While the actual responsibility of breastfeeding falls upon one person only, there’s plenty that those around a new mom can do to support her feeding goals. Shari Criso has worked as a registered nurse, certified nurse midwife, and international board-certified lactation consultant for more than 25 years. We drilled her on how to provide a breastfeeding mom with the physical and emotional support she needs.

Thanks for chatting, Shari. First off, what are some of the specific challenges that a new, breastfeeding mom may be facing (especially those that she may not expect)? There’s unfortunately often a lot of conflicting and misinformation coming at new mothers from medical providers. Many moms will end up unnecessarily supplementing with formula before they are even discharged home. This can definitely can have an impact and lead to early weaning or never really establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship with their newborn. The biggest piece of advice that I can offer to any expectant mom is to get educated and prepare prior giving birth. Take a breastfeeding class, make sure your partner attends and is on board, and have a lactation consultant all set up and ready to call if things are not going as planned.

Speaking of partners. . . what are some ways that they can be supportive? It has been said that the #1 cause of early breastfeeding termination or not reaching personal breastfeeding goals is a lack of support from a spouse or partner. One of the very first things that a spouse can do is attend or watch a breastfeeding class. That way they can be not only be a support, but also be the advocate she will need to speak up and ask questions. The other way that they can aid the process is to help out with everything else (cooking, cleaning, bathing, changing the baby, just to name a few). Lastly, partners need to be the gate-keepers from any negative or critical comments or pressure that could be coming from relatives and friends. New moms can feel overwhelmed and scared about their ability to care and feed their new babies already. . . any interference that undermines her confidence will only make things 10 times worse.

And how about some practical suggestions for relieving the pain/discomfort associated with breastfeeding? Prolonged feedings in the first few days without a good position and latch can lead to sore and cracked nipples. This is obviously painful, and can cause a mom to stop nursing altogether. In my online class, Simply Breastfeeding, I discuss ways to avoid this by limiting the length (not the frequency) of the feedings in the first three days. If a mom does become very sore, one of the best things she can do is to apply breast milk to the nipple and allow it to be open to the air. She can also apply an organic Lanolin-Free nipple cream (one with Calendula) between feedings. Overall, the most important thing is to make sure that she is properly positioned and latched. Sitting up with good support for herself and the baby will help to achieve this. Many moms become engorged 3 to 5 days after delivery. Applying cold compresses, cabbage leaves, and/or expressing some of the milk out in the shower can help to relieve this pain. It normally doesn’t last very long, but it is important not to keep pumping out the milk to “empty” the breast.

A mom’s stress level/state of mind can have an impact on her ability to produce milk/breastfeed successfully, correct? Any suggestions on things that a mom can do for herself to ease her stress in the early days of motherhood? (We know. . . easier said than done!). This is such a difficult thing, because becoming a mom itself is stressful both physically and mentally. The good news is that this kind of stress doesn’t directly impact your ability to make or sustain your milk supply. What can have an impact on your supply is if the stress is causing you to miss feedings, not take care of yourself, or become dehydrated. It is important to really ask for support and let everyone help as you recover and make the life changing transition into motherhood. If you are feeling like it is going further than just feeling stressed, it is important to speak with your doctor or midwife about the real possibility of postpartum depression, so that you can get the support and help you need.

Great advice (as always). Thanks so much, Shari.