Pages Menu

Column originally published Mar 29, 2005

Family Can Help And Support Breastfeeding Mother

Question: I will be a first time grandmother very soon. Our daughter is expecting her first child next month. Last week, she told me that she has decided to breast-feed her baby. This should not bother me, but it does. I did not nurse her or our other children. In those years, none of my friends nurse their children. I was told by my doctor that it was best to put our babies on formula, and all of them grew up just fine. From what I have read recently, I now know that breast feeding is better for babies. I am nervous because I have no experience in breast-feeding, and I don’t know how to help my daughter when she needs help. Can you give me some advice?


I am very glad to hear that you care about your daughter and grandchild so much, and you are looking for information about breast-feeding, even though you have no experience in it. I would begin by saying that you should just relax, both of them will be fine. However, it is true that if you know more about breast-feeding, you can give them the proper support that only a mother and grandmother can provide.

I am not at all surprised when you said that your doctor recommended that you feed your children with infant formula. In those years, many people, including the medical profession, thought that formulas were scientific and promoted that idea. We now know that infant formulas, although generally safe for children, are not as good as breast milk, and have been the main cause of illness and death for many children in less developed countries.

Because of the mistake of doctors and other health care professionals, many women who are going to become grandmothers and great-grandmothers missed the experience of breast-feeding. In many parts of North America, the culture of nursing babies is completely lost. Many young women who want to consider breast-feeding feel intimidated, and find little support from their mothers and other women around them.

Not only that, our society is very unfriendly to breast-feeding women. There are very few public places where women can feel comfortable to sit down and nurse their babies. They can either sit at public benches, under the staring eyes of anyone passing by, or they can do it in the washroom, which is often not set up for breast-feeding.

In Canada, we are very fortunate that there is a labour law that supports parents to take one year off to take care of their new baby. This is an excellent law, and definitely helps women who want to breast-feed. However, in the maritime provinces where many jobs are seasonal, a lot of women have to return to work shortly after delivering their newborn child. There is hardly enough time to adapt to motherhood, let alone establishing breast-feeding for the mother and infant.

Breast-feeding is probably one of the most natural human behaviour since the beginning of human existence. Mothers’ milk is most suited for their children. That is the reason why infant formula companies continue to do research, to improve their products to make them closer to mothers’ milk. However, there is never any need to improve human milk! There are very few medical conditions where mothers should not breast feed their babies.

One of the greatest challenges of breast-feeding mothers is not knowing whether their baby has had enough to eat. Those who use infant formula can see how much milk is in the bottle, but one cannot actually see how much a breast-fed baby actually took. One can safely assume that if a baby appears to be satisfied after a period of nursing, he probably has enough to eat.

However, babies go through what we call growth spurts where they grow very fast, and may want to nurse very often, sometimes as much as every hour or two. It is during these times where many mothers question their ability to nurse, because their babies seem to require feedings much more frequently compared with formula-fed babies. Some would interpret that their milk is not as good as formula, while others believe that they are not producing enough milk. It is so tempting during these periods to just give the bottle instead of persisting with breast-feeding.

It is during these times of self-doubt where breast-feeding women require the most support. They see other formula-fed babies seem to be satisfied for three or four hours after a single feed, not recognizing that their breast milk is easier to digest than formulas.

Therefore, the most important thing for you to do as a grandmother, is to support your daughter’s decision. It is the best decision that any new mother can make. Anyone can feed a baby with a bottle, but only the mother can provide breast-feeding for the baby. Don’t ask for the opportunity to feed your grandchild when she or he is still strictly nursing, you will have lots of time later.

During the growth spurts, encourage your daughter to stick to breast-feeding, knowing that these periods will pass and things will be back on track.

There are times when the baby can be fussy for one reason or another, and your daughter may need some rest. You can help by taking care of the baby for a while, so that she can take the much needed sleep without getting exhausted. Production of breast-milk requires not only nourishment for the mother, but she also needs good amount of rest to do that well. She may also need help to prepare nutritious meals for herself as well as for her husband. You see the point, you can help her a great deal!

Finally, I should mention that there is a change of recommendation in terms of duration of breast feeding. The World Health Organization, Canadian Paediatric Society, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, all recommend that infants should be strictly breast fed for the first six months of their lives without any solid food. The total duration of breast feeding has also been extended to two years, although mothers can still nurse longer if they desire. This new recommendation is the result of many years of research and observation around the world.

In Canada, Vitamin D supplementation is recommended when the babies are strictly breast-feeding. This is because of our fairly long winter where many women do not have the opportunity to be exposed to the sun outdoors.