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Supporting the Breastfeeding Mother: A Letter to the Nursing Mama’s Village

Dear Friends and Family of a Newborn Mother,

Breastfeeding is a full time job.  If you’ve never spent much time around a breastfeeding newborn before, you might be surprised to discover that they nurse very frequently, around the clock.  Newborns need to nurse at least 8-12x in 24 hours because they have small belly capacities and breast milk is very easy to digest.  Newborns can’t nurse too often but they can nurse not enough so it is important for the mother to watch for her infant’s feeding cues and nurse on demand, whenever baby signals, or at least every 2-3 hours in the first weeks, to ensure baby is getting enough and to build her milk supply.  

The first two weeks are especially important for establishing a full milk supply that will last the entire duration of lactation.  Think of it like placing an order at a restaurant, the nursing pattern that is established in the first two weeks postpartum sets the stage for how much milk will be available from then on.  This means that feeding on demand, even at night, or expressing milk if the baby is not latching, is imperative to making enough milk for the baby to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.  Breast milk production works on a supply and demand basis which means the more milk that is removed from the breast the more milk the mother will make.  Frequent milk removal is key to keeping the milk machines running smoothly. 

Newborns nurse for more than just nourishment.  They nurse for comfort, to relax, to release stress, when they are overwhelmed or overstimulated etc. This is normal.

Most of the time mothers don’t need a special diet while breastfeeding unless the baby shows a pattern of having difficulty with something she is eating, but eating a well-balanced nutritious diet is important for ensuring she is getting the nutrients she needs for her own postpartum health and to make milk for her baby.  Breastfeeding mothers typically burn an extra 500 calories a day, so don’t be surprised if she has a larger than normal appetite. 

Infant Hunger Cues

  • Sucking on hands

  • Smacking lips/ sticking tongue in and out

  • Rooting

  • Bobbing head

  • Bird mouth

  • Getting restless

  • Crying (the last cue)

*If the newborn is extra sleepy and not showing hunger cues frequently then the mother will offer the breast every 2-3 hours.

Practical ways to Support the Breastfeeding Mama

  • Prepare nutritious meals and snacks for the mother and set up a snack basket with a water bottle near her favorite nursing spots. Some moms get very hungry and thirsty while breastfeeding so having snacks handy is a must. (Need some recipe inspiration? Subscribe to and receive our free ebook: A Collection of Recipes for the Postpartum and Breastfeeding Mama)

  • Help the mother to relax. Stress can inhibit milk release, so helping her to relax can help the milk flow more readily. Giving her a massage before or while she nurses, encouraging rest and a shower or bath can all help the new mama to relax and release some tension in her weary body. 

  • Help care for older siblings so the mother can focus more energy on resting and recovering from childbirth and caring for her newborn. 

  • Take on housework responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and laundry to the mother can save her energy for caring for herself and her newborn.

  • Offer to watch the baby if the mother wants to take a nap or a bath/shower. 

  • Assist in watching for the baby’s hunger cues.

  • Encourage the mother frequently in her nursing efforts and skills as a mother.  Knowing she has support can go a long way in building her confidence and perseverance when the going gets tough. 

  • Help create a calm environment that encourages rest, relaxation and comfort.

  • Place a basket with things the mother may need/want access to while nursing within arms reach. Examples include: burp cloths, swaddle blankets, chapstick, mild or unscented hand lotion, diaper/nursing log and pen, hair ties, remotes, book…

  • Help the mother choose a couple nursing spots in different rooms of the house and get comfortable while nursing. Have pillows and a blanket accessible. 

  • Act as the new mother’s bouncer when unexpected guests come by. 

  • Advocate for the new mother when others criticize breastfeeding. 

Tips for Dads: Bonding with your Breastfed Baby

Breastfeeding mothers and their babies are wired to want and need to be together, it ensures the baby’s survival, so don’t take offense when they desire to be close or have a difficult time being apart.  This is normal and healthy and overtime it will get easier.  Infancy is an intense time of development and the needs of the baby are never higher than in this time of life. Sometimes it can feel like all your new baby does is nurse, but there are plenty of ways to bond with your new baby when he/she is not at the breast that you can take advantage of with a little intentionality. 

  • Take on diaper duty.  Often thought of as an unpleasant but necessary task, diapering can actually be a wonderful relationship-building time if you slow down and give your baby your full and undivided attention.  Talk to your baby and tell him/her what you are doing and look your baby in the eyes.  This special time together can become a time of great anticipation for both of you if you go into it with the right attitude.  The way we care for our babies in these everyday “mundane” moments teaches them a lot about their self-worth. 

  • Hold your baby when he/she is finished nursing.

  • Offer to hold your baby so the mother can take a bath or shower. 

  • Spend time skin to skin with your baby.  It’s not just beneficial for mothers to do this. 

  • Remember that as your baby gets older and becomes less dependent on his/her mother for nourishment and comfort there will be more opportunities to continue to build your relationship.  But don’t wait to establish a close attachment with your child until this season of breastfeeding is over, it takes some creativity and intentionality to connect during this unique time but it will pay off in the long run when you have a close relationship with your child that can last a lifetime. 

Above all, breastfeeding mothers want you to know that they need lots of encouragement, love and support. It takes a village to breastfeed.  Thank you for being a part of the village. 

“Breastfeeding is natural, but it is also a learned skill and a difficult one at that. We need to stop thinking of breastfeeding as a 'kodak moment' and start seeing it as a marathon. When someone is running a marathon and they say it’s hard and they are tired, what do we do? We cheer them on!! You can do it! You're halfway there! One foot in front of the other! You are doing great!”

 -Julia Jones

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