Unsupportive Support- the offers of help

There are all kinds of ways to help a mom, some are more helpful than others.  Take a look at these two “helpful” suggestions that really aren’t that helpful at all.  I’m here to help you though by pointing them out and providing some real life strategies to keep you (dear friends, family, and help care providers) from committing unintentional breastfeeding sabotage as part of my Unsupportive Support series.

 

How not to support and how to avoid being unintentionally unsupportive- part 3.

Unsupportive support is…

Suggesting formula so others “can help” or take the baby overnight.

This suggestion actually just makes the support person look, well, incredibly stupid.  Sorry.  I don’t think they are actually stupid but they certainly are uneducated and just not thinking things through.  Giving formula when it’s not required can greatly impact a breastfeeding relationship.  In fact, it can completely sabotage it.  But that aside, let’s face the facts of this suggestion: it’s selfish.  People say that because THEY want to feed the baby, it’s not really about helping.  They want to sit there and cuddle the sweet little one while the mom does the dishes or laundry.  They want to have the baby looking adoringly up into their face while the mom vacuums and cleans the toilet.  They want the baby to connect the satisfying feeling of feeding with their face while the mom cooks dinner for them and cleans the windows.  If you’re really looking for ways to help, do all the things you want to free her up to do as you give the baby a bottle and instead let her breastfeed.  It’s not helping to hold or feed the baby so she can clean the house.  That’s getting in the way and she’d probably be better off if you just left if you’re not going to do anything really helpful.  Because, seriously, do you think she’d rather do the dishes than to hold and feed her child?  Of course not!  It’s her baby, not yours, she’s the one that needs to sit and bond with this child over their meal, a meal that more than likely her body is fully equipped to provide.  If she wants to go away overnight with the baby I bet she’s a big enough girl she can use her own words to ask for a sitter in that situation, if she hasn’t asked for it, she probably isn’t interested.  No, maybe she actually doesn’t want to leave her baby with you overnight right now.  So back off.  When you feel the urge to snatch the baby and have the mom do the dishes so you can bond with her child whisper over and over “It’s not about me.”  It will be a great rhythm to scrub the pots and pans to.

Suggesting the mom pumps so others can help by giving bottles of breast milk.

See above, most of it applies.  Except, I have to ask, in what universe do you think it’s easier for a mom to anticipate her baby’s needs in time to get a bottle of milk pumped, be sure it’s enough (may take more than one pumping session since babies are better at getting milk from the breast than pumps are), do whatever household chore the supposed helper should be doing, clean the bottle later, and make sure she can do it all again in time for the baby’s next feeding?  Let’s see here, lift my shirt and put my baby on my breast for 15-45 minutes or hook up to a machine that doesn’t empty the breast as well as a baby for 10-45 minutes while someone else cares for my baby, put milk in bottle, do housework while someone else feeds my milk to my baby, clean bottles, clean pump, get ready to do it all over again, hopefully before junior is actually hungry.  Hmmmm, tough decision.  Baring any complications and if breastfeeding is going well, the only time I can see it being easier to pump so someone else can feed when the mom is available is if there is some nagging friend or relative that just. won’t. shut. up. about wanting to feed the baby.  No mom should ever feel like she has to give into bullying in how she cares for her baby and if she wants your help this way I bet she’s already figured out how to ask if someone would like to feed the baby a bottle.  Sing it again with me “it’s not about MEEEEEE!”

 

We have to be honest with ourselves: are our offers of help more about us or are they truly trying to be helpful?  And, if they are truly intended to help, am I offering the kind of help she needs, not just the kind of help I want to give?  It really isn’t helpful if you can’t respect her parenting choices and your offers of support are simply attempts to get her to do things your way.  It’s even more sad when it’s self-serving.  Careful, she will choose not to have you around if you insist on “helping” this way.  Don’t underestimate how quickly she’ll determine that dealing with your unsupportive help is more work than it’s worth and would rather no help at all.  You get to be there, a part of this child’s life, don’t screw it up by trying to force self-serving offers of help.

 

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What kind of help meant the most to you when you had a new baby?

Did you have to deal with people that only wanted to help their way and you found it less helpful and more stressful?

