The early days of parenting are overwhelming and oftentimes lonely. Mamas find themselves in a strange new land—one that looks lovely on Instagram, but is much less inspiring at 4am sporting three days of unwashed hair, stained clothes, and extreme sleep deprivation. Which is when support becomes so crucial. While women often find each other in the name of caring for their newborns, the truth is they are seeking out friendship and permission to care for themselves.
I wanted to take a closer look at what support looks like for different women, so I attended the Big Latch On, an annual event held since 2010 at hundreds of support centers across the globe—each one celebrating breastfeeding, motherhood, and the power of support.
At the Washington, D.C. event at the Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington (coinciding with the 25th anniversary of World Breastfeeding Week), I was lucky enough to meet a spectacular array of parents. These women came to the center just prior to or immediately after their baby’s birth. They came, pen and notebook in hand, ready to learn the techniques and skills they would need to breastfeed. What they found, however, was each other.
Nothing about parenting is a solo gig. The whole of a woman’s community is what builds the foundation of her personal success. And that community can be a safe haven for new mamas when they’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, scared, or unsure.
As unique as each of these women were, what they had in common was remarkably clear—each had built their own community of support that focused on what they needed as mothers, instead of what their babies needed. And each found her support system to be inspiring, irreplaceable, and critical to her success.
Allison, mother to Danielle, 8.5 months
BIGGEST SOURCES OF SUPPORT AS A COMMUNITY MOM
Husband, sister, breastfeeding support group, and her Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in D.C.
“We have a neighborhood that is completely full of new parents and their kids, and we enjoy sharing with each other. We have a pretty fabulous open-door policy—we share barbecues and other events and offer each other as much care as is needed.”
Nava, mother to Charlie, 8 months
BIGGEST SOURCES OF SUPPORT AS A WORKING MOM
Husband, best friend, pediatrician, and her village of friends at work
“I work in fundraising at a female-owned company where I’ve built in a mentor network that offers support, gives me comfort, and reminds me of the most critical lesson that I keep learning over and again—which is “you’ll figure it out.’”
Bethany, mother to Julius, 4 months
BIGGEST SOURCE OF SUPORT AS A STAY-AT-HOME-MOM
Husband, Instagram group, and breastfeeding support group
“I stopped working after my first child as childcare as it was too expensive – I am able to get out and look forward to getting together with the group. I am happy for the friends and relationships I’ve built though the Breastfeeding Center”
Claire, mother to Rosalyn and Francesca, 2 months
BIGGEST SOURCE OF SUPPORT AS A BOSS MOM
Husband, employees, and breastfeeding support group
“My husband and I run two physical therapy practices. Being self-employed makes it hard to take leave, let alone form relationships with new moms. So really, I did not. The center has given me a chance to connect with other moms. Plus, I am proud and relieved to see that I have built a highly supportive culture at work. My staff has supported me well.”
Anna, mother to Rose, 4 months
BIGGEST SOURCES OF SUPPORT AS A NEW MOM
Mother, breastfeeding center, and other moms
“I’m part of a wonderful group of women that we created from our 0-4 support group. We started going out for burgers after our first classes and just kept making plans from there. There is something about having these women; it’s essential. We share links, pictures, etc. I truly could not imagine this without them.”