5 Ways Grandmothers Can Support Breastfeeding Moms

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated October 14, 2013.

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Family and BreastfeedingHaving a baby is an exciting time for everyone in a family and the grandmas-to-be are no exception.  Grandmothers can’t wait to hold their new grandchild, brag about their new grandchild, and share parenting wisdom from their experiences of motherhood.

But when it comes to breastfeeding, many grandmothers who were mothering in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s not only didn’t breastfeed, but were told that holding a baby too much would spoil her baby and that babies need to “cry-it-out” to learn how to sleep through the night.  Much has changed since those days and we now know that these myths couldn’t be further from the truth.

The World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other pediatric associations around the world recommend that children should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding alongside solids until two years old or beyond.

Even if you didn’t breastfeed your own children, it is possible to be a grandmother who is a new mother’s biggest breastfeeding supporter and advocate.  Here are 5 tips how:

  1. Support the new mother
    Regardless of how she feeds her baby, a new mother will need lots of help and support in the early days.  If she wants to breastfeed her baby, support her.  Be excited for her and your grandbaby.  Know that there will be benefits for your daughter/daughter-in-law and benefits for your grandchild that will last for their entire lifetime.It isn’t that “breast is best”…it is of course, but it is also the norm for infant feeding.  Formula feeding is linked with lower IQs, increased rates of asthma, allergies, ear infections, obesity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and more. So, no matter the challenges your daughter may face, be her biggest supporter and advocate.If breastfeeding is what she wants to do, don’t do anything that communicates you aren’t 100% on board with her decision.  Sore nipples and breastfeeding pain/problems are not the norm so help her get qualified breastfeeding support if she faces challenges, rather than discouraging her breastfeeding decision.
  1.  Encourage her
    Being a new mother can be tiring.  Being a baby’s only source for food and having a baby who seems to eat non-stop can be exhausting.  Rather than telling your daughter to “just give one bottle” so she can get some rest, encourage her in her breastfeeding decision.Share how quickly these days really are in the whole scheme of things and give her a vision beyond that moment of exhaustion.  Be an encouragement with your words and help her believe she really can do it.You have a wonderful and unique role to help her succeed…be the person she looks back to and says, “My mother/mother-in-law believed in me and encouraged me and that’s why I persevered through those early days…”
  2. Help her
    You may not be able to feed your grandchild, but there are many things you can do to help a new mother.  Take over the running of the household – prepare meals, grocery shop, do dishes, wash and fold laundry, clean house, take care of older siblings, protect her when visitors stop by and make sure she has all the time she needs to nurse her baby and sleep when her baby does.There are many, many ways you can serve and help her!  Not only is there the running of the household, but there are things you can do with your new grandbaby: change diapers, burp him following feeds, rock him, etc.Be the person that your daughter trusts and relies on to help her with whatever she needs in those early days while she is getting breastfeeding established and learning about motherhood.
  3. Build her up to others
    Don’t just encourage and support a new mother when you are speaking to her, build her up when you are talking to others.  Share her determination despite obstacles and how proud you are that she is giving your grandchild breast milk.  Your daughter will know when you build her up to others and this will serve to encourage her even more.  Your full support really does matter!
  4. Trust her instincts
    Maternal instincts are there for a reason.  When your daughter feeds her baby on demand, (which may seem like all the time) don’t discourage her.  Babies can’t eat too often and they aren’t being spoiled by being held and breastfed all day and night.In fact, we know that breastfeeding works best when babies are fed on their feeding cues, not on a schedule.  If she chooses to bed share or co-sleep, help her create a safe sleeping environment.  Babies aren’t being manipulative when they wake at night and they don’t need to have their sleep scheduled either.Encourage your daughter/daughter-in-law to meet her baby’s needs and not worry about what parenting books might say or how things were done when you had your children.

Being a helpful, encouraging, and supportive grandma will help you build a strong bond with not only your grandchild but your daughter/daughter-in-law as well.