Dealing With Unsupportive Family and Friends

By Martha Peelor, RN, IBCLC

Making the decision to breastfeed your baby can be simple if you or the baby’s father were breastfed or if other women in your family or among your friends have breastfed their babies.

For some of you, however, this decision can lead to conflict and hurt feelings involving the important people in your life. Sometimes you can feel attacked directly: “I fed you formula in a bottle and you turned out all right!” Sometimes the pressure is more subtle, “That baby sure seems hungry a lot; I wonder if he is getting enough to eat.” The subtle attacks are particularly damaging as most new mothers are wondering the same thing!

Nursing mothers, especially in the early weeks, have a critical need for support and encouragement. There can be many important people in your immediate world, including your baby’s dad, your mother and grandmothers, mother-in-law, aunts and cousins. When there are negative comments or pressure coming from these people, it can have a profound impact on your ability to meet your breastfeeding goals. In fact, one of the most important roles for your primary support person is to create an environment around you and your baby, which provides time and peace for you both to learn the “breastfeeding dance”. That means no negative comments; nobody bringing formula and bottles into the house “just in case”; and, no one offering to care for and feed the baby overnight so you “can get a good night’s sleep” (even though that would feel really good!).

One of the wonderful threads, which tie all of your important people together, is their love for you and your baby. Everyone wants you to recover from the pregnancy and childbirth. They are all invested in making sure your baby is happy and thriving. Breastfeeding may be a brand new process for them to accept and understand and it can look very different to them than bottle-feeding and formula do. It is helpful for you to answer their questions about how breastfeeding works and why you want to feed your baby this way. Grandmothers who did not breastfeed may be especially prone to feeling badly that they didn’t nurse or that you’re doing something different means they didn’t do a good job themselves.

Making your intentions clear in a gentle way as well as providing information about your reasons for breastfeeding is the first step in dealing with negative pressure. Encouraging the important people in your life to spend time with your baby, holding and talking and dancing with them, even changing diapers can give them opportunities to get to know your baby and show their love as well. Asking for help with meals, laundry and cleaning gives them specific, important tasks to do. Occasionally, it is necessary to just tell them, “The baby is thriving. I love what we’re doing and, I need your support, not your negative comments.”

As your baby grows and it is clear that breastfeeding is working well for both of you, the negative comments or pressure tend to disappear. Often, your breastfeeding becomes a source of pride for your family and friends and it is hard to remember that they ever opposed it!

Martha Peelor, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who sat for the very first IBCLC exam in 1985, was a long-time member of our staff. She retired in 2015.