Lactation consultant handing a pumping parent a glass of water
Author: TLN

What your breastfeeding friend wishes you knew or would ask  

Once you have a baby, nursing becomes a massive part of your life — one that your nonlactating friends may not entirely understand. After all, can you really explain the amount of time you spend calculating how much is in your freezer stash, or why your search history is full of nipples? Sometimes, it may seem like your breast pump is your new b(r)e(a)st friend — or at least your round-the-clock companion.  

Here’s a truth, though — Well-meaning friends, family, and loved ones (who wish they could remove some of the burden) will ask questions. They’re going to give advice. And while that advice often feels sensible to the person giving it, it may not feel so good to those receiving it. Some of that guidance might even be outdated or harmful.  

Hey, we know. We’ve been there. We consider it our job to serve as your ally (and maybe translator!) as you communicate the seismic shift that’s likely going on as you adjust to your unique breastfeeding journey. 

We asked several people what they wished their friends knew about breastfeeding. Katie Clark, IBCLC, summed it up wonderfully: “It DID get better.” 

Breastfeeding is both easier and more challenging than it looks.

Breastfeeding is a learned skill for both new parents and babies. That means there will likely be several fumbles and frustrations, especially in the early days. That’s a normal part of the process. Unfortunately, these early days are when many lactating parents are encouraged to “just quit.” And it’s an understandable sentiment. After all, no one wants to see their loved one frustrated or in pain, especially when there are “easier options” out there. 

Breastfeeding offers far more than just nutrition. When parents can meet their feeding goals, they feel empowered by their ability to support their babies1. In those early days, every bit of confidence is critical — as is having the right support system. Meeting with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can help lactating parents feel more satisfied with their breastfeeding experience2

Many may not realize that breastfeeding can actually feel easier than formula feeding after the initial learning curve passes. Just think: Fewer bottles to wash, less money spent on baby formula, and about ten things you don’t need to remember to put in your bag when you leave the house. If you’re the friend of a parent who is breastfeeding, trust them and give them time to find their footing on their breastfeeding journey. They’ll get the hang of it, we promise. 

Breastfeeding parents hear way more criticism than encouragement.

It’s hard to understand exactly how many people have strong opinions about breast milk until you start producing it. Suddenly, it seems everyone you know has advice about proper latching techniques or is trying to “diagnose” your low supply. They may think you’ve been breastfeeding for too long or not long enough. They may chastise you about where you choose to nurse, or when, or around who. They may want to help by giving your baby a bottle before they’re ready. And this can happen whether this is your first baby, second, or tenth. 

All this well-meant advice implies that you’re “not a good mom” or “doing it wrong” — and that doesn’t feel great. Many nursing parents don’t get enough simple presence and encouragement. A “How are you?” or “Can I get you anything?” will likely go much further than a late-night lecture. 

Parents are exhausted. And hungry. And thirsty.

Breastfeeding is hard work. It’s emotionally and physically demanding. Cluster feeding, growth spurts, and clogged ducts can wreak havoc on a stressed body. And even without these factors, producing milk round the clock for a hungry baby takes a lot of fuel. It’s a safe bet at any time that your loved one wants a snack, something to drink, and a nap. 

Sometimes, the kindest gift you can give a new parent is something to make their lives a little bit easier so they can continue to show up for their newborn and themselves. Get them a glass of water, a gift card for meal delivery, or an offer to watch their little one for a few hours while they sleep.

Breastfeeding parents have their reasons for wanting to do this.

All new parent’s feeding goals are a personal blend of what’s right for them, their baby, and their unique circumstances. Their decisions might not always make sense from the outside, nor do they have to.  

The reasons that a parent may want to breastfeed (or make any other choice for their family) often go beyond nutrition. Parents may feel strongly about providing antibodies for their newborn baby. They might feel that establishing a breastfeeding relationship is the best way to build a strong bond with their child. They may be passionate about the environmental benefits of breastfeeding. Whatever their reason, one of the worst things you can do is challenge them. Your friend doesn’t need help deciding but may need support reaching their goals. 

Breastfeeding parents just want your support — you don’t have to ‘fix’ anything

Finally, many people underestimate the value of being there for someone going through a transition or trying to learn something new. Often, we want to offer advice and opinions to make something better — or easier — for the ones we love. You don’t need to do that. The days and weeks after having a new baby can be an intense, overwhelming, and isolating experience, so just being there means more than you know. Look for the small ways that you can help and make a difference. 

If your partner, best friend, or loved one does need one-on-one advice, encourage them to reach out and book an appointment with an IBCLC. They’re trained and equipped to triage several conditions that can hinder a successful, empowering feeding experience — many parents (and babies) qualify for insurance-covered lactation consultations with IBCLCs through The Lactation Network. Helping a new family build their village is one of the best ways that you can support them. 

Get the care you deserve

We’re here for you, every step of the way. We work with your insurance to provide in-home, in-office, or telehealth visits with an IBCLC.