So you’re going to be a grandparent…

A new baby on the way? Congratulations! Of course you are going to want the very best for this new member of your family, as well as for your daughter, daughter-in-law or son’s partner too. No matter whether you are becoming a grandparent, step grandparent, great grandparent, great aunt or uncle for the first or the fourth time, you will be feeling very proud and excited about having an important role to play in this little person’s life.

You are probably reading this because you know the baby is going to be breastfed. Perhaps breastfeeding isn’t something you know much about, or maybe you didn’t breastfeed your own children. It’s likely that lots of things have changed since you had your babies… perhaps they were born in a different country, your children may have a different lifestyle to your own, perhaps they have partners from different cultures, religious backgrounds or speak other languages… it can be a lot to take in! And now there is a new baby too, you might find you have even more different ideas!

After the baby is born

In the first few days after birth a baby will want to breastfeed every time he’s awake. At this point in time, a mother may only have time to feed the baby, eat and sleep. This is normal and a mum and her baby will want to spend all their time together. The mother needs to be close to her baby at all times in order to feed often, and the hormones of a breastfeeding mother means there is an intense emotional and physical connection between mother and baby. By meeting their baby’s needs immediately a mother helps her baby to develop a secure attachment with her which helps him to grown into a confident child.

Why breastfeed?

Breastmilk is normal – human milk is made for human babies, formula milk is artificial.

Although formula milk is adequate for babies it is not equal to breastmilk. Breastmilk contains many things that cannot be made in a factory: living cells, antibodies, hormones, active enzymes… breastmilk changes to meet the growing needs of the baby and the environment the baby is in. If the baby or mother is exposed to an illness, then the mother’s breastmilk will contain antibodies to help protect the baby. Breastmilk changes throughout the day and contains flavours from the mother’s diet. Formula just can’t do these things – it is a static product. Human babies are born with immature brains that need to grow rapidly, whilst physical growth is much slower. Breastmilk contains all the ingredients necessary to achieve this. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is designed for the fast physical and muscular growth required by calves.

Even in the modern western world we live in, babies who are fed formula milk are more likely to be hospitalized due to gastroenteritis, and are at higher risk of developing diabetes, cancers, obesity and other modern diseases as children and adults. 

Baby led attachment and skin to skin

In recent years research has shown that babies have an inborn ability to move and attach themselves to their mother’s breast – baby led attachment. Whether the baby is born in hospital or at home, it is likely that the baby will be placed on the mother’s bare chest immediately or soon after birth and allowed to spend some time resting and getting to know his mother – this is called skin to skin and helps to triggers the baby’s natural reflex to feed. You will often see the baby bobbing his head around, falling, crawling or even throwing himself towards his mother’s breast. The baby uses his sense of smell and his cheeks to help find his mother’s breast. These instincts remain strong for several months after the baby is born. The baby’s sense of smell is the most developed sense at birth, so it is important for the baby and his parents to stay close in the first 24-48 hours to get to know each other – the smells of other people can be confusing at this time, and you may find that for the first day or two, new parents don’t want anyone else to hold their baby… including you. This may feel frustrating and unnecessary to you, but try to remember it is only for a day or two and then you have a whole lifetime of cuddles and fun to enjoy. Perhaps you can stay close by and give the new mother and father a hug while they hold their baby until the time is right for you to have that precious, first cuddle.

Feeding on demand

New breastfed babies often seem to be feeding often, with little thought of routine or spacing feeds. This could be quite different to the way you were shown to feed your baby, especially if formula was part of your baby’s diet. In the early days a mother’s milk supply is mainly controlled by hormones. Over a few weeks this gradually switches to being controlled by the breasts. The process of supply is managed based on how much milk is removed from the breast and how often. It’s important to feed to meet the babies demand as this allows the breasts to work to produce milk to match each individual baby’s hunger and feeding pattern.   As the baby grows he may go through phases of feeding more often for a day or two. This is the baby’s way of telling the supply process that he is hungrier and needs more milk to meet his growing needs. The breasts respond to the increased demand by increasing the quantity of milk being made. When you think of how this supply and demand process works, it’s easy to see why many women in the past found a 4 hourly feeding routine could lead to milk supply not being adequate to meet their baby’s needs. If your grandchild seems to need feeding often you can help support your daughter (in law) by encouraging her to trust her body’s ability to nurture her baby and feed as often as she needs to. You might be able to help by putting on a load of washing, cooking meals or helping with older siblings. 


