Study: Grandmothers can be a breastfeeding mama’s secret weapon

The reason the breastfeeding success rate is higher in many other cultures? Grandmas. 

Study: Grandmothers can be a breastfeeding mama’s secret weapon

It’s a frustrating dilemma for many new moms: We’re told breastfeeding is instinctual and should come naturally, but when you’re donning nipple shields and washing pump parts it feels anything but. The first few days can be especially challenging, with surveys showing the majority of new moms experience issues with latching, pain and production. Without easily accessible resources for breastfeeding help, nearly half of American mothers give up breastfeeding after six months.

But in many cultures, the breastfeeding success rate is much higher. Brooke Scelza, an anthropologist at the the University of Los Angeles, traveled across the world to find out why.


As a human behavioral ecologist, Scelza studies the reproductive and partnership decisions of the Himba, a pastoral ethnic group in northern Namibia. Isolated from urban centers, the Himba rely on herding cattle and growing maize, sorghum and pumpkins.

They also have a very high rate of success with breastfeeding and—according to Scelza— they make it look easy.

As a mother who struggled with breastfeeding herself, Scelza wanted to find why.

"I think that there's enormous pressure to succeed with breastfeeding in the U.S. and that you feel like if you can't do it that this is a huge failing as a mother," she told NPR in a June interview.

Initially, Scelza suspected the Himba’s breastfeeding success was due to the prevalence of home births and the result of a childhood spent witnessing women breastfeed.

But, when she interviewed 30 Himba women, they credited the grandmothers who act as personal lactation consultants.

"When a woman gives birth, she typically goes home to her mother's compound in the last trimester of pregnancy and stays there for months after the birth," Scelza explains.

The women told her it’s not that they find breastfeeding any easier than American women do—in fact, many struggled with learning to breastfeed, and two-thirds reported the same early struggles (pain, latching and supply issues) as American moms.

The difference is that the Himba have access to 24-hour help via their baby’s grandmother.

According to Scelza, this kind of breastfeeding assistance is the key to the nursing success seen in many other cultures. For Western moms struggling with breastfeeding and early motherhood the takeaway is this: Breastfeeding is not so much an instinct as it is a skill to be practiced and learned from others.

Unfortunately, for many of us, around the clock assistance from a grandmother with breastfeeding experience isn’t a realistic part of the post-birth plan. But technology is making connecting with the right advice during those late-night feedings a little easier: New apps, like Momseze, are stepping up to be our digital grandmothers by connecting moms with certified lactation consultants and new baby support specialists 24 hours a day via video, voice chat or text.

Whether you use an app or just text your mom, sister or breastfeeding BFF, nursing moms should learn from the Himba by leaning on others—and recognizing that struggling is normal.

"When [the baby] had trouble latching, they were just like, 'Yeah, this is part of what you have to learn if you're going to breastfeed," says Scelza of the Himba. "They didn't stigmatize the failing."

Bottom line: You’ve got this—and your chances are even better if you surround yourself with a breastfeeding support team. ?

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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