Successful breastfeeding often starts long before the baby is born. Counseling expectant moms was one of my favorite things about my job. I was able to share information that could better prepare them for breastfeeding rather than being overwhelmed and feeling uncertain about what they were doing once they delivered. Of course, breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mama and baby and sometimes you just don’t know what it will be like until you experience it for yourself, but having good information beforehand helps. What happens the first couple of weeks, days and even hours after birth can have a vast impact on your breastfeeding experience. Here are some suggestions for a positive breastfeeding experience from the very start:
- Request to have your naked baby lay on your bare chest immediately after delivery for at least the first hour of your baby’s life. This skin-to-skin contact calms the baby from its traumatic entrance into the world and helps the baby learn that the breast is nearby. This physical touch also signals your brain to release the hormones that produce milk. I will talk more about the wonders of skin-to-skin in a later post.
- Nurse your baby right away. Having the baby skin-to-skin will help with the initial latch on and the baby’s natural instincts will soon kick in to start suckling. So nurse early and nurse often!
- Breastfeed on demand. Breastfed babies usually want to nurse every 2-3 hours, but don’t be a stickler for watching the clock. Be sensitive to the baby’s hunger cues and offer the breast whenever the baby seems interested. This will help establish your milk supply.
- If your baby has trouble latching on, ask for help! Most hospitals have nurses trained in lactation, but lactation consultants are a wonderful resource for helping to get a baby to latch to the breast if they are having trouble. I will write more about latching later in this blog as well.
- Avoid pacifiers and bottles. Sometimes hospital staff recommends you to supplement with formula if your baby is acting hungry or “not getting satisfied” at the breast. More often than not, this practice alone sets up mom and baby for a difficult time learning to breastfeed. Your body is still working on producing the mature milk during the first two days, and the baby’s belly is still so small it cannot hold very much milk anyway. Babies gets used to the fast flow of a bottle compared to the breast and thus has difficulty going back to the breast. I will also talk more about this in another post.
- Most breastfeeding experts will tell you to room in with your baby in the hospital in order to read your baby’s hunger cues and to be able to nurse frequently. I liked this idea and had it written in my birth plan. However, I’m also in favor of a sane mama. I let the nurses take my baby to the nursery the first night, not because I wanted to sleep, but because I was horrified when Alice starting choking on the fluid that didn’t get squeezed out of her lungs during delivery-She came fast!- and I didn’t want to experience her choking again. (I still didn’t sleep that night despite her being in the nursery. So much adrenaline was rushing through my body and I couldn’t seem to stop reliving the day!) The important thing is to make sure all hospital staff know you are breastfeeding exclusively and do not want the baby to be supplemented or given a pacifier. I requested them to bring Alice to me every two hours, or sooner if she started rooting for the breast. My nurses did a good job of this and I am thankful for that. The second night I kept Alice with me and she nursed All. Night. Long. It was exhausting.
I suggest including these practices in your birth plan and printing several copies to give your caregivers in the hospital. These are just some of the suggestions to help get breastfeeding off on a good start while in the hospital. Continue these practices when you get home as well, doing a lot of skin-to-skin with your baby, feed on demand, avoid supplementary feedings, and nurse, nurse, nurse! The more you let your baby latch on to the breast, the more milk your body will produce. Also do not neglect to take care of yourself, mama. The early weeks are hard. Rest as much as you can and hang on tight! It will get easier and breastfeeding will become so routine that you will be a pro in no time!