Many people assume that breastfeeding is very natural and that the baby goes to breast and that's all that there is to it. However, that usually is far from the truth. Breastfeeding is a learned art for both the mother and the infant. When the infant goes to breast just after the delivery and for the first few days, the mother and baby both learn from each other what they have to do to be successful. Mothers learn how to latch the baby on the breast and babies learn to suck and swallow at the breast. Remember that when you are learning a new skill that there will be times when things don't go as expected or as well as you desired. With time, however, the feedings become easier and more fulfilling.
While you are in the hospital during those early days you will be focusing on learning this new skill. The learning continues when you come home. It is very important before you have the baby to create a list of people that you can turn to for help, so that when you have concerns, you will know whom to call. If this is your first baby you will need people with experience to guide you through the early months. Remember, you are learning to take on the role of a brand-new mother and also a brand-new breastfeeding mother. It is natural to have lots of questions and concerns.
One of the major breastfeeding support groups is La Leche League. They offer monthly meetings with other mothers to discuss breastfeeding and parenting. They also have a Web site that provides listings of mothers who can be called to answer questions. Another support group is the Nursing Mothers Council. This group offers a course in breastfeeding counseling and provides free telephone advice. They have a Web site and are listed in the white or yellow pages of the telephone book. When you are interviewing your pediatrician, ask if he or she offers breastfeeding support with either a lactation consultant or a counselor. Your pediatrician also may know of mother-to-mother groups that are in your area.
Mother-to-mother support groups offer emotional support and contact through regular meetings. Many mothers find that sharing stories and seeing other mothers breastfeed greatly boosts their breastfeeding and parenting experience. Some health centers have peer or outreach counselors who offer advice before problems arise. Your health facility also may offer a telephone "warmline" that can be used as a resource. When you are taking your childbirth classes ask about the support groups in your area. Your local library, church or grocery store may have listings of mother's groups.
There also may be mother's groups that are facilitated by lactation consultants or counselors. Your health-care provider may be able to give you a listing of the consultants in your area.
- Clean the house, but don't throw anything out without asking first.
- Shop for food, cook meals and freeze meals.
- Bring the baby to the mother if she's napping and the baby needs to feed.
- Address the envelopes for thank-you notes.
- Do laundry and put it away.
- Drop off and pick up dry cleaning.
- Answer the phone and take messages.
- Listen, but don't offer advice.
- Save the local paper from the day the baby was born for a keepsake.
- While the mother is nursing, bring her food and feed her, and give her water to drink.
- Assist the mother in making a nursing corner, which can include a comfortable chair, pillows, blanket, footstool and table for a water glass and book.
- While you are visiting the mother in the hospital and at the mother's home, provide distraction for the older children and make your visit very short.
- Purchase a big sister or big brother T-shirt for the older children.
- Offer to watch the children when the mother has to take the baby for well-baby visits.
- Offer to play with the children and read their favorite books at night.
- Always acknowledge the older children before commenting on the new baby.
- Provide small gifts — boxes of cereal, a piece of fruit or a juice box — for the older children as a gift from the new baby.
- Teach the older children to bring diapers and other small items to the mother, pick up toys, read to the baby, and distract the baby when he's older.
- Try to take time off from work during the early weeks; this helps you to become more sensitive to the needs of your family.
- Take care of the home by keeping things neat, organized and clean.
- Give the mother many "I care" messages throughout the day, such as feeding her or massaging her shoulders.
- Be supportive of her mothering skills.
- Prevent the mother from doing too much.
- Listen to her feelings.
- Let her know that you approve of her as she is, including how she looks.
- Be a backup caretaker to enable the mother to have some time for herself.