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Comments

  1. Definately agree on that one. I’ve had several friends whom I’ve helped when their newborn arrived. I go over, with a meal, that I’ve made in disposable containers so there’s no washing up to be done, I take the baby for her so she can go bath/shower, then I either do some washing up/tidying/laundry/whatever she wants done, or take her other kids for a walk so she can have an hour of “peace”, or whatever she needs. If she’s really tired, and wants to sleep, and baby is happy to be cuddled by me, I’ve sat and snuggled the baby while she’s slept, and when the baby starts waking and showing signs of being hungry, I’ve woken her to nurse. A good friend did this for me, after both my babies arrived, and my husband had gone back to work. No pressure for me to feed the baby, I don’t tell her what to do, I’m just there to help. I also found someone doing my grocery shopping for me, just a few bits, so I didn’t have to rush out into the cold/heat and drag a newborn out, was very helpful. New Mum’s need support, not telling what to do, and “give the baby a bottle so – can…” Is not helpful!

  2. Agree that telling a mum to give formula or express is not helpful at all. I found people offering to help with older children, help with housework, get shopping for me, cook for me, anything I just didn’t have the time for was more constructive. Also cuddling baby for me so I could jump in the shower/get dressed/clean my teeth/brush my hair in peace was a god send.

  3. Offer to help do things that she can’t do while nursing! Help fold laundry, wash dishes, cook a meal, vacuum the floor, whatever else…and if she tries to get up to help, tell her to sit her rear back down LOL…I was just posting to people about this, we feel like, as women and mothers, we have to keep things clean, we have to do stuff for others..when you are a mom, your number one priority should be that baby..dishes and laundry can wait…nobody else can give that baby what you can give it, and the best way that dad and others can help is make you feel comfortable sitting down, feeding the baby, and bonding…

    It may seem like that is unfair to others, that they don’t get to bond with baby, but they don’t need to at this point…at this point it is mom and baby. If dad wants bonding time, he can change a diaper or burp baby or change baby’s clothes…it doesn’t have to be feeding the baby! Dads are there to support mom in this time. And, the more he supports mom, the stronger the bond between mom and dad is, the stronger the bond between mom and baby is, and vicariously that strengthens the bond between dad and baby.

    • I agree and disagree about the dad’s role here. At first, to avoid nipple confusion, I plan on EBF. However, after that time period has passed, I plan on pumping out a feeding for the evening so that my husband can get up once in the night and have some bonding time with baby. It isn’t fair that my hubs doesn’t get to have any bonding time. Plus, I have met SEVERAL families with kids who didn’t like their dad very much until about 6 months old. That isn’t healthy. Just because I’m carrying baby for 9+ months and I have the boobs, doesn’t mean my hubs should miss out on all feeding/bonding moments. I know I don’t view things as the norm per this blog, or 100% relate to most readers of this blog. I don’t plan on co-sleeping. I don’t plan on letting baby use me as a pacifier or always fall asleep at the breast. I might not even do self lead weaning. I do however believe whole-heartedly in breast-feeding! 🙂 My hubs does, too, and I’m ok with him being a part of it sometimes!

      xo,
      A

      • Why is feeding a bottle the only way he can bond with the baby? And why can he only do it “in the night”? It sounds like it’s more about your sleep than him bonding. There are plenty of ways to bond with the baby besides a bottle in the middle of the night, that are a TON more fun than a messy bottle feeding. Pumping, cleaning the pump, preparing a bottle, washing the bottle, putting a bib on the baby (because bottles ARE messier and there will be spillage), and washing THAT… vs… playing during tummy time, or helping the baby learn to pick up toys, or reading a book to the baby… Why would anyone pick a bottle feeding? I think they must thing it’s easy – they have this image of a magical bottle that’s filled with milk, and they just sit there and the baby eats it. What happens when the baby rejects the bottle or worse, likes it better and then rejects the breast? What happens when the baby over eats because the bottle flow is too fast, or gets frustrated because the flow is too slow?
        Not to mention that your milk production is best overnight and early morning, so by skipping one of those night time feeds, you’re sabotaging your own milk supply.

        But really. The nighttime feed is the ONLY way your husband can bond with the baby? Do you have the baby attached to you for every other activity? That’s some extreme AP right there.

  4. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!
    This was my problem with my two sons. “Oh, why don’t you pump so I can feed him? If I can’t feed him, we won’t bond!!” But they have no problem passing them back when it’s time for a diaper change. Ever. It’s NOT about everyone else’s bond with the baby, and people who can’t get past that SERIOUSLY need to get their priorities in check. *sigh* This is HUGE sabotage for new moms.