Having a new baby is very tiring, as you will remember yourself. All babies wake at night and often continue to do so for several moths. Breastfeeding at night helps maintain milk supply, helps with bonding and can be a time for quiet, peaceful breastfeeds. Hormones produced in breastmilk and in the mother herself help baby and mum get back to sleep more quickly after breastfeeding. Encouraging a new mum to sleep or rest during the day when her baby naps is a good way for new mums to catch up on a little rest in the early days and weeks. This can be hard for many new mothers to do, but if you are able to help with keeping the house clean and tidy, do some shopping and cooking, then it can be easier for your daughter (in law) to rest when her baby does. 


The action of breastfeeding is quite different to the sucking action when using a bottle or pacifier. Some babies are confused by the different sucking action. It is better for the baby and mum if breastfeeding is well established before considering giving bottles or other teats. Once the baby is breastfeeding well (usually after a couple of months), then it may be possible to give the baby a bottle of expressed breastmilk. If a baby is encouraged to suck a pacifier to settle it can lead to less milk being taken from the breasts leading to a reduction in milk supply. Many mothers choose to soothe and comfort their baby by breastfeeding rather than with pacifiers. Being able to offer the breast as a way of comforting and soothing an upset baby or child is a wonderful parenting tool that many mothers come to cherish as time goes on. 

Feeding in public

These days women are able to feed their baby pretty much anywhere they want to. Once a new mum has had a bit of practice feeding her baby it is quite possible to feed comfortably while out and about, however it can be a daunting prospect the first few times! If your daughter (in law) feels she has your support then she will feel comfortable feeding in front of you and other family members. Once your daughter (in law) feels ready to go out with her baby you could offer to go with her to give her some moral support while breastfeeding in public. Mothers usually notice as soon as their baby starts to show feeding cues and are able to start feeding before their baby becomes upset. This means that most of the time people only notice a mum and baby snuggled up together – often they don’t even realize the mother is breastfeeding.







A new grandchild… a time for happiness or stress?

Becoming a parent is an amazing and exciting event, and for grandparents it just as exciting too!  Even if your baby isn’t the first grandchild in the family, it will still be a time that everyone wants to be involved in.  You probably noticed that being pregnant almost seemed to make you public property to some people, and even strangers were happy to tell you their birth stories and give you advice.  I remember being eagerly told that my life “would never be the same again” by several people – including strangers 🙂

When it comes to breastfeeding your baby, you will hear just as many stories from other people – including the inevitable horror stories.  Establishing the breastfeeding relationship with your baby takes time.  Breastfeeding is something we have to learn to do.  Yes, it is the natural way to feed a baby, but if it’s not something we’ve done before, then we need to learn – just as we learnt to walk, talk, eat, etc as we grew up.  In the past we would have learnt a lot about breastfeeding as we grew up, by seeing women in our close community breastfeeding.  Unfortunately our communities are more widespread these days and we don’t grow up around cousins, aunts, friends of the family, breastfeeding their babies.  One of the ways humans learn to do things is by seeing others doing them – just look at children desperate to copy what their older siblings and parents are doing!

Sadly, due to the way many of our parents, and even grandparents, were advised to care for their babies, we are often not lucky enough to be able to learn from their breastfeeding experiences.  This can lead to some real conflict in the family.  Grandparents want the best for their grandchildren and usually really want to help their own children (you) become parents too.  Most grandparents will have been strongly encouraged to feed to a schedule – often 4 hourly – which would have meant that breastfeeding would almost certainly have failed.  Mothers were told to let their baby cry rather than spoil them by picking them up or holding them for too long.  Some mothers defied the “rules” of those days and breastfed on demand anyway, but they seem to be in the minority.  Have you noticed how we seem to go along with what “medical” people tell us, without questioning them, no matter how hard it might be, or how it goes against what our instincts are telling us to do?  Whole generations of mothers followed these “rules”.

