It’s 0-dark-thirty hours. You’ve been days without sleep and you’re exhausted; a bit of rest here, a bit there, never enough to make a dent in the deprivation you’ve accumulated since your assignment. Yesterday’s grime from the trenches clings to your skin. Your body aches, your chest especially – which feels as if tiny bullets have been lobbed at the most tender and vulnerable part of yourself. Wailing pierces the still night, but you can’t tell if the sound is your own or from some unearthly, helpless creature camped outside your bed. You stumble to investigate, wondering if there’s an end in sight.
No, I didn’t just describe a scene out of [insert war movie here]. I described the life of a nursing mom. “But Victoria! I thought you’re all breast-is-best and crunchy I-didn’t-want-an-epidural-thank-you-very-much. What happened!?”
What happened is reality hit me smack-dab in the forehead.
Breastfeeding can be tough. One of my favorite sound bytes from the recent documentary Breastmilk is a woman who claims “you have to almost be mean about it” when describing the determination to breastfeed. I get that. It takes heart.
But, listen. If anyone knows they are in need of some TLC, it’s nursing moms.
You don’t have to tell a nursing mom she needs a break.
What she doesn’t know is how to take one.
Breastfeeding moms often hear the refrain, “Can’t you just give that baby bottle?” Sounds simple enough, but the reality is a bit more complicated. First off, a nursing mom has to produce a bottle. Pumping is no fun. And, believe it or not, it’s difficult. In some cases a mom might pump for several session before she produces enough milk to make a bottle. Then there’s the issue of whether or not her nursling will even take a bottle (many don’t). If a mom does pump enough milk to seize a getaway and if her baby’s down with it, then there’s the issue of expressing milk while she’s gone. Breastfeeding moms have to express milk often, or serious complications could happen. If nursing in public remains controversial, you can bet your darn skippy that pumping in public is unthinkable. And another consideration, some babies experience particularly clingy stages. If baby has a meltdown every time mom leaves the room, separating the two might be painful for everybody. Remember, babies have only been doing this Earth thing for a few months. And, frankly, how would you feel if your refrigerator sprouted legs and walked out of the room? You’d probably be a bit upset yourself!
Nursing moms know they need a break. They appreciate you offering to give them one. But it needs to be on the right terms. I’ve been very blessed with friends and family eager to help as I breastfeed my daughter. It takes some planning, but there are many ways to help out a nursing mother.
Ways To Help Out a Nursing Mother:
- Assist with non-feeding baby care. While feeding baby does consume a substantial amount of time, especially during the early months, a baby has so many other needs! Offer to take baby on a walk, give him a bath, change her diapers, or rock baby to sleep. Even taking one of these responsibilities will give mom a few moments of rest and recovery!
- Hold baby while she gets things done. Sometimes moms don’t want you to do their housework for them. I’m very much this way! In my postpartum time I would much rather our guests hold the baby while I swapped a load of laundry. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.
- Do housework while she cuddles with baby. I realize this tip is contradictory to the previous. Some moms might prefer to hangout with her new bundle of joy while you take care of a few chores. You can totally make that happen! Which brings up the next point.
- Ask her what she needs. Sometimes the best way you can be helpful is to simply ask the nursing mother what would help her most and make it happen.
- Offer to run errands for her. It’s not cuddling a baby, but it really might help if you could tackle a few of mom’s errands outside the house.
- Be a baby chauffeur. If the mom does need a break outside of the house, arrange for her to go spend a quiet day at the coffee shop or library. Offer to bring the baby to her for feedings. (For a great example of how this arrangement can work, listen to this podcast featuring blogger Erin Odom.)
- Remind her that she’s more than a milk machine. Though breastfeeding offers tons of benefits for mom and baby, moms can often feel overwhelmed and “touched out” by being so intricately connected to a tiny human 24/7. Try initiating conversation that isn’t baby-related. Watch a TV show with her and talk about it. Ask if she’s read any good blog posts lately. Ask how she’s been feeling. Tell her about your life! For a few moments, talk about anything other than babies and milk supply.
- Invite her in. Whether intended or not, nursing moms often feel left out. When it’s time for baby to nurse, make her feel welcome to stay in the conversation and care for her little one at the same time. Nursing moms shouldn’t have to duck behind a corner or down the stairs. Public breastfeeding may make you uncomfortable, but I encourage you to put aside any discomfort and consider a nursing mom’s perspective. Make her welcome. Invite her in.
- Kind words and encouragement. A simple word of encouragement can go a long way. Let her know she’s doing a good job, that she’s doing an important job. Tell her she’s a good mom. Encourage her.
- Prayer. Above all, nursing moms need prayer! You can pray that mom has strength to care for her baby. Pray for times of rest. Pray for baby’s healthy development.
Do you breastfeed? Have you had help? Did I miss any tips? Any point make you want to clap your hands? Any point put a frown your face? I’d love to hear in the comments!