Social Media and Lactation Support

The success of the chest/breastfeeding couplet depends largely on the amount of support they receive while making the decision to breastfeed, during pregnancy, and after the birthing parent delivers. Research has demonstrated for many years that people who receive excellent social support will have increased confidence to breastfeed and will sustain a more positive outlook towards the nursing experience (Wilson, 2020). Many professional organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), have stated that chest/breastfeeding support interventions will increase the duration and exclusivity of chest/breastfeeding (Bridges, Howell, and Schmied, 2018). For generations, families have provided an internal network of support for new families and have been that resource for chest/breastfeeding information passed down through the years.

Unfortunately, times have changed and the access to family support has decreased. Reasons for this lack of extended family support may be due to new parents relocating to a new location for employment opportunities, thus making that one-on-one generational support difficult. New parents are often diligent in attending classes on pregnancy, childbirth, and hopefully chest/breastfeeding and have developed a social bond with others and celebrate shared experiences. But what happens when the new baby arrives and the couple is learning to live as a new family? It is not unusual for them to feel isolated and exhausted, while trying to navigate all the new experiences as new parents. It is often exciting, but may also feel confusing and scary, especially if this is their first baby.

Many new parents need chest/breastfeeding support and will participate in community support groups such as Le Leche League, postpartum support groups, or may opt for a more personal session with a Lactation Consultant. Due to the growing popularity of social media platforms and the increased isolation some families may experience, many new mothers will turn to online chest/breastfeeding support groups. These online support groups will often replace their perceived lack of professional, family, and partner support and can be accessed at all times of the day and night. Reputable online support groups will allow a new mom reassuring, empathetic support and a safe space to ask questions without feeling judged (Regan and Brown, 2019). It is very important that healthcare professionals lead new families to reputable online support groups because there are many sites that may make information even more confusing and inaccurate, thus risking the safety of both the chest/breastfeeding parent and the baby.

Since many new mothers return to work outside of the home not long after giving birth, these online support networks are often the place women will turn to for advice and support regarding chest/breastfeeding and work. They will seek out advice on breast pumps, expressing and storing breastmilk and what to expect during growth spurts (Bridges, Howell, and Schmied, 2018). Any social media search will quickly lead a new parent to a support group providing information geared towards any needs and interests. The ability to interact with professionals and other new parents at any time of the day or night in the comfort of their own home has been a popular means of support. This mode of communication will hopefully improve confidence and reassurance for chest/breastfeeding success.

Online social media support groups have been even more important as families navigate parenthood during this Covid-19 pandemic. Many community support groups and hospitals no longer provide in-person support and have reached out to parents in the virtual world of providing healthcare. The ability to turn to social media during this scary time and at an increased risk for exposure to Covid is extremely important and should be encouraged when working with our families. While there are many benefits to participate in online social media groups, there are also negatives which may impact the success of chest/breastfeeding.  Parents must be vigilant in reviewing the information for accuracy and seek their providers input if they have questions.

Fortunately, new families have access to all avenues of support and information both in-person and online. Social media continues to grow as one of the most popular means of support, cementing itself as an important method of a safe, effective communication tool for networking and education. Social media has helped to improve chest/breastfeeding outcomes for many women by providing them a safe place to ask questions and feel supported when they are having difficulty during their chest/breastfeeding experience.

Resources

  • Bridges, N., Howell, G. & Schmied, V. (2018). Exploring chest/breastfeeding support on social media. International Chest/breastfeeding Journal, 13:22. Doi: 10.1186/s13006-018-0166-9
  • Regan, S. & Brown, A. (2019). Experiences of online chest/breastfeeding support: Support and reassurance versus judgement and misinformation. Maternal Child Nutrition. Doi:10.1111/mcn.12874
  • Wilson, J.C. (2020). Using social media for chest/breastfeeding support, Clinical Evaluation and Improvement. AWHONN. Doi: 10.1016/j.nwh.2020.07.003

About the Author

Dawn Teeple has been a Registered Nurse for over 35 years, specializing in Maternal-Child Health. She has worked in all areas supporting mothers and babies including the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Labor and Delivery, Mother/Baby, Lactation Consultant, Childbirth Educator, Elementary School nurse, as well as a Nursing Professor teaching new nurses about her passion for working with mothers and their newborns. She is a Certified Lactation Educator working full-time as lactation support in her local hospital. She will be graduating with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice, having completed her graduate project on the benefits of skin-to-skin contact and increasing the rates of exclusive breastfeeding. Dawn has been married for 28 years, has 3 wonderful children (25, 22 and 8) and has breastfed all of her babies! She loves to travel and spend time with her family, camping and at the beach.

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