from a safe shared understanding that breastfeeding matters, and a shared knowledge of its many joys, this gives a context that makes it acceptable to explore the lows, too.
The support of peers can also give a rich source of alternative methods and ways to approach breastfeeding-related problems. A mother suffering through a nursing strike can find a “standard list” of solutions online easily, but there’s a whole extra dimension when she can describe it to other mothers who are right there with her. She can show her child other busily nursing babies, and can talk about any mixed feelings she has – perhaps she’s wondering if this might be a chance to wean that she’ll later regret not having taken, or she might be wondering what effect this will have long term on their breastfeeding relationship. Finally, she might return to the next month’s meeting glowing with happiness as she and her baby are back in tune, all is well, and she has added to her stock of experiences to share with the next mother.
Support from medical and lactation professionals has a crucial place; in times of serious need, specialist help from a lactation consultant can be literally life-saving. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, reaching out to strangers on the internet can be enough to get through.
But for everything else, there’s mother to mother support. It’s embedded in its community, and forms a community of its own within that. Mothers come to LLL meetings nervous, uncertain, clutching newborns and wondering what to expect; sometimes they’re still with us years later, bringing all their successive children, perhaps becoming LLL Leaders themselves, or perhaps just carrying on the conversation, and passing on the support to new versions of themselves.
To recognise the importance of support, mothers are invited to share their photos and stories of support from their own “breastfeeding best friend” on social media, using the hashtag #bffriend17.
Post your own selfie with YOUR #bffriend17 on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!
You can find the findings from the WBTi assessment of mother support in the community in “Indicator 6” in our 2016 report
With further details on mother support in the community in Part 2
Helen Lloyd is a Leader with La Leche League GB, and fits in as much time supporting breastfeeding as she can around the needs of her own young children