Posted by: findingthemiddle | April 20, 2009

Carnival of Breastfeeding – How to deal with unsupportive family members…


Welcome to our Carnival of Breastfeeding post that we are reprinting to include all the other fantastic Carnival of Breastfeeding posts.  Scroll on down to the bottom to read other Breastfeeding “How to” posts.

This particular post looks at the tough problem of how to deal when you, the parents, think breastfeeding is important but your extended family doesn’t. As a bonus, while this post is about breastfeeding, it applies to any aspect of parenting. Breastfeeding is just one of many parenting choices that our extended families might not support.

I think that before we even start the interaction with our extended families, we need to feel confident of our choices. I’m assuming that you’re reading this because you agree with me that breastfeeding is important. If you’re at all doubtful, then check out any or all of these summaries of why breastfeeding is right for babies: Case Closed: Breast Is Best (Mothering Magazine, May/June 2009),  American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation, or the statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Even the most confident person can be insecure in the face of criticism. New parents are extremely vulnerable to this insecurity. I think it’s because we want so badly to be good parents. So if we value breastfeeding then we need to protect our convictions. I’m not saying that we should ignore other points of view, I’m suggesting that once we’ve made a reasonable decision it’s ok to stop second guessing ourselves. To do this it helps to find friends that have successfully breastfed their babies. These friends will be sympathetic in hard times without asking “Why are you still breastfeeding?”. They’ll share solutions besides “Why don’t you wean?”. They won’t keep asking why your baby still nurses during the night or wonder if your baby is “too attached”. Books are the friends that never sleep and are never busy. It’s important to read the ones that don’t undermine your values. Reading conflicting advice leaves us confused. So don’t read both The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Babywise (actually, I’d suggest not reading Babywise at all..). You’ll just be frustrated. Visit blogs and online forums that are breastfeeding-friendly. Our pediatricians aren’t (usually) our friends but we often turn to them for parenting advice. So take the time to find a doctor that supports breastfeeding. By this I mean someone that is up to date on practices that promote breastfeeding, works with professional lactation support for breastfeeding problems, and refers to community breastfeeding support groups.

Once you know what you want, have surrounded yourself with supportive friends, are reading breastfeeding-friendly material, and have helpful health care, then you’re in a secure place to deal with your unsupportive family. Since I’m assuming that you want to maintain a friendly relationship with your family, you’ll need to think about what strategies would work best with them. Here’s a range of approaches:

Nod-and-smile. With this one you don’t tell your family much about your baby feeding choices. This works well with family that lives in another city. They may not think breastfeeding is important, but it doesn’t matter because you aren’t asking them about it and aren’t telling them what you’re doing. If they start to talk about formula, bottles, starting solids early, or weaning, you just nod and smile (and keep right on breastfeeding).

Because it’s important to me. This approach doesn’t try to convince anyone of anything. You just ask your family to do (or not do) specific things to support your breastfeeding because it’s important to you. You don’t ask them to agree that a bottle of formula is a bad idea. You just say that you don’t want your baby to get formula. You don’t ask them to agree that it’s right for you to not leave your newborn with them for the weekend. You just tell them that you keep your breastfeeding baby close because that is important to you. This relies on your family wanting you to be happy and respecting your wishes because they care about you.

Research shows… Some families are open to new ideas. While they may not initially support breastfeeding, once you tell them about the studies that show how great it is they become fans. Many families are impressed by the studies that show formula-fed babies have more ear infections, higher rates of obesity, are more likely to die of SIDS, and may not be as smart as their breastfed peers. If you need a list of these studies, you’ll find them in the links at the beginning of this post.

Seeing how well it works. Sometimes all it takes is showing family how happy breastfeeding makes everyone. I’ve heard mothers talk about how their families were amazed at how few ear infections their babies had or how peaceful nights were with a breastfed baby. Families that fed their babies formula can be surprised by how convenient it is to travel with a breastfeeding baby. I talked with one grandmother that hadn’t breastfed her own children and just loved to watch her daughter and grandbaby nursing. She loved how relaxed, content, and natural they looked. This grandmother went from being dubious to being an active supporter of her breastfeeding daughter.

