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In Support of Breastfeeding

Most grandparents are beyond excited when they learn that their kids are expecting a new baby. Grandmas and Grandpas alike daydream about what it will be like to cuddle a sweet, tiny bundle close. After all, it has probably been a few decades since they’ve held such a treasure in their arms.

However, sometimes the daydreams meet a startling reality when mom and dad announce their parenting plans. One especially jarring note to the Grandma who has pictured herself babysitting frequently can be when mom says that she’s going to breastfeed.

Of course, in theory, grandparents understand that according to all of the pediatricians, breast is best. But reconciling what breastfeeding will actually be like in the day-to-day life of their kids and the new grandbaby is another thing entirely.

Mom nursing a babyWill I be able to babysit? Does this decision imply a subtle judgement of our decision not to breastfeed our kids? What if mom doesn’t make enough milk? Are they going to completely cut me out of caring for the baby? These questions and others may be going through your mind as you try to figure out how things are going to work. Of course, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but you wish that you could communicate to your kids how excited you are and how eager you are to pitch in with this new little one.

If You’ve Never Breastfed Before…

To those with little exposure to breastfeeding, the practice of feeding an infant from one’s own body can seem a little odd. However, when you consider that people did this for millennia before the advent of modern formula, you can see that bottle feeding a baby is actually the more unusual choice over the span of history. Do a little research to see how advantageous breastfeeding is for your grandchild.  Tell your kids thank you for making this decision that, while it is sometimes inconvenient, will only benefit the baby’s health.

Second, never compare your kids and their parenting decisions to one another. One of your daughters may bottle feed and another may breastfeed. They’re both making the best choices for their own families. It’s okay if they choose differently.

Third, don’t take it personally. When your daughter or daughter in law declares her intention to breastfeed, remember that this decision is not a commentary on how you chose to raise your own children. The choice to breastfeed is not a slam on your parenting decisions of decades ago.

Last, tell your kids that you really want to be of help, but you’re not sure how to do so. You’d love to care for the baby to give the new mom a chance to sleep. Ask if mom is open to pumping so you can feed the baby and let her rest. If she says no, then ask for another way that you can pitch in. While folding laundry and vacuuming isn’t quite as much fun as rocking and feeding a baby, these chores are deeply appreciated by new parents.

If You Have Breastfed Before…

An experienced mother who successfully breastfed one or more children can be very intimidating to the new mom who is struggling to figure it all out. Don’t forget that mom is probably feeling very insecure as she and the baby learn breastfeeding techniques together. Always be encouraging to these new, emotionally fragile mothers.

Don’t make the mistake of offering unsolicited advice. Be sure that your kids know that you’re available and willing to advise or help, but you don’t want to butt in with unwelcome advice. Let them ask for help if they are interested, and don’t take it personally if they would rather discuss breastfeeding issues with medical personnel. After all, the new mom may have medical issues that can cause difficulty that you have no experience with.

Be sure to offer help in other tangible ways while mom is working at breastfeeding. And, if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, affirm their decision and be as understanding as possible.

It won’t be long before the baby can be away from mom for longer and longer periods of time and you can have the relationship with him or her that you have always dreamed of. Begin cultivating the relationship with your grandchild by cultivating the relationship with his parents first.

Breastfeeding babyThe Bottle/Breast Milk Option

Sometimes when a mother is breastfeeding, circumstances, like a return to work, make  it impossible for her to maintain a breast only feeding schedule.  This can be physically and emotionally difficult. Keep your focus on how to support the parent’s choice. In many cases, when this happens many mothers elect to pump breast milk for use when they are away from the baby, or substitute formula in limited amounts. In those circumstances, a baby may alternate between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. While those occasions can offer grandparents the opportunity to share in the feeding of the baby don’t let your excitement change how you are supporting the mother and her choices.

Additional Resources

Why Breastfeeding is important – Article on the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby.

Breastfeeding Research Links – from the Baby Friendly initiative of UNICEF.

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