Getting support for breastfeeding

The overwhelming need of the women we spoke to was for contact with and support from other women who had breastfed or were currently breastfeeding. Many women went to great lengths to set up their own support networks consisting of family, friends, support groups and health professionals.

Support for breastfeeding included:

  • practical (like preparing meals, doing the washing or shopping, minding an older child or minding the baby so that the mother could get some sleep);
  • social (like visiting or chatting to other women about their experiences either in a support group environment or over the telephone or internet);
  • informational (like sharing tips for solving problems or dealing with situations);
  • emotional/psychological (like offering encouragement and praise, telling the mother how well she was doing with her breastfeeding and helping her to keep things in perspective)
  • and advocacy (like supporting women in defending their decisions against contradictory/unwelcome health professional advice).

Many women said that it was important to know where to go for support and information, especially at any time. They suggested keeping contact details or a list of telephone numbers (see 'Resources')*1.

Many of the women attended some form of support group and said that the people there were the most useful source of help and advice. They realised that they were not on their own and not the first person to have experienced what they were going through. They often called for help with a problem in the beginning but then continued to go along for the social contact and the opportunity to talk to women who understood and encouraged them.

While on the one hand the women we talked to were very grateful for the support that they received, on the other hand some preferred to be allowed to do things their own way. Many women talked about how a little, genuinely well-meant advice or concern from family, friends or health professionals could actually be undermining. They spoke of the importance of being able to deflect those comments and the vital role of advocates, including other breastfeeding women and supportive, knowledgeable health professionals, such as lactation consultants*2 and breastfeeding counsellors whom they often praised. Some women spoke about their ambivalent relationship with their own mother or mother-in-law, who had often not breastfed because of the culture at the time that she was having her own babies (see 'Previous awareness of breastfeeding').

While most women were happy with the support that they received from their health professionals or had mixed experiences, some felt that their professionals were too quick to advise the use of infant formula (see 'Monitoring baby's growth') and one woman said that she felt “bullied” into it. Several women went from one professional to another who offered variable advice until they found suitable help from someone who listened to them, someone whom they could respect and trust. Many questioned how much in-depth training health professionals have in breastfeeding. One woman was upset by the judgemental and ill-informed attitudes towards extended breastfeeding that she came up against. Several spoke of the power that professionals were able to wield over them. One young mother felt that they “talked down to her” and made her feel like “a bad mum”.

Women who were unable to breastfeed felt that the advice and support available is partial and biased. Their main criticism is that the information and support didn’t meet the needs of women who wanted but couldn’t breastfeed their babies for the recommended six months or more. (See When breastfeeding doesn’t work out’ and ‘Medical conditions that could affect breastfeeding’).

Several women talked about how difficult it was being isolated from family and friends who were living at a distance or were working all day. One woman made international calls to a clinic in her home country for advice. A few women with special needs, such as a mother of twins and a mother in a wheelchair, arranged formal support in the house so that they could concentrate on breastfeeding their babies.

An interesting and unexpected dimension of support for breastfeeding was the pride that the women took in being able to help other women and to change attitudes towards breastfeeding. As a result of having attended various support groups many of them were undertaking some sort of training to become peer supporters themselves.

*1 Footnote: See 'Resources' for a list of contacts for breastfeeding support.

*2 Footnote: A lactation consultant is a health professional with specialist qualifications in breastfeeding support (see Lactation Consultants of Great Britain's website for more details).

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated September 2015



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