Whether it’s the first grandchild, or the tenth, each new baby brings new opportunities. Grandparents have a powerful influence on healthy behaviors, particularly with breastfeeding. Most of us are aware that breastmilk is the most complete nutrition for the infant, providing growth factors for brain development, immunity to disease and protection against obesity that no other food can offer. The grandmother’s experience, her comments, and the way she offers help can go a long way in shaping the new mother’s beliefs about her ability to breastfeed. Research has shown that the father and grandmother of the baby have more influence on a mom’s decision to breastfeed than does the lactation consultant or breastfeeding educator. This influence can either be used to reduce risk or to increase risk of not breastfeeding.
When grandmothers were new parents they were often given misinformation about breastfeeding. Mothers were mistakenly told the baby was allergic to their milk, or they only made skim milk; or babies should be put on a limited feeding schedule, or even that formula was as good as (or better than) breastmilk. We now know that breastfeeding is normal and protective; that formula is a just a substitute. Breastfeeding is better and safer, and women can breastfeed, with the right support. Grandparents have a wonderful opportunity to help make this happen.
Grandmothers can keep a positive attitude and remind their daughters that breastfeeding is not only normal but is a learning process for both mom and baby. Seeking help from professionals and para-professionals before the baby is born, and especially just after birth, can help ensure a successful breastfeeding experience. The International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a professional who works closely with obstetricians, pediatricians and hospital maternity staff. There are also para-professionals--La Leche League Leaders, Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, Lactation Educators and others--who offer support and recognize breastfeeding problems that should be handled by an IBCLC. Rather than saying, “Breastfeeding is just too hard. I never got the hang of it, myself. Let me get you a bottle of formula,” a grandparent can say: “I so admire your commitment to breastfeeding. Let me get your breastfeeding support person on the phone to help you.”
The more support a mother receives, the better she is able to support her baby. New mothers should have someone else doing the laundry, cooking, dishwashing, and running errands—without her having to ask. Of course it would be fun for grandparents to feed the baby, but continuity of breastfeeding is much more important. It helps the mother and baby learn and bond more quickly, and is safer than formula feeding. Grandparents can help new mothers breastfeed exclusively, by taking on other tasks.
Grandparents can say: “It’s important to me to be a real help to you. Would it be OK if I make you lunch now, and then do the laundry while you’re napping?” If the mom feels shy about accepting your help, let her know that you remember what is was like to have a new baby and really want to help.
In this way the grandparents become a positive source of breastfeeding support, setting the stage for a lifetime of better health for both mother and baby.
Arly Helm, MS, IBCLC
Clinical Lactation Consulting
Join Arly and her husband Roger for the next Grandparenting the Newborn Class