1) Support your child’s or their partner’s decision to breastfeed regardless of whether or not you breastfed or feel your own breastfeeding experience was “successful”. Over the years you will find many ways in which your grandchildren will be raised differently than you raised your own children. This is not a criticism of your parenting decisions.
2) Encourage the nursing mother or parent to be comfortable feeding your grandchild in your company. Don’t ask her to sit in a bedroom or other private place for breastfeeding. It will make her feel left out of the family. If she wants some privacy or the baby needs some quiet time that is also fine. Your grandbaby’s parents are the best judges of what they and their baby need at that moment.
3) Nearly all women are physically capable of breastfeeding. However, in the early weeks, it may be challenging, especially if the new parents aren’t prepared with accurate information. You can give them a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding as a pre-baby gift and encourage them to attend a La Leche League meeting before the baby is born. This will allow them to make connections with their local breastfeeding support system. Many grandmothers enjoy reliving their breastfeeding days by attending a La Leche League meeting with their new grandchild.
4) Do not offer advice when new parents say they are tired or tell you they are struggling. Listen fully to their concerns. Rephrase what you think you heard to confirm that you understand what is worrying them. Before making suggestions, ask them what they think might be the best solution to the issue. Brainstorming ideas with them can help the parents find a solution with which they are comfortable. Saying, “Have you considered …” is more helpful than “You should do…” Encourage them to contact a La Leche League Canada Leader for breastfeeding support and information.
5) Be careful not to undermine the mother’s decision to breastfeed by suggesting that they give the baby a bottle as a solution to a breastfeeding challenge. Most breastfeeding challenges can be resolved by ensuring that the baby is latching correctly and is spending enough time at the breast to empty it fully and effectively. Do not ask questions like, “Is the baby getting enough milk?” or “Is the baby sleeping through the night yet?”. These questions can undermine the parents’ confidence. Mothers who are confident in their ability to breastfeed are more likely to breastfeed successfully.
6) Understand that you will spend a lot of time watching the parents hold their baby. Breastfed babies spend a lot of time at the breast and need to spend a lot more time in their parents’ arms. Being close to the nursing mother’s body encourages your grandbaby to feed more regularly and gain weight well. You have many years ahead in which to play with your grandchild and enjoy snuggle time.
7) Watch for things that you can do with the baby when the parents need a little break. Every grandparent wants to cuddle their new grandchild, but burping, bathing and changing diapers also create opportunities for some hands on time. You can offer to take the baby for a walk, around the house or outside, when parents need a few minutes to have a shower, take a short nap or just have a few minutes alone. But don’t be surprised or offended if the mother does not want you to take her baby out. She might be grateful for the same offer at some point, but it is important for mother and baby to be together most of the time.
8) Offer to help the new parents by doing chores around the house. Ask them what would be helpful: housework, laundry or making a meal. Many new parents feel like they should be able to “do it all” so make sure your offer of help doesn’t come across as a criticism of their current housekeeping standards. Do not expect them to entertain you. Your role as a grandparent is to look after the parents so they can look after the baby. Remember to keep offering. New parents will need help for months (maybe years!), not just the first few weeks. The LLLC information sheet, How Partners and Supporters Can Help has lots of ideas for how you can help.
9) Read up on current parenting and breastfeeding information. While breastfeeding has been the norm for humans back to the beginning of human history, our understanding of the science behind breastfeeding has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. You can find great articles in the Information for Parents section on the LLLC website.
10) Remember that while your grandbaby’s parents are growing into their roles as parents, you are adjusting to a new role and a new relationship with your child and their partner. It will take time to figure out what kind of a grandparent you can be. It may not be the same kind of grandparent you had or the grandparents your parents were for your children. That is okay. As long as your children and grandchildren know that they are loved for who they are and that you believe in their strength and capabilities as parents, you will be a wonderful grandparent. La Leche League Leaders are happy to answer breastfeeding questions from moms, dads and grandparents. Contact us at LLLC.ca
Updated July 2022