8 Ways Grandparents Can Support Breastfeeding
Congratulations! You’ve been blessed with a grandchild. No doubt you have been looking forward to this day—and (of course!) your grandkid is the cutest one around.
As you probably remember, being a new parent can be challenging, and your support will mean so much. New parents have a lot of choices these days, and the decision to breastfeed is becoming a more and more popular one. And with good reason. We understand the benefits of breastfeeding a lot better than we used to. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend exclusive breastfeeding through six months and thereafter combined with food, for as long as mom and baby choose to continue. That’s because breastfeeding helps reduce baby’s risk of infection and other challenges like allergies, SIDS, ear infections, and hospitalizations. It has amazing health benefits for mom, too. If the new mama has decided to breastfeed, your encouragement will mean the world to her. Consider these eight ways you can support mama and baby throughout their breastfeeding journey.
1. Check your feelings at the door
Whether breastfeeding evokes some of your fondest memories of early parenthood or it’s a completely new experience for you because your little one was formula fed, it’s important to remember that this new mom’s experience is entirely her own. Honor her choices and be careful about projecting your personal history onto her.
2. Know that times have changed
Breastfeeding has been around, well, forever—but our understanding of it has exploded in recent decades. For example, moms are now taught to breastfeed based on hunger cues instead of by the clock. Meanwhile, they are tracking diaper changes on their smartphones, crib bumpers are a thing of the past, and we can immunize against chickenpox! We could go on and on—the point is, in many ways parenthood may look a little different than it did when you were raising babies. You might find it helpful to read up on current breastfeeding and childrearing practices.
3. Respect her privacy
Many new moms are more comfortable breastfeeding in private—so if mama retreats to the nursery, know that it isn’t personal. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if she chooses to breastfeed out in the open. There is no right or wrong here, and we all play a role in normalizing the breastfeeding experience. You can also help by advocating for her wishes with other family members. Note mama’s comfort level and follow her lead.
4. Be a good listener
As you certainly remember, new parenthood is tough. Breastfeeding challenges can add a layer to that exhaustion—after all, it’s learning a new skill. Let your child and their partner vent about their struggles as needed. Repeat back what they tell you and help them come up with solutions. (P.S. Ask permission before offering advice, no matter how well-meaning. Trust us on this one!)
5. Hold back on the bottle
You may be eager to help feed your grandbaby, we get it! It takes several weeks to establish a breastmilk supply, and offering a bottle sooner could interfere with the nursing relationship. Even then, it might be months before bottle feeding enters the picture (if at all). So offer to help with a bottle only once it’s part of the family’s feeding routine. Before you know it baby will be eating solids, and the pureed carrots can be all yours. Until then, there are a lot of other ways to help the new family out and bond with your new grandbaby…
6. Be hands-on
Breastfeeding will take up much of your grandbaby’s day, especially at first. But there are many ways to spend quality time with them when they are not at the breast—all of them helpful. First, there’s snuggling (we probably don’t have to tell you that). You could also offer to change a diaper or give a bath. Read a story, sing a favorite tune, or show them family pictures. Baby may not understand quite yet, but they’ll grow accustomed to the sound of your loving voice. And all this gives their tired parents time to themselves to shower, eat, or nap.
7. Recognize when “now’s not a good time”
There will be days when the new parents welcome, even crave, company. Other days … not so much. Respect their schedule and desired frequency for visits (or phone and video calls). If you’re staying with your child’s family, you can help manage other visitors as well.
8. Pitch in
See what you can take off your their plate, whether it’s folding laundry, hanging out with the older grandkids, or making dinner. The key is to phrase this as an offer rather than a criticism of their housekeeping. This behind-the-scenes helpfulness is extremely helpful for new parents and gives them more time to feed and take care of the little one and themselves.
Cherish your role within your grandchild’s support system—knowing that they are getting the healthiest start in life through nutritious breastmilk.