How to Support Breastfeeding, Pumping, and Formula-Feeding Parents

Supporting parents with breastfeeding, formula feeding and infant nutrition.

Breastfeeding is often billed as a “natural” process to which the parent and infant will easily adapt after the birth. Because of this narrative, breastfeeding challenges — from difficulty latching to breast tissue infections — may take parents by surprise. Better pumping technology has eased the breastfeeding experience for some, but the products still can present unexpected, frustrating hurdles. 

Formula feeding families may also find infant nutrition to be more complicated than expected. For example, a baby might have allergies to certain kinds of formula, or parents may feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the labels for potentially harmful ingredients. 

As families learn to nourish new babies, their communities have the chance to offer meaningful support. Learn more about the ways that partners, friends, family, and providers can help parents with breastfeeding and formula feeding. 

How to Help With Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

Although feeding can be an intimate experience between parents and infants, their loved ones can still offer meaningful support. For individuals wondering how to help someone they care about with breastfeeding and formula feeding, consider the following suggestions. 

How Partners Can Help With Formula or Breastfeeding Challenges 

Ask what would be helpful. 

Direct questions can help clarify what your partner needs. Try asking: “Do you want me to do everything possible to make this specific feeding option (breastfeeding, formula feeding, or exclusive pumping) work? Would you like support in trying another option?” 

Celebrate the small victories. 

Take the time to mark successes, big and small. These could include consistent pumping, making a helpful connection in an online support group, or finding a comfortable setting for breastfeeding or formula feeding. 

Help with navigating the health system.

A network of professionals exists to support new parents, but finding the right provider at the right time can still prove challenging. Assist in gathering contact information when needed, and consider offering to schedule appointments. 

Offer practical support at home. 

Partners who are not breastfeeding or pumping breastmilk can help out by stocking the kitchen with food that is simple to prepare and easy to eat, figuring out sleeping arrangements, refilling water bottles, offering heating and cooling packs, charging phones, and running errands. 

How Friends and Family Can Support Parents Struggling to Meet Formula Feeding or Breastfeeding Goals

Offer to help parents find appropriate support.

Research nearby support groups, both virtual and in person, for the parents’ chosen feeding option. Or, try asking parents in your own network for local referrals, and pass along their contact information.  

Allow space for anger, frustration, or sadness.

Parents who struggle with infant nutrition may not have all of the resources they need. Be present for any emotions that arise, and resist any urges to explain them away or jump to solutions. 

Be careful with language.

With breastfeeding parents who had to transition to formula, avoid using phrases that could amplify a false sense of failure, such as “quitting” and “giving up.” For all families, take care to avoid making judgments about their feeding decisions.

How Providers Can Support Parents Having Trouble Breastfeeding or Formula Feeding

Ask open questions, particularly before the birth.

Instead of assuming parents’ preferences, consider asking: “Have you thought about breastmilk versus infant formula? What do you want to do?” Discuss the risks and benefits, and consider conversation starters from the American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing (PDF, 702 KB).

Provide resources about weaning if relevant.

Educational resources about weaning from breastfeeding and transitioning to formula can be hard to find. Ensure that parents understand what to expect physically from weaning and where they can find weaning support.

Have referrals for lactation consultants ready to share.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s fact sheet for nurses on helping mothers breastfeed (PDF, 96 KB) recommends services offered by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). 

Find ways to learn more about all infant nutrition options.

Pursue continuing education opportunities devoted to feeding infants, such as a training session on teaching parents to bottle feed or a workshop on supporting families in weaning from breastfeeding. 

Research questions parents may have about baby formula and pumping.

Common questions include what type of infant formula to use and how often, how to travel while formula feeding, and how to handle intolerances. Parents may also wonder how to sterilize pumping supplies and how to store breastmilk.  

Offer support and individually tailored options.

Keep in mind that accessibility and the high cost of infant formula can be prohibitive for some, and be sensitive about any cultural implications of formula feeding. Have local resources on hand that can meet each individual family’s needs and preferences. 


Tips for Self-Care While Breastfeeding or Formula Feeding 

Nourishing an infant can be both a rewarding and fatiguing experience. The following suggestions for self-care while breastfeeding, formula feeding, or transitioning between the two can help parents who are navigating this process and any unexpected challenges it might bring. 

Seek care from a mental health professional.

Parents struggling with post-weaning depression or postpartum depression may benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor. Nursing providers may be able to share local referrals.

Allow yourself to grieve if needed.

Reflective journaling, quality time with loved ones, and spiritual support can be helpful practices for those facing challenges with infant nutrition or unexpected breastfeeding issues. 

Find bonding opportunities outside of feeding.  

Remember that parental nourishment takes many forms. Try making time for skin-to-skin contact outside the feeding schedule, or build babywearing into regular family routines. 

Create boundaries around the Internet.

The dialogue online about switching to formula, in particular, can be judgmental and even toxic. Consider un-following blogs, discussion forums, and social media accounts that are making it difficult to start weaning from breastfeeding.

How to Find Support for Formula and Breastfeeding Challenges

Reaching out for help is an essential step for parents with questions about or challenges around infant nutrition. The following resources can provide a starting point for families experiencing formula, pumping, or breastfeeding difficulties. 

Check infant formula containers for a number to call. 

Some baby formula brands offer phone lines that connect callers with feeding experts who can answer questions and offer advice on using their products. 

Call a free helpline to connect with a breastfeeding counselor:

  • Office on Women’s Health (OWN) Helpline at 800-994-9662 (English or Spanish)
  • Breastfeeding USA at 612-293-6622 (English or Spanish)

Contact insurance companies about options for breast pumps. 

Many insurance providers subsidize breast pumps at little or no cost. To ensure the pump is ready to use when your baby arrives, call the company by the third trimester.

Discuss receiving donor milk from a milk bank with your baby’s health provider. 

Parents with an oversupply may donate breastmilk to local milk banks to help families in need. Many milk banks in the United States belong to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, a voluntary organization that facilitates human milk collection from donors, whose health and medication use are carefully screened. 

Find a lactation consultant through the IBCLC lactation consultant directory

These experts can assess and treat breastfeeding problems, both common and more serious. They can also act as a formula feeding guide for families.

Join a local support group for breastfeeding or formula feeding parents.

Community groups connect parents with peers for empathy and emotional support and may be led by an expert who can offer hands-on support. Try inquiring at your local health center or searching online communities for options.

Additional Ways to Find Formula and Breastfeeding Support

The following online resources can educate parents and connect them with tangible support in their own communities. 

Get Help With Breastfeeding

Make Plans for Formula Feeding

Prepare for Pumping Breastmilk

Understand Breastmilk Sharing, Donations, and Milk Banks

Learn More About Weaning

Prepare for Whole Food Education

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only. Individuals should consult their health care provider before following any of the information provided.

Citation for this content: Nursing@Georgetown, the online Certified-Nurse Midwife program from the School of Nursing & Health Studies