I married into a family of "nursing professionals." When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to try to breastfeed. My expectations were realistic—if it worked out, great. If it didn't, that was OK, too. My only anxiety about not succeeding with breastfeeding was how to explain it to my in-laws, who had breastfed sixteen children!
It all started with my extraordinary grandmother-in-law. While being discharged from the hospital during the birth of one of five children, she learned that a set of frail triplets were born. They were in need of "mother's milk," and she had an overabundant supply. With the help of a visiting nurse, she pumped her milk regularly and helped to make these three babies healthy. With the money she was compensated with, she also bought a truck for her husband.
It turned out my anxiety was for nothing. Not only did I successfully breastfeed my first child for over a year, but three years later I did the same with my son. Part of my success was due to the support and understanding that was given to me by my in-laws, especially my mother-in-law. She called me every day for the first two weeks, not just to check up on her new granddaughter, but to act as my breastfeeding cheerleader. Luckily, my problems were minimal, but knowing that there was someone to talk to that understood the difficulties and joys that breastfeeding a baby brought was priceless.
"When I breastfed my children, it was not the popular thing to do. Except for my sisters, I didn't know anyone who had nursed their babies," says my mother-in-law Shirley Gable of Newington, Connecticut. "I was lucky to have my family for support."
"In most cases having a support person is very important to breastfeeding moms," says Katy Lebbing, Manager for the Center for Breastfeeding Information, La Leche League. "As long as they provide the right support for you."
A successful relationship between a nursing mother and her support person should help the mom gain knowledge and self-confidence. A helpful support person listens, offers encouragement, validates a mother's feelings and offers information, suggestions, and options. An unhelpful support person offers advice and lectures when a new mom complains or is tired and undermines her confidence with negativity. A support person doesn't necessarily have to have breastfeeding experience. Showing support by listening, running errands, and "mothering the mother" are all things that new moms need.