  5. I agree with you 100%! I had exactly the same issues with our boy. And we still do, almost seven months after. I agree when someone offers help it needs to be with household chores, like dishes, vacuum, bathrooms, laundry, etc… not feeding the baby only bc they’re just getting the hand of it. The beginning of that breastfeeding relationship is so crucial and important, it should not be done by someone else period.

  6. All my life my mother has told me that I am selfish an ‘prickly’. I think I’m going to have to tell her I get it from her. In all honesty, she has helped 3 times in the last three months (she did dishes 2x but by her own words it was ‘self preservation’ since dishes hadn’t been done in a couple days and she was eating at our house, and folded laundry once, but she also said she enjoys folding laundry because it relaxes her.) Everytime I see her she asks when I’m going to leave my son at her home overnight with some expressed ‘booby juice’ (that’s what my 4y/o calls it :p ) so SHE can bond and feed baby while me and my bf have some time alone. My son sleeps through the night and she knows this! If we want time to ourselves we just wait til he’s asleep. My bf knows that breast is best so if we want a ‘date’ and go to a hockey game or a movie, we just take our baby with us. He LOVES it. He loves showing off the baby! I’ve tried to be calm about it with her (my mum) but I’m getting to my last straw. It’s driving me insane! I’ll let you baby sit when I’M ready to let you have him!!

  7. Couldn’t agree more! My MIL came for a week when our daughter (1st baby) was born a month early. My milk was slow to come in & she got jaundice. The hospital had to supplement with formula. This broke my heart. When DH told her the situation she said “she just needs to give up breastfeeding if she wants her to live”. He told her it wasn’t her business & warned her not to say anything to me. We were then on a schedule of breastfeeding, bottle, then pumping every 2 hrs. The day after we came home I was trying to breastfeed & she said “is she even getting anything from you?” As if being undermined wasn’t enough she didn’t lift a finger the whole time she was here but was glad to hold her for me so I could do housework even though I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything. 1 hour after she left town my milk suddenly started flowing!

  8. When my nieces were born, my sister in law combo fed them, and I made every effort to get her food and water, hold the baby while she slept, cared for the older child, cleaned, anything I could do to let her nurse and snuggle the baby.
    When I had my daughter, I was repaid by being harassed starting before my daughter was born. They assured me that I should give bottles immediately and let them watch the baby alone overnight starting at one week old. Needless to say, she never took a bottle, and we don’t even speak to the in-laws, since they were so mad that they couldn’t watch our daughter.

  9. Beth Schultz says:

    Oh my gosh this is wonderful! That person you describe is my boyfriend’s mother in a nutshell. She doesn’t want to help she just thinks she’s entitled to having our baby because my child wouldn’t be here if she never gave birth to my boyfriend. (and yes she’s said that to me) I’d love for her to read this.

  10. I disagree about the pumping. Having someone suggest I pump so my husband could help with feedings, helped save my sanity and my nursing relationship with my son. I was so ready to just jump to formula because I was getting no sleep and felt like I was attached to my baby literally every waking moment. Sometimes, I would rather sleep 3 hours straight or run an errand by myself than nurse. Call me crazy. But periods of time to myself are refreshing and that makes me a happier mom, which makes for a happier home. An offer to help feed is not always selfish. It can be a gift for those of us that loathe asking for help but really do need it. And as with other aspects of child-rearing, I don’t see feeding as being solely the mom’s responsibility, unless she prefers it that way.

  11. Doing laundry or dishes, preparing a meal, tidying up… these things were all a big help while I breastfed my daughter. In the early stages, my mother always handed me pillows or blankets to prop up my arms and make feeding comfortable.

    You have to be really tough to get on with it, because there are always sabotages no matter where you turn!

  12. Oh gosh, I would just love some help… 2 kids down 3rd on the way…. I’ve never had anyone make any of the helpful suggestions, I’ve only had the bottle suggestions from my mum…. How lovely it would be for someone to lend a helping hand, I know what I’ll be dreaming of tonight!!

  13. I’ve fortunately not had to deal with this as I don’t have much family and I didn’t invite friends over until baby was over a month old. But I agree that help with food and cleaning is WONDERFUL but also someone to watch the baby while taking a shower as someone mentioned above. I don’t know if I necessarily think the intention is to be selfish when an offer to bottle feed baby is made but it does seems silly and like the Leaky Boob said–a little ignorant. Maybe because I never experienced that, it was always expected I’d be there to feed baby and in fact even as my son got a little older my mom would freak out a little if I left to run an errand or exercise because she was afraid he’d cry and get hungry and she wouldn’t be able to do anything (I was usually close at hand to quickly come home if that were the case.) I personally just liked having the company even more than having anyone cook or clean for me (that’s what hubby is for :)). It was nice to have someone there to talk with me about any worries I had or just to share in the joy of our new baby. Also, if you have older kids then having family and friends help play, feed, bath them is sooooooo appreciated!

