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Healthy aging involves caring connections with other people, including adult children and grandchildren. The support of grandparents with child care can make all the difference for infants and new parents. Many grandparents did not breastfeed their own children, but they can be a key factor in breastfeeding success. Grandparents can help to overcome the diverse factors that can interfere with breastfeeding – everything from aggressive promotion of breast milk substitutes to cultural norms. Hospitals that offer grandparents classes can help ensure the best nutrition for nursing babies and the best source of emotional support for new moms.
"Babies haven't changed, but what we know about them has changed" says the description for Swedish Health Services’ three hour class for grandparents. Included with the medical center’s birthing package, the class aims to cover current information about maternity practices and infant care, including the latest information and recommendations about breastfeeding practices. Swedish launched the classes 15 years ago and Rosalys Peel has been teaching the class for 12 years.
“There is correlation between breastfeeding and self-efficacy,” says Peel, “Mothers and mothers-in-law are key to helping a new mother feel like she can succeed with breastfeeding. Pretty early in the Grandparents Class, I talk about the value of having them support the mom and what a good idea it is to breastfeed.” Peel adds that sharing some of the few basic findings about the health benefits of breastfeeding for babies – such as the fact that breastfed infants have one-third fewer sick visits to the doctor – can produce the “aha” moment that provides an opportunity for both grandmothers and grandfathers to be seen as strong advocates.
“The reality is that grandparents are getting more involved,” Peel observes. “Couples are having fewer children, often after a significant delay to get established in their careers. When the baby arrives, parents and grandparents feel a sense of commitment and investment that is different from previous generations who may have had 15-20 grandchildren spread across different states.” Peel has even seen an increase in grandparents moving from other states to be closer to adult children who are starting families. Peel adds, “With more mothers returning to work after maternity leave and the high costs of child care, I see more grandparents coming to the class with a strong sense of purpose, since they plan to be helping with child care.”
As caregivers, grandparents can play an important role in assuring that babies are exclusively fed breast milk for the baby’s first six months. Exclusive breastfeeding of babies contributes to positive health outcomes for both babies and mothers, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Benefits for babies include reduced incidence of infections, diabetes and even asthma. Benefits for mothers include reduced incidence of diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
Classes and professional support of lactation consultants can open dialog between the generations about recommended breastfeeding practices and prolong breastfeeding. Communication between parents and grandparents can also prevent family conflict about when to introduce solid foods and other nutritional decisions that can affect the health of the baby.
Featured: September 2012
Current or prospective grandparents