Timing of Support for Breastfeeding Moms

August 25th, 2014 by Live Well Omaha Kids

by Lea Pounds, PhD, UNMC College of Public Health

A recent study conducted at UNMC included interviews with low-income mothers who were feeding breast milk exclusively and WIC peer counselors. The study showed that the timing of the support breastfeeding mothers receive plays a role in their ability to overcome breastfeeding barriers. Mothers in the study were asked about their experiences during the first week after birth in order to assess the type of support they received as they established breastfeeding with their infant. Support played a vital role because even experienced mothers were undergoing childbirth related changes that can affect mood and energy levels. These moms reported that they often felt emotionally, physically, and mentally overwhelmed in the first few days after baby’s birth.

The mothers talked about the importance of having support available during moments of acute need that happened most often during the first week after birth. All of the women mentioned varying levels of difficulty during that first week and all said that if they hadn’t had immediate support from family or friends they likely would have started to feed formula despite their intentions to breastfeed exclusively. All of the women described these moments of acute need as mentally and emotionally overwhelming.

One woman who is also a WIC breastfeeding peer counselor described the same feeling of being overwhelmed that other mothers did regardless of her training and experience. In this instance she was having trouble getting her baby to latch properly. As she and the infant grew more frustrated her husband stepped in, took the baby from her and asked her how she would counsel one of her breastfeeding moms. Then he took the baby into another room to give her a moment to collect her thoughts.

She said: I don’t know what I would have done if he had not been there. When he asked me what I would do if I were counseling one of my moms, I said I’d tell her to hand express and then I just cried with relief. Just having him there to take the baby and give me a minute to calm down and think made all the difference.

The WIC peer counselors described similar experiences among the mothers they counsel. If the mother had support immediately available to her during acute need, she was able to successfully resolve the problem and continue to breastfeed. They also said that if a mother was surrounded by influential others who tell her it’s okay to feed formula or that it’s enough that she tried breastfeeding then the mother will give up on breastfeeding more quickly.

The implications for breastfeeding advocates are two-fold. One is that new moms need trained lactation consultants available to them on demand in the hospital whether that is from having on-call CLCs on staff or having all nurses that work in maternity wards trained as lactation consultants. These are policy issues that breastfeeding advocates focused on improving hospital breastfeeding practices can work toward achieving. Having trained professionals available during times of acute need while mom and baby are in the hospital can be an important strategy to increase breastfeeding duration and exclusivity.

Another implication is that breastfeeding advocates need to find ways to educate those people surrounding breastfeeding moms so they are comfortable in helping resolve problems. This may mean teaching dads and other family members about strategies they can use to actively help the breastfeeding mom. For example helping mom assess baby’s latch or taking baby into another room so mom has a moment to calm herself when things aren’t going well. Training the people around the breastfeeding mom can empower them to be a more effective in supporting that mom. Dads and others that are supporting the breastfeeding mom can play a much more active role in helping resolve breastfeeding problems. Overcoming those problems successfully leads to confident moms that are more likely to breastfeed exclusively for longer periods of time.

Sharon is a guest blogger of a series of blogs Live Well Omaha Kids is sharing in honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Month. You can read more on the facts about breastfeeding, The Sacred Hour and skin to skin at www.reallyreally.org. – See more at: http://livewellomahakids.org/heart-to-heart/#sthash.DQeBuPgc.dpuf

Lea is a guest blogger of a series of blogs Live Well Omaha Kids is sharing in honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Month. You can read more on the facts about breastfeeding, The Sacred Hour and skin to skin at www.reallyreally.org.

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