  14. Being a first-time Mama, I did feel “bad” for my mother-in-law who wanted to “get to know” her grandbaby so I pumped and lugged many ounces for a weekend getaway at their new home, which is a 5-hour drive.

    I thought that’s why pumps and bottles were invented for breastfeeding Moms… so you can get a break, so your husband/partner can bond with the baby, etc. Little did I know that I did not have to let them feed him the way I feed him. Mothers were meant to feed their child, not mother-in-laws or the child(ren)’s father but the mother whose milk is made specifically for them.

    Definitely take up ANY offers of help with newborn care! Don’t be afraid to take it because real friends wouldn’t offer it if they didn’t mean it!

  15. While the words ring true, it’s almost kind of harsh! I do get where you’re coming from, though…

  16. I’ve also had my sister in law offer to help by taking a sleeping baby off my chest to go sleep in another room…of course the baby woke up when she could no longer smell my milk and was then cranky and fussy until we left. They also wanted me to leave her with them with bottles of pumped milk when she was two weeks old because “she seems pretty smart, I don’t think she’ll get confused” or “my cousin had both and he was fine”.

  17. Chani-Claire says:

    This is funny, and so true!

  18. What kind of help meant the most to you when you had a new baby?
    My mom stayed with us for 2 weeks and she was absolutely amazing. She cooked, cleaned, did laundry, drove us on errands, everything. She never asked to feed the baby, she knew that BF was important. She did hold the baby and bond a lot with him, in fact the thing she wanted to do most with him was give him a bath, so she was so excited when the MW said he could have his first real bath. She bonded with him amazingly over the time she was here, and has never once suggested I pump or use formula. When we were struggling in the first few weeks to wean from the nipple shield, she told me it didn’t matter if I had to use it for 2 years, that it would be ok. Some people might have suggested I just give up. My mom would never do that.

    Did you have to deal with people that only wanted to help their way and you found it less helpful and more stressful?
    Not yet! The day after we came home from the hospital a friend came and cleaned my whole house for me, and ran my errands to buy stuff we needed. She’s now my nanny and takes great care of the baby. When my DH went to pick up my mom from the airport, another friend came over to keep my company and make sure the baby and I were okay so we wouldn’t be alone, and held the baby so I could take a shower. Not a single person has suggested I pump or use formula to make it easier, so I guess I am very lucky to not have to deal with that.

  19. I love this post!. So true! I really appreciated when someone dropped off a nourishing meal. And I LOVED when someone offered to hold the baby so that I could take a shower. I didn’t have anyone offer to do any household chores, but I would have definitely enjoyed that.

  20. SmurfBelle says:

    So … to be supportive, people should shut up and wait to be asked? SOME “big girl” mothers do not know how to ask for help. Honestly, I see your point(s) here, and I agree that people who offer their support in these ways don’t fully understand the concept and purpose of breastfeeding. But being “uneducated” does NOT render one stupid or selfish. They are merely uninformed, and criticizing them in this way will not only offend or hurt, but it will render them unable to hear the message. They will remain uninformed, hurt, and angry. Is it necessary to create such rifts in otherwise loving relationships to be able to protect and maintain the relationship between a breastfeeding mother and her child?

    A mother’s need is to breastfeed, and she needs my support. Got it. I need to support her, but I need her to know how. This article offers very “unsupportive support” for me. I strongly suggest changing the language and tone of this article to enable the fulfillment of your purpose … unless your purpose is to manipulate support from loved ones with guilt and humiliation, in which case, I hope you are prepared for your purpose to remain unfulfilled, or fulfilled at the expense of friendship.

    • May I ask why you’re taking this so personally? ~Jessica

      • SmurfBelle says:

        I’m not taking it personally – at least, I don’t think I am … it may have “sounded” that way because I cringe when I hear/read name calling type adjectives of any kind. I try to walk in love no matter what, teach my children (and husband) to do so, and try to practice that myself. You catch more flies with Honey … When someone makes these unsupportive suggestions, can’t we just respond lovingly, “No, thank you?” Maybe my friends and relatives are different from most … thankfully … they would never offer to hold/feed the baby so I could wash dishes! But even if they did, I was pretty confident in my ability to explain my needs to them without putting them down.

