It’s a gift to be present at that moment when a mother meets her baby for the first time. As a IBCLC working in a Birthing Center, I have that privilege on a daily basis. I also have the responsibility of advocating for both mom and baby and providing professional guidance for early breastfeeding and beyond.
How well early breastfeeding goes can have a big impact with how long breastfeeding continues. My experiences and advice mirror the current research and recommendations when it comes to how to help ensure breastfeeding success.
Hold Your Baby Skin-to-Skin
Hold your baby skin-to-skin and heart to heart at birth. Bonding, attachment, and milk production blossom in response to sight, sounds, smells, and the embrace you share with your baby as you fall in love with one another. Skin to skin promotes the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that bring about the complex biological, physiological and psychological changes that transform you into a mother, and help your baby transition to life outside the womb. Your body temperature increases in response to your baby’s presence on your skin. Held safe, warm and secure, your baby’s vital functions like heartbeat and breathing stabilize. At least an hour of skin-to-skin as soon as possible after delivery creates an environment that helps your baby get ready to breastfeed. Ask for immediate skin-to-skin.
Breastfeed Early and Often
In that first hour after delivery, most babies will show interest in breastfeeding. Early and frequent breastfeeding is important for three reasons. First, although term healthy babies are born with extra stores of energy, frequent feedings help ensure adequate calories and stable blood sugar. Second, frequent sucking provides the necessary stimulation and breast emptying that increases milk production. Third, sucking at the breast is about so much more than food, providing comfort, reassurance and love.
Babies can sometimes be very sleepy on the first day of life, especially if mom has received medication for discomfort during labor. If your baby is not feeding well in the first day or so, hand expressing your milk to feed your baby by spoon can provide adequate milk until breastfeeding becomes frequent. A newborn’s tummy is small, about the size of a cherry. Early on, a teaspoon is a meal.
Babies show they are hungry by squirming, sucking their fingers, licking, turning their heads, rooting, and as a last resort, crying. Feeding your baby at the first signs of hunger makes it easier for baby to remain calm and latch. Once a newborn becomes interested in breastfeeding, it’s not uncommon to worry if you are making enough milk for your baby, as newborns are such frequent feeders.
Babies are driven to suck because sucking means survival. Milk volume increases on about the third day of life, but frequent feedings are still common. Keeping a diaper diary will give you the best indication of whether your baby is getting enough milk.
Get a Good Latch
Babies are born knowing how to find the breast. Instinctively they use their hands to help locate the nipple. They will follow the scent trail left by their hands to bring their mouth to the nipple. They also feel with their cheeks and chin to locate the nipple and latch. These behaviors are only possible when babies are on their tummies on mom’s chest. Many breastfeeding experts believe early breastfeeding and bonding goes best when mom is in a semi-reclining position, with the baby tummy to tummy on mom’s chest. I agree. Baby leads and mom helps, and together they achieve a good latch.
To get a good latch, begin with your baby positioned nose to nipple. Support your baby behind her neck and shoulders and allow her to tip her head back. If she’s on her tummy she may reach up and over the nipple to latch. If she’s on her back you will need help by bringing her in closely to the breast.
A good latch is comfortable. As the baby latches and pulls the nipple deep into the mouth, the stretching may cause discomfort. Within 10 seconds the pain should subside. A tugging sensation is normal, but pain is not. Your nipple should be round, not pinched or flattened when your baby comes off the breast.
A poor latch can cause pain and nipple damage, and ineffective milk removal. Often a poor latch is simply the result of poor positioning or breast fullness. On about day three, when your milk volume increases, and any time you are overly full, it can be difficult for your baby to stretch the nipple to latch correctly. This time is when I most often see sore and painful nipples. Hand expressing some milk to soften the base of the nipple before putting your baby to the breast can allow the baby to latch correctly.
When a baby is latched correctly, his head is tipped back with his chin touching the breast below the nipple, and his nose is not touching the breast above the nipple. If the latch is not comfortable, break the seal with your finger, take the baby off, and start over.
If lactation support is available where you deliver, be sure to ask your support professional to observe a breastfeeding or two so you can perfect your technique. Ask where you can get breastfeeding support after you go home. Mother to mother support can be a great resource, and many communities have a mother-to-mother support group like La Leche League. If you feel you need professional breastfeeding support, click here to find an IBCLC in your community.
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