As a final note, I think that no matter what approach you take to dealing with your unsupportive family it’s helpful to try to understand them. There are so many reasons that they might not support your decision to breastfeed. They might worry  that it is too demanding or that your baby won’t grow well. Many grandparents were told that formula was better for babies. They might not be up to date on new recommendations. Members of your family might have chosen not to breastfeed and regret it now. Maybe they resent the feelings of guilt or loss they have as they watch you. Maybe they feel inadequate in comparison. They might feel like your choice to parent differently than they did is an unspoken criticism of their parenting skills. I believe it’s worth the effort to understand them because it’s much easier to defend our own choices without anger or fighting when we understand the other person’s point of view. Our families can know that we appreciate their concern and care about their feelings. Sometimes that alone is enough for them to become supportive of our choices.

Babies grow up and wean. But figuring out how to get along with your family about parenting choices lasts your whole life. This is a great chance to work out the best strategies for you.

Other April Carnival of Breastfeeding posts… (updated throughout the day)

Mama Knows Breast - “How to get a spouse to help with breastfeeding.”
Motherwear Blog“How to get your baby to kick the nipple shield habit”
The Marketing Mom“How to pump successfully at work”
babyREADY – “How to get baby to take a bottle”
Amber at - “How to get breastfeeding off to a good start”
Baby Carriers Downunder – “How to breastfeed hands free”
Breastfeeding Moms Unite! – “How to become a breastfeeding support professional.”
Milk Act – “How to care for a sick nursling”
Maher Family Grows – “How to increase milk supply using supplements”
Blacktating – “How to treat a cold while breastfeeding.”
TopHat – “How to be comfortable around a breastfeeding mom.”
MoBoLeez – How to (naturally) increase your milk supply – Try seaweed!”
Breastfeeding 1-2-3 – “How to teach your baby nursing manners!”
Natural Birth and Baby Care - “How to improve milk supply through nutrition.”
Mama Saga – “How to Breastfeed (Or Just Look Like You Know What You Are Doing)”
Breastfeeding Mums - “How to wean a breastfeeding toddler”
Zen-Mommy – “Using YouTube to stop nosey questions”
Trish at Tiny Grass – “Tandem Nursing: How to Do It Without Driving Yourself and Your Nurslings Crazy”

Happy mothering!



  1. [...] Happy Bambino – How to deal with family members who aren’t supportive of breastfeeding [...]

  2. I usually go the nod and smile route. I have tried educating folks in the past, but the majority of them just don’t get it so I’ve stopped. I let them tell me all kinds of ludicrous nonsense and then I just smile, knowing that my baby is getting the best.

  3. [...] wean a breastfed toddler – BreastfeedingMums How to treat a cold while breastfeeding – Blacktating How to deal with family members who are not supportive of breastfeeding – Happy Bambino How to pump successfully at work – The Marketing Mama How to get baby to take a [...]

  4. I think that once you’ve breastfed and weaned one child, a lot of the criticism disappears. Nursing my first for nearly 3 years might have seemed unthinkable to some family members, but now that she’s a happy, healthy, normal 4-year-old they don’t have the same reservations. Like you said, seeing how well it works can make all the difference.

  5. [...] Happy Bambino’s Blog – on how to deal with unsupportive family members [...]

  6. It is interesting. Even my family members who are supportive are a little squeamish about certain aspects of breastfeeding, especially those who haven’t done it. “Do you really have to nurse him here/now?” “Yep.” Period. And when the comeback is, “Well Soandso [best friend who obviously knows more than I do] saays that…..”, my response is, “Well, when you have a child, you can decide whether to take her advice or not.”

  7. I countered with “It works for our family.” It’s fairly hard for someone to argue with a statement that doesn’t involve them. It also doesn’t criticize others who have made a different choice or had another choice forced on them. I wanted to quote research and the obvious rightness of breastfeeding but I had a niece who had a baby the same day as I did who had to supplement because not all of her milk ducts were intact following breast reduction surgery. This made me sensative to those who weren’t nursing at least partially.

  8. Thank you SO much for sharing this side of breastfeeding. The lack of support or encouragement surrounding a new mom who tries to breastfeeding, or wants to continue for a long time, really affects her final decision, and that is not right. I felt compelled to put a list of the 10 things that people don’t tell you about breastfeeding to prepare moms-to-be and new moms that latching is just the beginning of the battle.

  9. [...] Spouse to Help With Breastfeeding How to (Naturally) Increase Your Milk Supply – Try Seaweed! How to deal with family members who aren’t supportive of breastfeeding How-To” – “Using YouTube to STOP nosey questions! how to teach your baby nursing [...]

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