There are huge benefits to breastfeeding, both for mum and baby, and those benefits to your baby can last through to adulthood. Breastmilk is the perfect food – it’s full of the nutrients a growing baby needs, adapts as your child grows, helps protect from infections and builds bonds – and because it is produced freely on a supply/demand basis, your baby can get what they need, as they need it. . So breastfeeding is important – but it’s not easy. Each mother has different things they may struggle with, and that’s where the support of those around them can play a significant role in establishing a successful breastfeeding routine. It’s also important to remember that for both mother and baby, breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learned – having some discomfort or difficulty at the beginning is very common, and having that support can make a huge difference.
First up is the professional support available to mums. In those early days, your Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) is the perfect source of knowledge and advice – they know you and your circumstances, and they’re able to see both mum and baby and the progress they’re making. In the first six weeks after your baby is born, your midwife will be able to help you learn the fundamentals of breastfeeding, including getting a good latch, and guide you as you learn how to achieve this. If you give birth in a hospital, the duty midwives are also well-equipped to help you while you’re still there.
Of course, sometimes an issue might not become noticeable until after your time with your midwife has ended. If you’ve already enrolled with a Well Child Tamariki Ora provider (e.g. Plunket), your nurse can either help you with breastfeeding, or refer you to a publicly-funded breastfeeding service for help if needed. This makes them an excellent first port of call.
There are various other options as well as your midwife/other LMC/Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse. The La Leche League is a community-based volunteer service, running meetings (online and in person!), as well as providing useful information on their website to help parents with breastfeeding. Help is provided by parents who have been trained by La Leche League NZ (LLLNZ) and accredited by LLL International. In addition, LLLNZ is supported by a Professional Advisory Group consisting of professionals who have a commitment to breastfeeding, including GPs, Paediatricians, and Obstetricians. LLLNZ meetings allow you to speak with a trained LLL Leader, as well as other mothers who may be in the same boat as you.
There are also private Lactation Consultants available if that’s a path you might feel you’d prefer to go down. The NZ Lactation Consultants Association (NZLCA) is the professional association in NZ for International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). Through their website, you can find Lactation Consultants near you or who are able to do online consultations (and you can very handily filter by region!). Choosing to go the private route will cost money, but an LC is a specialist who can work with you, your baby, and your unique circumstances to figure out a path towards comfortable breastfeeding that will work for you and your baby.
PlunketLine is a free service for parenting help, available to everyone in New Zealand – it is not a requirement that you be a Plunket client to make use of this service. The line is run by Plunket nurses who can give advice, and they have nurses who can speak a variety of languages. They can also help if you can’t access a lactation consultant – give them a call, and they’ll be able to do an assessment over the phone then book an online appointment with one of their own IBCLCs.
Maybe you need support, but in a more theoretical way, rather than visiting someone in person or online. Baby Friendly Aotearoa (NZBA) is funded by the Ministry of Health and aims to “promote, protect and support breastfeeding”. Baby Friendly revolves around the standards of care introduced by WHO and Unicef, and provides accreditation to those places that meet these standards. However, this isn’t all they have; they also have a great list of different breastfeeding and general parenting support resources, from helplines to websites to apps.
Support doesn’t have to be provided by professionals in clinical or home settings. For partners, friends, or others who want to support a breastfeeding mother, there is plenty you can do! Support has many faces, from emotional to practical, and the good news is all of it plays its part – and it doesn’t need to be anything strenuous or requiring a degree. If you already have children, looking after the older siblings, especially in those early days while breastfeeding is being established, can make all the difference. Not only does it help mum and the new baby, but it gives you the chance to get some of that extra bonding time with the older children. Make their lunch, play games, read them books – it all helps. Lending a hand around the house – cooking, cleaning, doing laundry – is another area that can be of enormous support. A mother with a new baby is likely to be exhausted, not only from the birth itself, but also from all those months of pregnancy finally catching up – to say nothing of the frequent waking to feed and change the baby. Giving her the chance to rest, eat and drink is essential.
One of the best ways to support a mother, though, is to ask. What one person may want is not necessarily what another does – and those needs may vary in the same person from child to child, as well. Listen to what she needs, whether you’re a partner, family member or friend. Simply letting her know she’s doing a good job, or letting her know you’re there should she need anything, can be a more significant help than you may realise.
What sorts of things did you want during your own breastfeeding journey? For partners, what did your partner find helpful when she was breastfeeding?