Yes, that’s a reference to Bad Religion’s “21st Century Digital Boy”, one of my husband’s favorite songs.

I’ve definitely been seeing a shift in my own profession of breastfeeding support as online social networking is taking off. I think at this point social media is kind of like The Force (or duct tape): it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the entire universe together. Social media is becoming a more and more crucial part of breastfeeding support. Facebook and other online communities serve many important purposes for us Millennial moms…

Easier Connection

I’m not talking about high speed internet here.

Many women have few friends or relatives who have breastfed, so Facebook groups and other online communities are a great way to feel more “normal” about breastfeeding and get advice from other mothers. Social media also has the advantage of offering support on a much more instant basis than many other types of support. For example, breastfeeding clinics are typically held at one particular hospital during business hours and La Leche League meetings happen once a month- if there’s a group in your area. Facebook and online communities offer much faster support since a mom with a question can log on from her home any time of the day or night and reach other people who may be able to offer advice or encouragement.

Geography

I’ve had some requests to start a local breastfeeding support group. Since the local community center doesn’t want to get involved, I may have to get a bit more guerilla marketing style and come up with some scrappy alternatives- one of which may be online support. We live in a rural area and people tend to be more spread out here. Living in a resort town also means that many residents work non-traditional schedules. Connecting digitally can allow mothers in rural areas to connect with help that may not be easily accessible otherwise.

The Downside…

On the other hand, we’ve seen more moms getting all kinds of inaccurate advice online. And there are some anatomical issues that absolutely need an in-person assessment of a qualified practitioner. Tongue-tie is one particularly troublesome issue and a frequent refrain among lactation consultants, breastfeeding educators and doctors and dentists who specialize in this issue is “You can’t get an accurate diagnosis on a Facebook group.”

We Like Texting As A Form of Communication

In the most recent meeting of my local Breastfeeding Coalition, the observation came up that many women prefer text message help rather than phone calls. In one area, they said that they had seen their Loving Support Hotline cut back- it’s just not being used as much. But everyone agreed that moms will text. I know I feel more comfortable writing out a text than having to talk to a stranger in a phone call. Because they can’t interrupt me, I feel like I can explain myself better.

Before the rise of smartphones hotlines may have been used more, but I think that is changing- a lot. One big review of breastfeeding support studies that covered 56,000 women from 21 countries showed that face-to-face support was the most effective at helping mothers to exclusively breastfeed longer and that methods that required the mother to actively find help- specifically telephone hotlines- were much less effective. I think in the next ten years breastfeeding support hotlines might go the way of dinosaurs and dodos- replaced by peer counselors with smartphones and unlimited text plans.

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