        Also, as an English teacher, I pound it into my students that must always keep their audience and purpose in mind when they write. I cringe when I read a student’s persuasive essay that demeans the audience and defeats the purpose of the paper. You will never persuade the principal to change one of his policies if you start out with “This is a stupid policy and you must be crazy to think it is a good one.”

        Perhaps the author used this method of getting the audience’s attention and to get them to read more, and it certainly worked in my case, but you see what the result was. My perception was tainted.

        Or perhaps the intended audience is breastfeeding mothers, not those that are offering support, but the last paragraph is aimed directly at the support.

        FYI: I breastfed all four of my children, who are now grown:
        My first one until he was eleven months old. My doctor told me to stop at this time because I got pregnant again and the new baby needed the nutrients.
        My second one for a year.
        My twins for four months, and I pumped so my husband could help me at night. I appreciated it. I enjoyed seeing him and his children develop that special bond. They’re his children too. I can share.

        I now have two daughters-in-law that are breastfeeding. I have not made such a suggestion to them, but I do wonder how my offer was received when I told her I would watch the children when one of them is called to work (just started an “on call” service). She didn’t ask me to help. Is she thinking I am stupid and selfish?

        My daughter pumps to feed her son breast milk.

      • SmurfBelle says:

        I’m not taking it personally – at least, I don’t think I am … it may have “sounded” that way because I cringe when I hear/read name calling type adjectives of any kind. I try to walk in love no matter what, teach my children (and husband) to do so, and try to practice that myself. You catch more flies with Honey … When someone makes these unsupportive suggestions, can’t we just respond lovingly, “No, thank you?” Maybe my friends and relatives are different from most … thankfully … they would never offer to hold/feed the baby so I could wash dishes! But even if they did, I was pretty confident in my ability to explain my needs to them without putting them down.

        Also, as an English teacher, I pound it into my students that must always keep their audience and purpose in mind when they write. I cringe when I read a student’s persuasive essay that demeans the audience and defeats the purpose of the paper. You will never persuade the principal to change one of his policies if you start out with “This is a stupid policy and you must be crazy to think it is a good one.”

        Perhaps the author used this method of getting the audience’s attention so they would continue reading. If so, it certainly worked in my case, but you see what the result was. My perception and reception was distorted and my response sounded like defensive.

        Or perhaps the intended audience is breastfeeding mothers, not those that are offering support, but the last paragraph is aimed directly at the support.

        FYI: I breastfed all four of my children, who are now grown:
        My first one until he was eleven months old. My doctor told me to stop at this time because I got pregnant again and the new baby needed the nutrients.
        My second one for a year.
        My twins for four months, and I pumped so my husband could help me at night. I appreciated it. I enjoyed seeing him and his children develop that special bond. They’re his children too. I can share.

        I now have two daughters-in-law and a daughter who are breastfeeding. I can tell you honestly that all breastfeeding mothers are not alike. Some want and welcome others to bond with their babies through feeding, some are very protective of that God-given role to women, some prefer to pump their milk, some would never pump their milk. Some know how to ask for help, some refuse to ask for help, and some know exactly how to let their needs known. I’m concerned that any would be supporters reading this would do as you say and shut up for fear of being labeled stupid or selfish.

        One of my daughters-in-law recently became a certified doula and mentioned she was looking into childcare options for when she gets her first call. She didn’t specifically ask me if I would help with childcare, which would obviously involve feeding the baby, but i offered. Am I now stupid or selfish?

        Again, the author has valid points. It would be a shame for these points to be left unnoticed and the advice unheeded because of the demeaning choice of words and the stereotyping of supporters.

    • SmurfBelle says:

      ugh – I meant to say … “I need to know how” – not “I need her to know how”

  21. This is what I wish I could’ve have my mom when she kept trying to sleep with my vaby, and send me away…. Then they’d get stressed when he started crying and my boobs would leak and and and Do some dishes mom! When I asked her to clean while she was here three weeks right after ds was born she was insulted. And when I lay in bed with my fresh babe- she asked if this was all I was going to do today. She said she woke with the baby so my sister could sleep through the night, and and and… Now she’s gone and I miss her like. Easy and I wish like mad she could
    Have grown and learned from the experience. Instead it bred resentment and misunderstanding, and also have me a window to she my mum thru which I had never seen before.

    Great article.