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July 31, 2018

6 Things NOT To Say To A Breastfeeding Mother

It's so easy to see a breastfeeding mom and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind without thinking. However, many of those things could come out hurtful or offensive, especially in a very vulnerable time. Here are 6 Things Not to Say to a Breastfeeding Mother and how you can turn it around to something positive.

1. “If it hurts you’re doing something wrong.” Many new mothers need intensive support to get breastfeeding managed properly from the very first feeding. Once nipple damage, engorgement and/or minimal milk supply have had a chance to invade a mother’s dream of breastfeeding, words such as; “I can see why this is so painful.” or “Tell me what you have been trying.” are welcomed. Validate a frustrated mother’s emotions and then provide guidance toward fixing the problem. Insinuating wrongdoing is never well received...and I call it victim blaming.

2. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”  All well and good but today’s women ask; “When do I eat, bathe, get my work done, keep my home running smoothly...?”  This is a wise, old phrase about napping that can work during the first week postpartum and longer if you are able to manage it. A breastfeeding mother has to be a planner, to use her baby’s sleeping time wisely. Offer support in the form of babysitting or being mom’s home/office/personal assistant for 2 hours. No mother ever said she had too much support.

3. “Give formula so you can sleep through the night.”  Formula is not the answer to sleeping through the night.  In fact, research shows that breastfeeding mothers sleep for 20+ minutes more each day than formula feeding mothers.  Expressed breast milk in a bottle with a slow flow nipple, like the Avent “0” size is likely closest to the to normal milk flow from a mother’s breasts during the first month postpartum. Support mom’s breastfeeding efforts by making a gift of the Avent System or offer to take over a task from mom so she can devote an hour to fully express her milk for the later bottle-feeding.

4. “Doesn’t breastfeeding help you lose weight?”  This is a loaded question that is full of judgment and will be met with resentment. You are implying that this mother is too fat, from your perspective, and should be slimmer by now.  Losing weight isn’t paramount to most breastfeeding mothers. Caring for their newborn, partner, family and career come first. Humans only lose weight when they expend more calories than they consume.  Send over a carton of fresh fruits; cook up freezer-stable side dishes – heavy on the veggies. Offer your companionship on long-ish walks and help to push the stroller!

5. “Breastfeeding is so easy and it’s free!”  It isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t free. A mother’s time is extremely valuable and to assume otherwise is insulting. Breastfeeding takes many hours to accomplish. The learning and experimenting of the first several weeks isn’t easy and takes full concentration. Mothers devote all their waking hours (and many night time dreams) to assimilate and accommodate breastfeeding into their new normal.

6.  “You look tired.”   This should come as no surprise that telling someone (especially a breastfeeding mother) that they look tired isn't going to be well received. Instead of implying how they look, simply asking how they are doing, can be a great conversation starter. This will allow them to open up to you if they wish, otherwise they could say "great" and breeze over the topic and that is okay too. 

Breastfeeding and new moms in general are going through a lot of changes. It's up to us to let them know we support them and to tell them they are doing great. If we take a little time to think before we speak, we can ensure to help the mothers feel more encouraged and positive about the whole experience. 

Paula Zindler
RN IBCLC



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