Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Five Ways to Support a New Mother

This post is inspired by World Breastfeeding Week, hosted annually by The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) from August 1 - 7.  The WBW theme for this year focuses on peer support for breastfeeding women, especially in the community, among family, and from health care providers.  According to WABA, peer support is the best way to ensure that women who are having difficulties, or who have returned to work, continue to nurse their babies. 

I want to share five ways anyone can support a new mother, and although these tips are especially helpful for breastfeeding mothers, they are also helpful to women who are bottle feeding (pumping or formula).  
Because breastfeeding can be difficult to maintain after a woman returns to the workplace, I also include specific information on how coworkers can assist their lactating colleagues on the job.  Several women have told me how lack of time to pump at work led them to end breastfeeding sooner than they otherwise would have.  This situation creates a spiral of less nursing because missed pumping sessions reduce supply, which leads to more use of formula, which leads to less nursing, etc.  

Our efforts to support lactating women are important in all areas of our lives: in the family, at home, in our neighborhoods, at the workplace, in public, and at worship.  I hope you are able to put these simple suggestions to good use supporting a new mother and her baby.

Five Simple Ways to Help a New Mother

1. Bring her a meal.  This is especially helpful during those early days at home when baby is very hungry and mother needs to heal from the birth.  A lactating mother needs a hearty healthy meal and plenty of snacks to keep her milk flowing, her energy up, and to promote healing.  If she has other children, she will benefit from the rest instead of preparing a meal for them.  While many women are fortunate that a family member can help out during this time, some mothers do not have any help, and most family members return to their own homes after a week or two.  

If you are supporting a lactating coworker, You can offer to bring her some takeout for lunch, or to pick up a dinner for her to take home to her family.  This is especially helpful when she first returns to work and her whole family is adjusting to their new schedule.

You can even organize a crew of volunteers to bring meals to a family with a new baby by contacting the new mother’s friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers.  Care Calendars makes this easy; all you have to do is set up a schedule and then send an e-mail to those who might want to help.  They sign up and the information is sent to the new mother and the calendar coordinator.  You could even arrange this before the baby is born!

2.  Offer to watch the baby or her older children.  New mothers need their rest, and even though everyone will tell her to sleep when the baby is sleeping, she may not be able to, especially if she has other children.  Keeping the baby or other children occupied for just an hour can let the new mom take a much needed rest without interruption.

You can help a coworker by watching her desk or phone and assuring anyone who tries to find her while she is pumping that she will return soon.  Also, before she returns from maternity leave, you can ask others to help you clean the refrigerator in the break room so the pumped milk can be stored in a sanitary place (you know how yucky a workplace fridge can get sometimes).

3.  Run an errand or help with a house chore.  We all know how difficult it can be to get to the store with a newborn, especially if that baby does not like the car seat.  Offer to pick up items while you are running your own errands, or ask if she needs something to help with breastfeeding, her post-partum bleeding, or her personal hygiene.  Same for a coworker; running errands after work might mean the baby will have to wait to nurse, which is not helpful to either the mother or child if they have been separated all day.

Laundry can pile up with a newborn around, so if you are visiting the new family, offer to help place something in the wash or fold things that are already dry.  Maybe the floor could use a sweep or the sink a wipe down. 

4.  Listen.  Sometimes, mothers need to share what is happening to them, or ask questions about how they are feeling.  She may want to gush about the baby, talk about how her life has changed, or simply have a conversation with an adult (instead of a baby or children) about something entirely different.  Indulge her; she will remember your kindness later.

Your coworker may have questions about readjusting to work life with a baby, how to handle a situation with her baby’s caregiver, or a work project that was completed during her maternity leave.  Returning to work while caring for a young baby can be distracting, to say the least; your offer to listen or chat can help tremendously.

5.  Pray.  This is an easy one, especially if you are already in the habit of praying for those who are healing or going through a major change in their lives.  There is much to pray for: healing, health, rest, learning to breastfeed, smooth nights, energy to complete daily tasks, patience, and so much more.

What are your ideas for supporting a new mother?  I am fortunate to have benefitted from the kindness of others in all of these ways, especially after the birth of my second child.  In fact, the help of friends was crucial to my breastfeeding success the second time.  You can read my stories about how I handled breastfeeding difficulties here and here.

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