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The #1 Key to Overcoming the Top 4 Breastfeeding Obstacles: Social Support

Feet of women and children

Unquestionably, support is helpful for anyone who sets a goal or undertakes a project. Whether you’re studying for an exam, trying to kick a bad habit, or shooting a basketball from the free-throw line, you’ve already seen that it’s easier to succeed when someone is cheering you on.

The same is true with breastfeeding — it’s easier to breastfeed with support. Having support from your family, your healthcare providers, and your community helps you to reach your goals, and to overcome obstacles you encounter along the way.  

One or more of these obstacles have happened to every breastfeeding mother I know. It’s likely you’ll encounter them, too.

Negative cultural beliefs and practices

Maybe you were told that your breasts are too small or too big. Hmph. Have you heard that babies benefit from “doing both” (mother’s milk and formula) or that babies must be allowed overnight visits with noncustodial fathers even if it interferes with breastfeeding? Then you’ve encountered negative cultural beliefs and practices. If you’ve given birth to a full-term healthy baby in a hospital that insisted on supplementation, you’ve seen how negative practices can be a clear obstacle.

Mothers are often too physically exhausted or too emotionally fragile to deal with these cultural beliefs and practices, which become obstacles to breastfeeding. Having support from others with accurate information can help in overcoming the obstacles to breastfeed.

Social norms that create stigma

If you’ve heard of mothers who are told to “cover up” when nursing in public, or to feed their babies elsewhere, you know how social norms create stigma. Maybe it’s happened to you, maybe it’s happened to a friend, or maybe you’ve seen it addressed on YouTube or a public awareness campaign. Similarly, if you’ve been hassled about pumping your milk in an airport or if a health care provider has taken you to task for nursing a toddler, you get it.

No mother should feel shamed for feeding her baby. I can’t shield you from feeling humiliated or intimated by being “ordered” to fit the social norms that are in opposition to the baby’s biological needs.  But I can tell you that such instances sting much less when you have support to continue breastfeeding.

Lack of current information about breastfeeding

Undertaking any job or project often highlights a need for more information and skills. Maybe you’ve noticed that if you’ve ever applied yourself to growing an azalea, baking a loaf of bread from scratch, knitting a pair of mittens, or setting up a Facebook page.

Sure, a few mothers have an intuitive ability about nursing their babies. But I’ve never met a mother who didn’t run into some special situation from time to time.  Having supportive people can help you to gain the information and acquire the skills to meet your breastfeeding goals, and your baby’s needs.

Pervasive marketing of formula and bottles

Every day, we are bombarded with messages about products and services. Perhaps you were exposed to the deluge of messages that make formula seem “almost” as good as breastfeeding, whether they be on TV, in magazines, on social media, at the doctor’s office, or elsewhere. And certainly, bottles have become the very symbol of babyhood in America.

When breastfeeding is going well, it’s easy to stick with it. When you get mastitis or the baby has a growth spurt or some other issue crops up, it can seem easier to cave in and feed the baby formula from a bottle. Support and encouragement from others who have “been there” can be the game changer that helps you keep on breastfeeding.

If you’re a breastfeeding mother, well I’m sorry to say that it’s a near certainty that some obstacles will appear, sometime! But with someone to cheer you on and support you with resources you need, you are far more likely to overcome them.

Can you succeed without support? Sure. But you don’t have to go it alone.   

Thoughtfully consider mother-to-mother support. I don’t think I’m overstating the case when I say that mother-to-mother support is often the secret to meeting your goal to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, and continuing to breastfeed as long as it feels right for you and your baby.

Was mother-to-mother support helpful for you in overcoming breastfeeding obstacles? I’d love to hear your story; share in the comments below!

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