BC Guide - Email Helping

Email helping is one of the core services that Breastfeeding Counselors can provide. Effective email helping uses general counseling techniques, but also presents a few different challenges.

Establishing Respect and Trust

In many cases, a mother emailing for help has no prior experience with Breastfeeding USA or a Breastfeeding Counselor. The impersonal nature of email can make it difficult to convey the warm environment that puts a mother at ease. A warm greeting and brief personal introduction can help humanize the email interaction. Without the benefit of body language and spoken inflection, it is easy for readers to misinterpret the intent of an email. Breastfeeding Counselors can help get their messages across by writing in simple, straightforward language, and avoiding humor, slang, and any tone colored or slanted with judgment. Breastfeeding Counselors should personalize the writing as much as possible, using mother’s and baby’s names frequently to convey concern for each mother’s situation.

If the contact is unfamiliar with Breastfeeding USA and the scope of services, it may be appropriate to provide some brief information about the organization (such as that found on the About Us pages of the Breastfeeding USA website) in an email. This information can help establish credibility. To keep the focus on a mother’s concern, BCs can put the organizational information at the end of an email or send it as an attachment.

Collecting Information

Online chat or Skype text tools allow rapid responses similar to a phone conversation, but email can make it challenging for Breastfeeding Counselors to ask background information about a mothers’ situations. Mothers who email for support often want a quick response to their questions and may be reluctant to engage in a series of emails to clarify details. Therefore, once the initial contact is made by a mother, a BC can encourage her to provide as much information as possible in the first response, maybe using a prepared list of the most common helping situation questions to collect basic information necessary for assessment of her situation.

Offering Information

Since possible solutions to a mother’s problem may hinge on information that the mother hasn’t provided, Breastfeeding Counselors providing email helping may need to give information about a number of possible scenarios, rather than a simple answer that targets one specific problem. Breastfeeding Counselors helping mothers by email may find that they spend a good deal of time crafting responses to mothers’ inquiries. However, an advantage to helping by email is that responses can often be reused by copying information from one email thread to another. Breastfeeding Counselors may find it helpful to create a special email file which keeps their email helping correspondence in one place.

Another advantage to email helping is that a Breastfeeding Counselor can easily link to other resources. This aspect often makes it easier to convey evidence-based information by email than over the phone. Providing resources can be especially important for mothers working with health care providers or anyone who values the scientific research behind recommendations. Breastfeeding Counselors can also provide links to diagrams and videos which can be very helpful for mothers with visual learning styles.

Response Time

One of the advantages of helping by email (compared to phone helping) is that a Breastfeeding Counselor can craft responses at a time convenient to her. Email exchanges can be made without interruptions and distractions, and a Breastfeeding Counselor can schedule email time around her other obligations. However, since mothers emailing for help generally expect a relatively quick reply, a Breastfeeding Counselor who will be away from the computer for a period of time should set up an auto-reply message to direct mothers seeking email support elsewhere. Similarly, if the response to a mother will require some time to research, it is courteous for a Breastfeeding Counselor to send a quick response acknowledging receipt of the email and indicating when she will be able to provide a full reply.


In concluding a helping email, a Breastfeeding Counselor should suggest options for follow-up in case a mother needs more information and support. Follow-up can involve more in-depth email conversation, or phone or in-person counseling if a Breastfeeding Counselor is available to provide those services (if not, a referral may be helpful for the mother).

Breastfeeding Counselors can provide additional information about the organization in the closing email. Since many mothers are very grateful for the information provided by email, BCs might also include a link for mothers to become Breastfeeding USA members or donate to the organization. A Breastfeeding Counselor’s final message in any email should be warm and supportive, leaving the mother feeling positive and encouraged.