By Jessica Martin-Weber
The US Surgeon General identified lack of support as one of the primary reasons families don’t reach their breastfeeding goals. Be that support in education about breastfeeding, support in health care, support in dealing with breastfeeding difficulties, support in social settings, and support related to employment environment, lack of support directly impacts breastfeeding goals.
For over 6 years, The Leaky Boob has been supporting families in their baby feeding journeys and we’ve seen exactly the impact support can have on breastfeeding goals. Here’s what we’ve learned:
- Support helps the breastfeeding parent be prepared.
- Support helps the breastfeeding parent better advocate for themselves and their child.
- Support helps the breastfeeding parent be informed.
- Support helps the breastfeeding parent identify problems and know when and where to go for care.
- Support helps the breastfeeding parent not feel alone.
That last point matters more than you might think. Breastfeeding can feel like such an isolating solo act, particularly in an unsupportive environment and support can go a long way in combating loneliness that some experience as part of their baby feeding journey.
When I had my first baby, my breastfeeding supportive mom (community!) encouraged me to try a breastfeeding support group when I was having pain initially. As I walked in I felt uncomfortable right away but decided to give it a try anyway but by the end I knew it wasn’t for me. In fact, I was more anxious after that experience but not necessarily because of breastfeeding but rather it was a group that attracted families that felt frighteningly “crunchy” to me at the time (no lie, I’d probably fit in great there now). Personality and value differences made it not a good fit for me and that is ok. Unfortunately, at the time breastfeeding support was not so wide-spread and I ended up very alone and isolated in feeding my baby. Aside from my very supportive husband, neither my health care providers nor my friends were supportive or experienced with breastfeeding. Thankfully, my own mother was and though we were separated by more than a thousand miles, she continued to offer encouragement, information, and support. Just having that one experienced voice, even when her experiences were vastly different from mine, helped me in reaching my breastfeeding goals. Even with the support of my partner and my mother I felt alone in feeding my baby but I am so grateful for their support because I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been without them. Not every support community is right for every individual, even when they’re shared experience and common interest based communities. Which is why there is a wide variety of options and increasingly so. Different people are going to have different needs and ways they experience community.
To find a community that is right for you
Determine what you need. Just looking for clinical facts and information? Find encouragement being able to ask anything and everything? Inspired by hearing the stories of others? Love seeing images of baby feeding? Enjoy connecting in the day to day? Want it to be only about baby feeding? Need focused connection on a specific feeding related experience? Value feeding as what brings you together but want to share about anything and everything else? Figure out what works for you personally and look for options that fit your needs and personality.
Clarify your values. Is there certain language that you want to avoid? Is there a controversial topic that you have a strong position on that is a non-negotiable for you? Identify your personal values and have a clear understanding of them for yourself.
Recognize what you have to offer. Community isn’t just about getting the support you need, community works when everyone gives and receives. You have something to offer in supporting others, even if you don’t feel like it, your story matters and sharing it can make a difference for others.
Ask around. Breastfeeding rates continue to rise (2007 initiation rates were around 70%, in 2014 they were nearly 80%) so more and more people have at least some experience with breastfeeding. If you know someone that has had a baby, ask them where they found breastfeeding support, you’re likely to have better results than with just a google search.
Eventually I figured out what I needed in community, particularly in a baby feeding support community. A judgment-free atmosphere that supports people over methodology, embraces the wide diversity of feeding modalities and tools (exclusively from the breast, pumping, bottle-feeding, combo formula feeding, formula feeding, etc.), promotes information, and has an emphasis on the relational sharing of baby feeding experiences with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the funny was what I needed which is reflected in The Leaky Boob and the communities we partner with, such as this one.
Once we know that community makes a difference in reaching breastfeeding goals and in supporting parents in finding their confidence, it only makes sense that we would work to be community ourselves, supporting and encouraging each other along the way. It takes a village, after all, together, we are the village.