The first breastfeeding of a newborn is often a magical, yet confusing experience for a new mom.
If you are considering breastfeeding your baby, I love that you have stumbled across this blog post. As a doula and breastfeeding counselor, I want to share some of these little understood facts about newborns and their first breastfeeding that have greatly helped prepare my clients. The more moms know, the better they are able to set realistic expectations and set themselves up for success as a nursing mom.
The Golden Hour is key. When helping my clients with planning their birth care preferences, I am quick to point out the value and importance of the “Golden Hour,” especially if they plan to breastfeed. This refers to the first hour after birth, when mom and baby are kept skin-to-skin immediately after birth. This contact with baby is what helps baby recover, normalize baby’s temperature and blood sugar levels, and triggers his instincts to search for the breast and feed for the first time. Having baby at the breast within an hour of birth increases a mom and baby dyad’s success in fully breastfeeding.
Baby’s instincts are strong! After resting on their mother’s abdomen for about an hour recovering from the birth process, babies start to show the first signs of hunger. At most of the births I’ve been to, either moms or nurses work to get baby to the breast, and mechanically latch baby themselves. I feel that so many of my clients miss out on one of the most amazing experiences, which is the instinctual “breast crawl” almost all healthy babies will do. A newborn, if allowed to his or her own devices, will crawl toward mom’s breast within the first hour and usually latch themselves – drawn by the scent of mom’s nipples that remind them of the smell of amniotic fluid. Nature is incredible.
But it’s still a learning process. I often hear from moms that they thought breastfeeding was supposed to be instinctual and “natural,” and are blindsided by the learning curve. Both you and your baby may take a a few days (or more!) to learn to nurse. While many babies may find the nipple and nurse like a champ, many babies take time to coordinate their suck and swallow reflexes. Moms also need time to find positions that work for both her and her baby’s feeding style and preferences. But stick with it, you’re both learning and trust that baby’s strong instincts will prevail.
Colostrum is enough. Your body has been manufacturing colostrum since the second trimester, and is ready immediately for baby upon birth. A newborn baby only needs about 1 oz of colostrum, or early infant milk, each day for the first few days. That means no more than a teaspoon or two at each feeding!
Fullness doesn’t indicate milk production. Many times when women don’t feel their mature milk come in “right away” after birth or that their breasts don’t feel “full,” they think that they are not making enough milk and immediately resort to formula supplementation. Soft breasts postpartum are actually normal and perfectly okay! Engorgement, when a woman’s breasts feel painfully full, is actually a sign of poor milk transference to baby. And the harder or fuller a woman’s breasts are, the more difficult it is for baby to latch on. This can compound the problem. Difficulty latching baby can also happen if a mom has had IV fluids through labor, and is retaining a lot of fluids in her breast tissue. But the longer this goes on, the more a woman’s body will start to reduce milk supply. Breastfeeding or expressing milk “early and often” in those first few days and weeks of life are what help alleviate that state of fullness, protect milk supply and keep mom’s breasts soft, and comfortably latchable.
You may not feel your milk let down. While some moms may feel a tingling sensation as their milk lets down to their nursing baby, it can be disconcerting to new moms when they don’t feel anything. Trust that as long as your baby is gaining weight, has the right amount of poopy diapers and is showing signs of satiety after every feeding, baby is getting everything he needs.
To pump or not to pump? Often my pregnant clients ask about pumping breastmilk and assume they need to start pumping right out of the gate after baby is born. It’s actually not necessary for most moms! Unless mom and baby are separated for any reason, such as baby is in the NICU or mom is sick, pumping is not needed. Note: For NICU babies, especially, it is recommended moms start pumping within 3 hours of birth. Keeping your healthy, happy baby skin-to-skin and nursing often is the best and easiest way to encourage mature milk to come in. Nipple stimulation is key, here. If a mom is pumping and baby is latching and nursing well, she could end up with more milk than she needs. That could could lead to engorgement and a risk of mastitis. So be careful! But if a mom is experiencing engorgement because baby is not latching well, she should make an appointment see an IBCLC to assess the latch, and start pumping or hand expressing in the meantime. Pumping every two hours for about 10 minutes protects milk supply and of course, feeds the baby.
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