The early days of breastfeeding are often filled with a lot of excitement and joy. Mother and baby are very relaxed and sleepy as the hormone, Oxytocin, flows freely through the mother’s body as her tiny baby suckles softly at her breasts. It is a beautiful sight to see and often what expectant moms think of when they imagine breastfeeding their new babies. But, the first few days or even weeks of breastfeeding can also be very confusing, difficult, and sometimes even painful. It seems, no book or video, breastfeeding class, or even words of wisdom can really prepare a new mom for her first days as a nursing mother. Nearly every mom will have some questions as to whether or not they are “doing it right” or if their “baby’s latch looks OK.” So, let’s take a moment to discuss nursing your newborn – signs breastfeeding is going well, “red flags,” nursing positions, and some general tips for getting off to a good start with breastfeeding.
In the first hour or two after birth your baby will be active, alert, and hungry. This is the best time to initiate breastfeeding. After the placenta is delivered during birth, progesterone and oestrogen levels fall sharply, allowing the mother to begin producing breast milk. “Newborn milk” or colostrum makes up the first meal for your new baby and is a very rich and creamy milk, which is often characterizes as “liquid gold” due to it’s golden yellow color. Colostrum is a high density milk that contains more protein, minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (A and K) than mature milk. During your baby’s first nursing session, your body will begin receiving signals that it needs to begin producing more breast milk. And with each subsequent nursing session, prolactin levels (the milk making hormone) begin to surge. Frequent breastfeeding in the days immediately following birth are positively linked to increased duration of breastfeeding and ample milk supply in nursing mothers. Therefore, it is a good idea to “room-in” with your new baby, nursing at least 10-12 times per day as your baby demands. Remember, you can’t nurse too often, but you can nurse too little. So, be on the lookout for feeding cues and offer to nurse on-demand.
Nursing your new, fragile baby may make you a little nervous. You may have trouble getting comfortable as you fumble around with how you should hold your precious baby. This is to be expected. Even mothers who have had several children before often remark about how incredibly small and delicate their new babies are; having forgotten just how tiny newborn babies really are. What’s important to remember is that you are still learning, and so is your baby. “Breastfeeding is like learning to dance with a partner who is also new to the steps. And while they are learning this new dance, your tiny partner not only has to learn the dance steps (how to coordinate sucking, breathing and swallowing), but also has to adapt to a whole new environment.” ~ Pinky McKay It is OK if you feel a little awkward at first. This is a great time to ask for help. If you are in a hospital with a Lactation Consultant on staff, ask that she make a visit to your room. If you are already home, try watching some YouTube videos on how to position your baby or schedule an appointment with an area Lactation Consultant for in-person breastfeeding consultation.
After the first few days, you and your baby should start to get the hang of things. Nursing sessions should last anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. Your baby may want to nurse every hour in the evenings or throughout the day. Your baby might also sleep through a feeding occasionally and have to be woken up to nurse. This is all very common in the early days of nursing a newborn. Remember, your goal in these first few weeks is to get off to a good start with breastfeeding by establishing a healthy milk supply. Some days you may feel like all you’ve done was breastfeed. This is normal and is especially true when your baby is experiencing a growth spurt. Growth spurts generally occur around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, and 4-6 weeks after birth in the newborn period. During a growth spurt, you may find that your baby cluster feeds (nursing on and off for hours at a time, with short breaks in between), is fussier than usual, and has irregular sleep patterns (sleeps more or less than usual).
A lot of moms worry about their milk supply, especially when a growth spurt hits and their babies seems hungrier and fussier than usual. Often times, this is the first “trouble spot” moms will encounter with breastfeeding. Because we cannot SEE how much milk our babies are drinking at the breast, it is common to have doubts about how much milk they are ACTUALLY getting. And, if your baby is going back and forth, back and forth, between breasts, suckling for hours, you may really begin to think there is something wrong with your milk supply. In reality, your milk supply is likely EXACTLY what your baby needs. Generally speaking, moms who nurse on-demand, at least 10-12 times per day, and who initiated breastfeeding within the first few hours of birth have enough milk! The #1 reason moms struggle to reach their breastfeeding goals is because they think they may not have enough milk. But, before you give up or “top off” your baby with expressed milk or formula, you should know that it may not be necessary. In fact, supplementing in the early days of breastfeeding can actually LEAD TO problems with milk supply. Instead, try to trust your body and your baby. Allow your baby to nurse as often as he/she likes. And remember that frequent nursing, especially during a growth spurt is purposeful and is designed to stimulate your milk production. When babies nurse more at the breast, they signal our bodies to begin producing even more milk. This is the principle of supply and demand!
So, how can you be sure you have enough milk?
1. Count your baby’s wet and dirty diapers.
- Dirty diapers – Babies who are receiving enough breast milk will have at least 1 dirty diaper for every day of life, through the first 4 days. Then, after the the first 4 days, babies should continue to have at least 4 dirty diapers each day until they reach about 4-6 weeks old.
- Wet diapers – Babies who are receiving enough breast milk will have at least 1 wet diaper for every day of life, through the first 2-3 days, or until mom’s milk comes in. Then, after the the first 2-3 days, babies should continue to have at least 5-6+ wet diapers each day for as long as they are breastfed.
2. Asses weight gain.
Newborns may lose up to 7% of their birth weight in the first few days after delivery. After mom’s milk comes in (usually between 2-5 days following delivery), the average breastfed baby gains 6 oz per week.
3. Do a weighed feeding or “test feed.”
Have your pediatrician or Lactation Consultant weigh your baby before and after nursing. Comparing the pre- and post-feeding weights will allow you to determine how much milk your baby is transferring at the breast.
The second most common reason new moms quit breastfeeding before they reach their goals is because they experience pain while nursing. For generations moms have been told that it’s normal if breastfeeding hurts a little in the beginning. This is UNTRUE. Breastfeeding should never hurt. Pain during breastfeeding is an indication that there is a problem. Breastfeeding mothers should never experience more than a tugging sensation while nursing. Toe curling pain while breastfeeding is not normal and it should be addressed immediately. The #1 reason breastfeeding hurts is due to an improper, “bad” or “shallow” latch. Here are some tips on how to get a good latch.
Congratulations on your new baby! Nursing a newborn is not always easy, in fact, it is a lot of work. But, it will be worth it! Soon, you will enter the “reward period of breastfeeding,” when breastfeeding becomes like second nature to you and your baby and you will feel more confident in your ability to sustain your growing baby with nothing more than your breast milk!