How Occupational Therapists Can Help with Breastfeeding

Occupational therapy can be used to help women (as well as families, including the father) who are experiencing difficulty breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be a rewarding, but also a stressful activity for parents, especially when it is not functional, maybe even painful.

An occupational therapist, as part of the team alongside other professionals such as lactation consultants can assess a mother’s physical and emotional well-being, as well as her breastfeeding technique, to identify and address any problems that may be interfering with her ability to successfully breastfeed her baby.

Interventions may include helping a mother to position her baby correctly, teaching her relaxation techniques to reduce stress and tension during breastfeeding, or providing exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of her arms, shoulders, and back. An occupational therapist can provide guidance on how to help mothers with lactation, such as how to express milk, how to store milk and how to prepare formula if needed. The OT may work in the families’ natural environment. Additionally, an occupational therapist can provide support and education to help a mother to establish a breastfeeding routine and to manage any pain or discomfort associated with breastfeeding.

An occupational therapist can also help mothers who have specific conditions such as tongue-tie or inverted nipples, which can make breastfeeding difficult. They can teach mothers how to use adaptive equipment such as breast pumps, shields, and nursing pillows to make breastfeeding more comfortable and efficient. As there are many products and methods, this can be very valuable for new mothers and fathers.

Furthermore, occupational therapists can also assist mothers who have experienced a traumatic birth, postpartum depression, or other challenges that may affect their ability to breastfeed. Psychosocial challenges can be addressed holistically alongside barriers to the activity of breadtfeeding. OTs can provide emotional support and counseling to help mothers cope with these challenges and to build a positive breastfeeding relationship with their baby.

Many mothers return to work while still breastfeeding and may need to pump. Occupational therapy can also be beneficial for mothers who are returning to work while breastfeeding. An occupational therapist can help mothers to plan and prepare for returning to work, including developing a breastfeeding plan that allows them to continue breastfeeding while away from their baby during the day. This may involve teaching mothers how to pump and store their milk based on their needs, as well as providing guidance on how to maintain their milk supply while working. Additionally, an occupational therapist can help mothers to advocate for themselves and communicate with their employer and coworkers about their breastfeeding needs and to advocate for breastfeeding accommodations in the workplace.

Modern times sees more involvement of fathers in childrearing and even the activity of breastfeeding. Occupational therapy can also be beneficial for fathers and other caregivers who support breastfeeding mothers. An occupational therapist can provide education and support to fathers and other caregivers on how to help and support breastfeeding mothers. This can include providing information on how to assist with breastfeeding positions, how to burp the baby, and how to help the mother to relax and manage stress during breastfeeding. Fathers themselves maybe stressed and anxious throughout this journey, so OTs can help provide family support to all those involved.

As mentioned, the environment is very important for both baby and family. Occupational therapy services for breastfeeding support are typically provided in the mother’s home or in an outpatient setting. This allows the therapist to observe the mother in her natural environment and make recommendations specific to the mother’s unique needs. Additionally, it allows for greater flexibility and convenience for the mother, as she can receive support and guidance in the comfort and privacy of her own home. This is especially important as families may have different cultures with unique needs even when it comes to something as universal to humans as breastfeeding.

As a consumer, many insurance plans cover occupational therapy services for breastfeeding support. However, it’s important to check with your insurance provider to confirm that they cover the specific services you are seeking and to understand the limits of your coverage. Many other OTs provide services through private pay, some on a sliding scale.

Breastfeeding can be challenging and stressful, but it is not always possible or feasible for all mothers. Occupational therapists and other professionals such as pediatricians can also provide guidance and support for mothers who are unable to breastfeed or who choose to formula feed. The most important thing is that both the mother and baby are healthy and receiving the necessary nutrition.

With modern technology, there are also various online resources and support groups available for breastfeeding mothers. These can include online forums, social media groups, and websites that provide information and support for breastfeeding. All at a click of a button and most of them for free. These wealth of resources can be a great way for mothers to connect with other breastfeeding mothers, to share their experiences and to ask questions. It’s important to do your research though and not only rely on anecdotal evidence. This is where OTs can be a valuable ally in this journey as they are licensed and practice with the best research and evidence supported interventions.

Throughout all this, it’s important for mothers to remember that breastfeeding is a learning process for both the mother and baby, and it may take time for them to get the hang of it. Same goes for fathers. It may be difficult, but for overall success, mothers should remember to be patient and persistent, and to seek help if they need it. With the right support and guidance, most breastfeeding difficulties can be overcome.

In conclusion, occupational therapy can be an effective way to address breastfeeding difficulties and provide support for breastfeeding mothers, fathers and other caregivers. Occupational therapists can provide a holistic approach to addressing breastfeeding difficulties, and can help families to establish a positive and satisfying breastfeeding experience for all members involved. Other forms of support such as lactation consultant, breastfeeding support groups, and peer counselors can also provide valuable assistance and guidance. Additionally, there are various online resources and support groups available for breastfeeding mothers. It’s important to be patient and persistent, and to seek help if you need it.

To find an occupational therapist near you, consider conducting a search on your local directory such as Yelp or even Google. Don’t forget that your pediatrician can provide a wealth of information or referral as well. In terms of safety, you should do your due diligence and verify licensure with the state board of occupational therapy before proceeding. Best of luck!

Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, sociology, and philosophy. Buy me a Coffee on Venmo.