Connecting with another person is the cornerstone of the human experience. Yet, in the weeks after baby arrives, hormonal fluctuations, intense emotions, feelings of responsibility and differences in opinions on feeding may mean changes in close relationships and a nagging sense of isolation.
As societies move away from tight circles of family support, the warmth and support that mothers offer one another in group settings or one-to-one encourages breastfeeding. A 2002 study found that:
- More mothers who received mother-to-mother support were still breastfeeding at four, eight, and 12 weeks.
- Those who received mother-to-mother support were also two and a half times more likely to continue breastfeeding.
- Peer support meant that mothers were more satisfied with their feeding experiences.
President of the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (Singapore) (BMSG), Mythili Pandi shares, “When my baby was just four weeks old, I went running with a group of breastfeeding mothers every week . We ran with our babies in strollers, and discussed everything from diapers to growth spurts. I enjoyed these times so much that they became some of the most exciting events on my weekly calendar! It felt great to be outside of the confines of home, with other women who shared my beliefs about breastfeeding!”
What are some of the ways that breastfeeding mothers can benefit from mother-to-mother support?
1. Understanding Normal
If you did not grow up seeing breastfeeding as part of everyday life, spending time with breastfeeding mothers during pregnancy will help you tune into your nursing instincts. You will be able to see firsthand how mothers breastfeed and fit breastfeeding into their routines.
After birth, time with other mother-nursling pairs helps you to understand the range of emotional reactions experienced by mums. You soon realise the variations of normal breastfed baby behaviour and become more relaxed about your baby’s style.
Winnie, a first-time mother of four-month-old Zoey, shares, “When I first went to a playgroup with my baby when she was six weeks, I had an aha!-moment. I realised that there were mothers out there who were like me, people who worried about the same things, people who felt just as joyful and just as confused as I did!”
Mother-to-mother support groups offer new friendships and encouragement. You may find that as your breastfed baby grows older, fewer of his peers are still breastfeeding. Or you may be the only one among your friends who is breastfeeding through another pregnancy or breastfeeding more than one sibling at a time.
If you are experiencing breastfeeding difficulty and considering supplementing or weaning, having supportive friends around you will influence how you cope.
When you experience a breastfeeding-related challenge such as night-time breastfeeding, you glean creative ideas from other breastfeeding mums. They may also brainstorm with you. Listen objectively. Borrow or adapt suggestions that might suit your parenting philosophy and your baby.
4. Information & Resources
Many breastfeeding mothers are very knowledgeable about breastfeeding matters. Support among mothers enables sharing of this knowledge.
However, when you receive information from another mother, check its accuracy against recognised sources. Understand whether the information is from the mother’s personal experience, her opinion, grounded in research or an established lactation guideline.
Knowing the basis for the advice helps you decide whether to pursue the idea, use it as a springboard for further information-finding, or drop it completely.
Doctors, lactation consultants and other breastfeeding professionals provide varying quality of breastfeeding support. Recommendations for lactation counsellors, consultants and breastfeeding-friendly doctors from other mothers can also be helpful.
Wendy Maliakel, a mother to 14-month-old twins, reflects, “I had amazing mother-to-mother support! I felt like I wasn’t alone in this mothering thing. The mothers were supportive of the choices I made. They offered numerous resources to resolve any issues I was having. I also had a comfortable spot to breastfeed openly, talk to breastfeeding professionals and speak to other mums about everything related to raising twins! Some of these ladies have become my best friends.”
When other mothers respond gently and with empathy, the support group becomes a ‘safe space’ for your emotions. You are able to express feelings or let off steam.
If you are supporting a mother who is distressed, it helps to take your emotions and thoughts out of the situation, focussing on the mother instead. Recognise her feelings, listen for ‘feeling words’, acknowledge the intensity of her emotions, and respect her efforts to cope.
Empathy is especially important when dealing with a topic that we have strong feelings about such as sleep training or abrupt weaning. We often feel conflicted supporting someone who is choosing to parent differently from how we ourselves parent. Be mindful that your choice of words, tone and non-verbal cues all convey your message.
Another common theme that comes up in breastfeeding support groups is when mothers practice parenting approaches that are not central to breastfeeding, such as babywearing, babyled weaning or co-sleeping.
Breastfeeding and parenting look different in every family, and mother-to-mother support facilitators work to create inclusive environments for all mothers in support groups.
As BMSG president Mythili Pandi says, “Mother-to-mother support is the meeting place between shared experiences, non-prescriptive advice, empathy and gentleness.”