Updated: Jun 10, 2019
Breastfeeding is one of the most amazing privileges as well as one of the most challenging things a woman can do. The ability to "magically" soothe a cranky baby, put a rambunctious baby to sleep, calm a busy baby down for a few minutes of peaceful snuggles, burn calories to help lose extra baby weight, delay menstruation (can I get an amen?), lessen the risk of SIDS, strengthen baby's immune system, and feed one's child with nothing other than her own body--taking a skinny little newborn and transforming it into a rolly, chubby baby--is nothing short of miraculous. I count myself extremely blessed to have been able to breastfeed our four children. I recognize that it is a privilege because not every mama is able to do it, for a variety of reasons. There are many challenges, however, that come along with breastfeeding a baby. Particularly with the first baby it can be extremely overwhelming to be another human's sole source of food. It is a huge transitional time and mamas need all of the help they can get as they recover from childbirth, are learning how to nurse (and coping with the pain and discomfort that goes along with it in the beginning), are dealing with extreme sleep deprivation, and are experiencing overwhelming postpartum hormones. I remember my husband feeling kind of helpless when we had our first baby because he couldn't feed her so he felt he couldn't do much to help. There are so many things that loved ones can do to support mamas nursing a newborn though! I've compiled a list of six practical ways to support a breastfeeding mother here (and if you know a mama that is bottle feeding, you're not off the hook! That just means that in addition to all of these things, you can also help feed the baby 😉).
1. Take care of meals-a breastfeeding mama is providing all of her baby's calories and nutrients and she needs adequate nutrition to compensate for that. She's not going to have a lot of time or energy to meal plan and put together healthy meals for herself and her family, so taking that off of her plate will be a huge help! Creating healthy, nourishing, delicious meals is a challenge and that’s just what she needs after giving birth. Some mamas will find that they have very little appetite and will need to be reminded to eat (I was that way with my first), while other mamas might suddenly have a voracious appetite and will need to have high protein, nutritious foods on hand to stay satisfied (I was that way with my second and fourth babies). She may have loved her adorable baby bump while pregnant but when that baby came out she suddenly felt pressure to immediately get back to her pre-pregnancy figure and back into her regular clothes. It is extremely discouraging to GAIN weight in those first few months after birth (I'm speaking from experience here). Making sure she has healthy snacks on hand and preparing healthy meals can do a lot to support her during this time. Don't forget to encourage her, if needed, by reminding her what an amazing thing her body just did and that it took nearly ten months to put the weight on and she should not put pressure on herself to lose the weight overnight. Now is the time for her to be taking it easy and not worrying about weight loss just yet; however, breastfeeding is a bonus here as it helps to burn calories!
2. Take over the household chores-loved ones need to be sure to protect a new mom, particularly in the first couple of weeks after giving birth, from taking on too much. She might be feeling just fine. She might feel "lazy" just sitting around in her pj's all day snuggling baby, but that's exactly what she needs to be doing. She has a huge, nine-inch wound inside of her uterus where the placenta was attached. That wound will take at least 4-6 weeks to completely heal. Rest will help lessen postpartum bleeding, prevent prolapse, decrease the likelihood of mastitis or plugged milk ducts (ouch!), and decrease the feelings of anxiety and baby blues she's experiencing from postpartum hormones. I'll let you in on a little secret, though...most mamas are not going to feel relaxed if housework is building up around them. It is your job to take as much of the load off of her shoulders as possible--laundry, dishes, keeping rooms picked up (especially when you've got other children around), entertaining siblings, grocery shopping, keeping floors and counters clean, etc. When my mother came to visit for the birth of our fourth baby, she took on the majority of my household duties. I felt a little weird letting someone else do so much for me but it allowed me to recover more quickly and soak up that fleeting newborn stage as much as possible!
