Start off on the right foot!
Breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural process but often comes with its fair share of bumps in the road. It takes time to learn how to nurse your baby, bring in and keep your milk supply, and to care for your lactating breasts. The good news is there are three simple steps you can take to get started on the right foot.
Step 1: Feed your baby EARLY.
What does this mean? Well, two things. First, start feeding your baby at the breast as soon as you are able after birth. Second, learn and respond to your baby's hunger cues sooner rather than later. Need a bit more detail? No problem!
Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin
The benefits of skin-to-skin bonding have been well documented and include everything from the regulation of the baby's heartbeat to his/her breathing. It encourages a release of oxytocin in the mother which helps both with uterine healing as well as lactation. It is comforting for both parent and child and is the obvious way to encourage that baby to take in that first few mouthfuls of colostrum. Breastfeeding depends on a system of supply and demand so the sooner you start telling your body to make milk by nursing or pumping, the more milk it will make!
How does your baby tell you that she is hungry?
Feeding early can also mean feeding your baby when they first start to show you feeding cues. Rooting, putting their hands to their mouths or faces, looking around, or even tugging at their ears can all indicate that your baby is getting ready for a feed. Learning your baby's cues can take a little time but once you do, you can respond to baby before they become agitated and begin to cry. This is important because a calm baby is more likely to latch on well, to feed effectively, and is less likely to swallow large puffs of air which can cause gas pains in their wee tummies!
Step 2: Feed your baby OFTEN.
Newborns eat A LOT. Like... all the time (or so it may feel). The good news is, that is very normal! The not so good news is that it can be very tiring for a nursing parent and they WILL need your support or the support of a postpartum doula. If you are planning on breastfeeding, plan ahead to make sure you will have the help you need to heal and rest, too!
The more you take, the more you make!
You may have heard of feeding on demand. Basically this means feeding your baby whenever they show signs of hunger as opposed to feeding them on a schedule. As we mentioned above breast milk production relies on a system of supply and demand. Feeding your baby as often as he/she wants, especially in the first several weeks of your breastfeeding relationship, is the best way to make sure your baby and your body are working together to get your milk supply sorted out.
Step 3: Feed your baby EFFECTIVELY.
So, remember our little mantra "The more you take, the more you make"? Feeding your baby often is helpful but for the supply and demand system to work your baby needs to be draining as much milk from your breasts as possible every time he/she feeds.
Most babies are boob monsters.
Many newborns will happily stay at the breast for hours at a time if you let them. We would bet some sweet sweet cash that if your baby is doing this, they are not eating the whole time; they are probably "comfort nursing" or "flutter sucking". In short - the breast is their "happy place" and they just want to hang out and hang on!
Learning how to tell the difference between a baby who is eating and a baby who is just hanging out will help you:
- make sure that baby is getting enough to eat
- establish a strong milk supply
- take some time for yourself when you need it
How do I know that baby is eating effectively?
An effectively feeding baby has a good latch, a strong and rhythmic suck pattern (suck, suck, swallow), and will *pause* with a nice big chin dip when they swallow. You can see milk in or on his/her mouth when the latch is broken and generally an actively feeding baby will have open eyes and may be holding on to your breast while he/she feeds.
Planning ahead to make breastfeeding a success
Before baby comes, check your community for resources, lactation consultants, breastfeeding education classes and support groups. If you find that you have a gap in your support network, consider hiring a postpartum doula. The physical, emotional, and practical support that a postpartum doula offers can make meeting the goal of feeding EARLY, feeding OFTEN, and feeding EFFECTIVELY a reality.