7 ways to support your lactating friend

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, which is awesome, but anytime is a good time to share some ideas for how you can support your lactating friend! Here are my top seven tips.

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1. Offer them a drink.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

It’s easy to get dehydrated when producing human milk, which is 90% water! The general consensus seems to be that people who are lactating should be drinking when they’re thirsty (that is, there doesn’t seem to be a need for them to be consuming a particular number of ounces a day or to be drinking beyond their thirst, unless there’s another medical or environmental indication).

But, it’s easy to forget to grab something to drink before sitting down to nurse or pump, and it’s hard to grab something to drink if you’re pumping or actively feeding a child. So one great way to support a friend who is lactating is to offer them water, tea, or anything else you have on hand.

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2. Offer snacks.

Making milk takes a lot of energy; pumping or breastfeeding can require an extra 450 – 500 calories a day! Making sure that your friend has some food on hand is one kind gesture that can help keep up their energy levels.

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3. Ask if they want company or privacy while they pump or nurse.

People have different preferences, and what one’s person preference is in one scenario might be different in another. If your friend wants company, chat as you normally would. And if they want privacy, that’s a great time to implement tip #4.

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4. Wash and/or sanitize pump parts or bottles.

Cleaning pump parts and/or bottles is a huge task. Even just getting one set of pump parts washed or one bottle ready for the next feeding is a beautiful gift that will probably be very appreciated.

Three quick tips for cleaning:
First, sometimes, these parts are washed with particular soap. Check with your friend.
Second, you might also see a “bottle brush” near the sink; keep in mind that often the top half of the bottle brush handle will pull off to reveal a smaller brush on the bottom half. So, if you need something smaller to clean those valves, check out the bottle brush.
Third, your friend may sanitize items with boiling water or with microwave bags. Microwave bags seem like plain plastic bags, but they are microwave safe. Just follow the instructions on the bag to use them for sanitizing!

If washing or sanitizing makes you or the parent uncomfortable, you can do other acts of service as support, such as playing with an older sibling, walking a dog, or warming up some dinner.

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5. Make a physical space that is emotionally supportive when your friend needs to pump or nurse.

If you’re hosting a party, make sure your friend has somewhere to pump/nurse other than a bathroom (pretty gross to make food in a bathroom, right?). You might ensure there’s somewhere comfy to sit and that your friend knows where to access a refrigerator and sink. You might even leave a few water bottles next to that comfy chair (see point 1), a hand towel, a magazine, or a snack.

If you’re all going out to a restaurant, call ahead and find out where your friend can pump/nurse. And when your friend goes to do so, implement tip #3 🙂 .

If your friend pumps/nurses in public and someone makes a negative comment, remember that in all 50 states in the United States, people have the right to nurse wherever they have the right to be (that is, if you aren’t trespassing, you can nurse). State laws are much less clear on protections for pumping, so you might look up your state’s laws for words such as “pump” or “express.” (There are other laws regarding nursing and pumping at work, which I won’t discuss in this post; message me if you have questions or if there’s something on this topic you want me to write about!)

It’s a bummer to me that I feel the need to include this information in this article (“what to do if someone says they’re going to call the cops on your friend for nursing in a park”), but it happens more often than you think. It has happened to me when I was pumping in the front seat of my car at a rest stop once; a man stared at me for a bit and then walked over to a nearby cop, talked to him for a while while pointing at my car, and then was shrugged off. And it’s happened to me at parks or other public places, including one scenario when the friend I was sitting with called cheerily, “Hello, there!” at the gawker. That little show of support from my friend meant a lot to me. If you, as a friend, have an opportunity to be a support person in this kind of scenario, please do. That might look like comforting your friend, like telling the person not to infringe on your friend’s right to nurse, or something in between. Even just moving so that you position your body so as to block the gawker’s view can be a very helpful sign of support.

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6. Send them funny videos or articles to read when pumping or nursing.

Memes are a low-cost way to remind someone you care about them; similarly, videos, lists, or stories that you think your friend might enjoy are great to send along, especially with a little note such as:
“Saw this and thought of you!”
“Thought this was hilarious – sending along in case you want to watch during babe’s next nurse”
“Pumping sesh material”

These kinds of prompts don’t initiate conversation, which is actually why I think they’re great as a support strategy. That lack of a question mark or of an invitation indicates that the person never needs to get back to you or read something intently enough to prepare for a discussion on it later; rather, it’s a low-cost, no-expectation reminder that the person matters to you (that may also provide some fun entertainment during nursing or pumping).

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7.  Support them where they’re at.

If nursing or pumping is going well, cheer your friend on! (stay tuned for five ideas of affirmations you can send in this scenario)

If nursing or pumping isn’t going well, listen to your friend. Avoid offering advice unless you are qualified to do so, and never offer advice that indicates that someone’s pain – whether physical or emotional – doesn’t matter. You might instead empathize, brainstorm, and/or suggest resources in your area.

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Thank you for wanting to support your lactating friend! What other ideas would you add to this list?

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