Arguably, the most useful thing to a breastfeeding family is support. In our culture, breastfeeding can be hard work and having a good support network can be vital to your success.
But where does one find this imperative network of people, ready and willing to be there to help? It can be hard to know where to look if you are a new mother, and aren’t sure what is available to you in your area.
Look Close to Home
This may sound obvious, but it’s worth looking to your family and friends to support you. They may not be able to provide professional support, advice and information but they are the ones that will be there with a box of tissues and a cuddle if and when it all gets too much. Your nearest and dearest are the ones who (hopefully) know how to best encourage and support you. When it comes to needing information about breastfeeding, it’s best to take the word of friends and family members with a pinch of salt — many people, even people who have breastfed themselves, are grossly misinformed — but they will still be able to empathise with you and offer you much-needed support.
La Leche League
La Leche League is a worldwide, non-profit organisation that offers mother-to-mother breastfeeding support. They provide a 24-hour telephone helpline and online resources and support, as well as running monthly (or bi-monthly, depending on where you are) meetings led by a trained, voluntary La Leche League Leader. LLL Leaders are breastfeeding counsellors who will have had personal extensive experience with nursing. In order to become a LLL Leader, you have to have exclusively breastfed until there was a real need for solids, and have continued to breastfeed until the child was at least 9 months old. In reality, most LLL Leaders have had many children and have breastfed each of them for many years. They have real life experience and are living, breathing proof that breastfeeding can be successful in our modern-day times — something that not a lot of us feel able to believe.
La Leche League also trains Breastfeeding Peer Supporters to offer mother-to-mother support in the community. These mothers come from all walks of life. Some have just a few months of breastfeeding experience, others have years. These voluntary supporters help mothers with breastfeeding problems as well as offering their loving friendship. Peer supporters are available on the phone, and in some areas even offer home visits to mothers.
The best way to set yourself up in contact with La Leche League is to visit their website and locate your local leader. They will always be happy to have a chat with you on the phone should you need support, and will be able to tell you when and where your local meetings take place. You can also email Leaders from the website for email support, if (like me!) you’re not a ‘phone person’!
Local Breastfeeding Support Groups
In our town we are very lucky when it comes to breastfeeding support. Not only do we get monthly LLL meetings, we also have a weekly Breastfeeding Mum’s Group — this is run by our Sure Start Children’s Centre with support from LLL. Up-to-date literature and information is available from the group, and from the LLL Peer Supporters that volunteer there. The group is also supported by our local maternity unit, with a midwife or maternity care assistant attending each week to give extra support to mothers. We have a great set-up here. Many towns have breastfeeding support groups like ours; it’s just a matter of finding them. If you are here in the UK, look for your local Sure Start Children’s Centre and see what breastfeeding support they offer. If you are elsewhere in the world, get online and see what local support is available to you. Once you start meeting other breastfeeding mothers, your world will open up in front of you as they introduce you to the groups and meetings that they attend.
We shouldn’t underestimate the powerful network of support you can source for yourself online. The internet never sleeps, and the chances are you will be able to talk to somebody at any time of day or night.
Of course, it’s important to stay safe online. Choose your forum or community wisely, and remember that the other mothers aren’t there to offer you medical advice — they are there as your extended support group. Some people are more informed than others and it can be great to ask questions of other women who may have been in your situation before.
Your best bet is to find a forum or community that is closely aligned to your views and beliefs as a parent. It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of the more ‘mainstream’ sites won’t be offering the most accurate advice or information, especially on breastfeeding. When you realise how little breastfeeding training health professionals receive, it becomes clear how there is so much misinformation being bandied about.