As you are getting started breastfeeding, there are many breastfeeding basics you can do to create an environment for success. Women have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of the human race, and its only been in the last century that anyone has used artificial infant formula. When there were no alternatives, almost every mother breastfed her babies successfully. (And those that couldn’t would still have human milk through a wet nurse.) I say this to encourage you. . . you can do it! Here are some things that will help you with getting started:
- Prepare for the birth of your baby.
Read books, make a birth plan, and choose your doctor/birthing facility wisely. If you are giving birth in a hospital, try to find one that meets the BFHI (Breastfeeding Friendly Hospital Initiative set out by the World Health Organization) requirements. We know that the type of birth you have affects breastfeeding so make a plan for how you’d like your birth to go.
- Have minimal intervention, as natural a birth as possible.
A natural and unmedicated birth leaves you and your baby ready to start breastfeeding strong. Did you know that a healthy, unmedicated baby has innate instincts and reflexes that if placed on your belly can push himself up and latch onto his mother’s breast unassisted?! It’s been termed the breast crawl and is quite powerful to witness. A natural birth allows you to immediately begin skin-to-skin time with your baby and helps him to be alert, able to latch, and suck well for his first breastfeed.
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin immediately following birth.
Do this for at least the first 2 hours, before your baby is bathed, weighed, or even wiped off. This is critical bonding time for you and your baby as your body has many thriving hormones that allow you to bond and absolutely fall in love with your new little blessing. Skin-to-skin helps regulate your baby’s temperature, stabilize her heart rate, stabilize blood glucose, reduce crying, stimulate self-latching, and coordinate sucking at breast. For the mom, skin-to-skin helps to regulate her temperature, increase oxytocin levels, develop adequate milk volume, bond with her baby, increase her confidence, and decrease breastfeeding problems.
- Delay screenings, baby checks, bath, etc. until after first breastfeed.
You can never get the first two hours after your birth back and all the key baby checks for a healthy, full-term baby can be done while on skin-to-skin with her mom. Postpone everything else and enjoy these precious moments with your new baby.
- Room in with your baby.
The best way to get to know your new baby is to spend time together. Keep your baby in your room with you so you can see early feeding cues your baby gives and nurse on demand.
- Practice safe co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping allows you to maximize sleep while allowing your baby to nurse on demand. Rather than having to get up every time your baby wakes and go to another part of the house, it is much easier to nurse and take care of your newborn’s needs while bed sharing or in the same room as mother. Follow safe co-sleeping guidelines. And remember, your baby hasn’t read all those parenting books about scheduling sleep and feeds. You’ll find it a lot less stressful if you just follow your baby’s needs and go with it.
- Have support in the first weeks after birth so you can concentrate on feeding your baby.
Your job is to feed your baby. Treat yourself as queen. . .prop pillows around you to be comfortable, have a remote, book, and cell phone nearby, as well as a glass of water and snack. And, accept all offers for help around the house with cooking, cleaning, and taking care of older siblings. Now is not the time to keep a spotless house and or to cook gourmet meals. Enjoy your new baby and take time to rest and nurse often.
- Breastfeed often and on demand.
It is normal for your baby to nurse often. If you have a sleepy baby, make sure to wake her up and nurse at least every three hours. It is also normal for babies to not only want to nurse for hunger, but also nurse for comfort (“non-nutritive sucking”). Even non-nutritive sucking offers milk, builds your supply, and allows you to bond. Offer both breasts at each feed and nurse until your baby comes off satisfied.
- Don’t settle for breastfeeding pain.
Breastfeeding should not hurt. If you have pain or sense something is not right, seek help from a qualified Lactation Consultant (ideally an IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Seek help sooner rather than later!
- Find a mom-to-mom support group.
For help and encouragement, try to find a local breastfeeding group such as La Leche League. You will meet other moms who are at different places in their breastfeeding journey and it can be a wonderful encouragement and support for you.
- Know what’s normal. . . and what’s not.
For example, all babies loose weight after birth. It is normal to take up to 2 weeks to gain this weight back. It doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk. Or, after your baby is born you have colostrum (the thick, rich, antibacterial first milk) for the first 2-4 days before your milk begins to come in. This is normal and it helps your baby pass meconium (the dark first poo) and help against developing jaundice. Just nurse often and on demand to encourage your milk to come in strong.
- Find a pediatrician who is supportive of breastfeeding.
And don’t hesitate to find a new one if you find out yours just gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding. If you want to nurse your baby and you or your pediatrician have concerns, seek a lactation consultant before turning to artificial infant formula.
- If you sense there is a problem, work to build your supply by expressing (either by hand or with a pump).
You can offer this additional milk to your baby via syringe, cup, or bottle. But, building a strong supply of milk is important. Don’t wait until your supply dwindles to begin pumping if you have concerns about your supply or how much your baby is eating at each feed.
- Trust your body to make milk.
Your body knows what to do and it has been getting ready throughout your pregnancy. Have confidence in your body’s ability to make milk. Relax and don’t stress. Also, don’t supplement with formula just because you don’t think you have enough milk. (This is a slippery slope and will just about guarantee you won’t have enough milk.) Believe in your body and nurse your baby on demand so your body gets the message to continue to make milk. Remember, an empty breast makes more milk! Not only does your body know what to do, but your baby also has an innate ability to latch on to your breast and nurse.
- Finally, through it all, remember why you want to nurse your baby.
Realize nursing is more than just giving your baby amazing milk. . . it is also a wonderful bond that you share and will grow throughout your lives. Lots of skin-to-skin and cuddling with your baby not only has a positive impact on breastfeeding, but also on your mothering relationship. Cherish these precious moments as your little blessing will grow so fast. You cannot spoil your baby by nursing too frequently, cuddling too much, or sharing too much skin-to-skin time. Your baby just spent the last nine months in your womb having every need met immediately. Continuing to meet her needs (food, love, cuddles, nurturing) are exactly what she needs.