3. Take on burping and diaper duty-breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, which triggers the let-down of milk, helps mom's uterus shrink back to normal size, and strengthens the emotional, loving bond between mother and child. In the beginning, the uterine contractions it causes can be fairly uncomfortable (even painful). Luckily that discomfort fades more and more each day! The release of oxytocin will also make a mama feel a sudden surge of sleepiness and exhaustion...so much so that she might long to linger in the rocking chair or bed a few more minutes even after baby is finished nursing. This is where you come in! Your newborn will need to be burped after feeding. Sometimes this is quickly accomplished with a few gentle pats and other times in may require more persistence. I remember sitting with my first baby after nursing for what seemed like forever trying to get a burp out of her (sometimes this took longer than the actual nursing!). My husband would swoop in and scoop her up and no sooner did he have her in his arms than she would let one rip. He was a burp master! I was so jealous! This is also the time when most babies will fill their diapers. Changing baby's diaper while mama rests for a few more minutes can make a huge difference. It's also a great bonding time for baby and dad (or whoever else may be helping out).
4. Give mom some hands-free time-this can be tricky as many moms are experiencing a very strong chemical and hormonal bond with their newborns. She may not want to "share" baby all that much and may feel very anxious when separated from the baby. The newborn stage goes by SO fast. Before you know it they're alert and awake and no longer content to just sleep on your chest all day. I personally wanted to soak it up as much as possible. There are some times, however, that just about every mama is going to want some hands-free time: when she takes a shower, when she uses the restroom, when she needs sleep, when she's feeling ill, and when she is spending quality time with her other children. Be sure to be available for some one-on-one time with your newborn when needed. Also, be careful about always handing back a crying baby to mama, insisting baby must be hungry. If baby has had a recent feeding, try exhausting all other possibilities first (burping, diaper change, taking baby outside for fresh air, a nap, and walking around while bouncing and patting back or bottom, etc. to relieve a gassy tummy are all things that may do the trick). It's a good time for you to get to know what tricks work best for your baby and learn how to soothe as well.
5. Arrange a date night-a date night (without the expectation of physical intimacy before mama is recovered and ready) is a great way to reconnect and give her a chance to feel normal again. It is one thing to know that having a baby will turn your life upside down, it's another thing to actually experience it! It is absolutely amazing to be a parent, but it takes some getting used to! In the beginning, know that she may feel anxious when separated from her baby so try to plan a home date night where she can nurse the baby to sleep and you can all snuggle up on the couch together and enjoy some snacks and a movie. Another idea is to take walks together as a family, weather permitting. This has the added bonus of helping mama get back into shape if she's feeling self-conscious about her new mom bod. Even after those first few weeks it may be more relaxing and put her more at ease to bring baby along on date nights, particularly if baby refuses to take a bottle. Check with her to see if she'd prefer to bring baby along or would rather get out for a bit baby-free. Every mama is different!
6. Schedule professional newborn pictures in advance with a experienced photographer that specializes in photographing newborns and babies-the newborn stage is so fleeting and you are going to want to capture it with some high quality images. Most newborn photographers recommend bringing baby in for portraits within the first two weeks after birth to ensure a very sleepy, posable baby. Between the couple of days you're in the hospital, trying to get settled in at home with a routine, BACK to the hospital for baby's first appointment with the pediatrician, etc., you will blink and that first week is already over! Newborn photographers take on limited newborns each month due to the unpredictable nature of births. If you don't book well in advance (I recommend the second trimester or early third trimester at the latest) you run the risk of not getting the photographer you really want. Booking in advance also allows you to save up ahead of time if needed so that you're prepared for the investment even if mama is on maternity leave! Pregnancy is the time to gather recommendations and search for a photographer whose style you admire. Secure your session with a deposit and contract and discuss your hopes and dreams for your newborn session with your photographer. Be sure to add on some family shots if available...you're going to want to remember how little they were in your arms! Mamas are often not feeling their most beautiful right after giving birth but a skilled photographer will capture mom and baby in a flattering way so that she will love the pictures and not be fretting about her postpartum body. Having this all squared away in advance will give mom one less thing to worry about so she can focus on resting and recovering, keeping baby fed, and getting in all of those awesome baby snuggles.
If you're looking for a newborn or baby photographer in the Hampton Roads area, I'd love to meet with you and work with you to plan your ideal session! My home studio located in Chesapeake, Virginia is comfy and cozy so you can sit back and relax while I take over baby duties for a while and capture some beautiful images of your newborn for you to display in your home! Visit bellaroseportraits.com/contact to request more information.
I hope this list is a help to both mamas and their loved ones as they welcome a new little one into their families. I'd love to hear what else was a help for your families as you worked through that newborn stage together!