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Breastfeeding may seem like something that only happens between a mother and her baby, but the reality is that it really takes a village. But what if that village—namely, the mom’s own family—doesn’t support her choice to breastfeed? What is a nursing mom to do when this happens?

Engage them in conversation. You might have a mother-in-law who constantly tells you that your milk isn’t “enough” for your baby. Or maybe your husband says that he doesn’t like feeling like he is sharing you. Maybe your own mother says that she thinks formula is just easier. If you don’t ask, you might not understand why they are being critical of your nursing relationship. Start with, “Why don’t you seem supportive of me breastfeeding?” A straightforward question might make them realize they didn’t mean to be that critical, or might be the opportunity to start a real conversation. Be sure to remember to listen, however. You don’t have to agree, but everyone needs to be respectful.

Ask what their own experiences were. The sister who says you’ll never make enough milk might be thinking of her own terrible time with breastfeeding. She might be feeling jealous, or she might be really worried that you aren’t going to make enough milk, too (read more about perceived low milk supply here). A grandmother might be from the era where using formula was a symbol of freedom to allow mom’s to go back to work if they wanted. Ask about their own experiences to understand where they are coming from.

Tell them why breastfeeding is good for your baby. After getting this information, it can be helpful to let them know why breast milk is so good for babies. They really might not know the facts, which you can get here.  Once they hear about the decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (or SIDS) or the decreased risk of obesity in babies who are breastfed, you might have changed some minds.

Tell them why breastfeeding is good for you. Do they know that women who breastfeed have lower rates of ovarian, breast, and uterine cancers? Have they heard that breastfeeding also lowers the risk of developing heart disease? These can really be powerful facts, especially when these diseases run in the family. 

Tell them why breastfeeding is good for them (yes, really!). Yes, breastfeeding is good for families as a whole! It can save a lot of money when it comes to formula, and the decreased risk of earaches and stomach bugs also means less money lost when it comes to medical bills and from lost wages on days where mom or dad has to stay home from work. Who wouldn’t want that for their family?!

Show them other ways to be involved. Family members – dads especially – might worry that exclusive breastfeeding means lots of missed opportunities to bond with baby. This is definitely not true, as feeding is but only one way to interact with a new baby. There are so many ways family members can help with breastfeeding, and you can read about them here.

Get your doctor or lactation consultant to help. If you feel like all your facts are falling on deaf ears, sometimes the authority of a pediatrician, obstetrician, or lactation consultant can help. Bring along your doubting family members to your next baby’s appointment so they can see that he is in fact growing and hear from a medical professional why breastfeeding is so important.

If all else fails, stand your ground. Sometimes despite your best efforts minds will not be changed. Remember at the end of the day that this is your baby, and you know how to feed her best. If you find that certain family members are being critical and not respecting your role as mom, it is OK to take a break from them. Toxic relationships are no good for anyone, and your maternal instincts will know what is best.

Takeaways

  • Engage your family in conversation on why they have issues with your breastfeeding.
  • Try to educate them that breast really is best.
  • Stick with it!

References

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics News. Study: Breastfeeding for at least 2 months decreases risk of SIDS. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2017/10/30/BreastfeedingSIDS103017.
  2. American Institute for Cancer Research. Breastfeeding. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/lactation-breastfeeding

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