Imagine how grandparents feel seeing their son/daughter looking after their baby with no routine or plan for the day?  For some, it must look as though everything is totally out of control!  For others it might feel that the baby is not being looked after properly… after all, the “rules” are not being followed.  If you were taught that picking up a baby all the time would spoil them, then you would be worried if someone else seemed to be doing the thing that would ruin the child.  Imagine the dilemma!  What do you do?  Interfere?  Or let the baby suffer?

And for new parents it can be difficult to trust our instincts.  It’s uncomfortable to feel that you have to justify your (inexperienced) thoughts on parenting to someone who has already successfully raised their child(ren).  No matter how old we get, it can be hard to go against our own parents – you are always their child, no matter how old you are!  Backing up thoughts with research sometimes works, but most of us have heard the “well, you grew up all right” response.

What we know about a baby’s development and breastfeeding now is so much more than what was known when our parents were new parents.  Some of it will sound amazing, but much of it might actually make grandparents feel guilty.  Guilty for not doing the “right thing”, but maybe also for not following their instincts and parenting the way they really wanted to…

Either way, what do you do?  The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers has a downloadable leaflet called You’re going to be a Grandparent.  It is a document that talks about why breastfeeding is important for a baby, and why it’s also good for the mother.  It answers some questions too – like the ones about feeding so often, feeding for too long, and how grandparents can really help and be involved with their new grandchild without resorting to giving bottles.

It might be worth thinking about things that would be really helpful to you and asking grandparents to do some of those things for you.  Give them the chance to take your baby for a walk or bath the baby if you want to – but if you are not comfortable with that, don’t feel you have to!  Talk to them about what you are trying to do, and how you would like them to be involved – ask them to take lots of pictures for you, knit or sew for your baby, talk about stories or songs they used to read or sing when you/your partner were babies.  Learn some phrases that help you respond:  “that’s really interesting, thank you” or “I hear what you’re saying but the research I’ve read says…..  Can I show you?”  Here are some more ideas you might find useful.

You all love your baby, and all want what’s best for him or her.  Comments can be difficult to deal with, and somehow when they come from grandparents they seem to manage to knock our confidence and beliefs so much more.  Make sure you and your partner talk about what you want to do and find ways to support each other during these times.  Your partner may be able to talk to his or her parents more easily.

I feel very sad when I talk to new mothers trying to deal with breastfeeding issues that are primarily due to the changes they have made as a result of comments undermining their confidence.  If you are struggling with this and need some help to get breastfeeding back on track, or help with ways to handle unwanted input to your parenting style (or anything else to do with breastfeeding), leave a comment on this post, contact a local breastfeeding support group, local peer supporters, or La Leche League.

No kisses thank you!

I’ve just read an article about why children shouldn’t be forced to kiss relatives if they don’t want to.  Now this is something I’ve always felt very strongly about.  I hated being forced to kiss all those strange unknown relatives at weddings, Christmas, family get together type events.  I used to dread getting slobbered on by people I hardly knew, and yet as a child it was considered rude to say no and it was something I and my siblings had to endure.

When I had my first child I started to think about how I wanted to teach him that it was always ok to say no and to do whatever seemed right to keep himself safe.  One of those things was that I didn’t think he should have to kiss people he didn’t want to.  As the first grandchild born I knew he was going to be very much loved, but I really didn’t want him to have to endure that whole slobbering thing that I remember hating, and those whiskers of the men who wanted a cuddle!  Luckily for me, when I explained to my mum why I wanted to do this she was very understanding.  I think a little bit of her was hurt to think that her grandson might actually say no he didn’t want a kiss or a cuddle at some stage, but she understood the desire to give him the power over who was allowed to do “something” to him.  This included the emotional blackmail thing that you see some grandparents doing too… “Grandma/pa will cry if you don’t give her/him a kiss…”  The last thing I want any child of mine doing is giving in to someone else’s demands because if they don’t they are made to feel bad.

This article made me think about the subject again, and I am proud to say my now nearly 18 year old boy is a very caring, loving, secure young man who knows what he wants and knows how to say no to keep himself safe.  Thank you to my parents for being great grand parents and allowing their grandchildren the security of being able to say no and still feel loved.

The article can be found here: