Breastfeeding is your first joint project as a mother/baby team. It’s new for both of you. Remember: the beginning is the hardest part. Making it over the early hump(s) is most of the battle. Despite the strong medical endorsement of breastfeeding, the majority of hospitals are not breastfeeding friendly.
This means getting off to a good start can require being proactive in getting the support you need.
Early attention to nursing prevents countless problems later on. Tomorrow I’ll write about why this is the case and how breastfeeding works. But for now, here are 8 crucial steps you can take to get things going in as seamless and healthy way as possible.
1. Educate yourself
Take a breastfeeding class towards the end of your pregnancy, read books, watch DVDs, get advice from other moms who breastfed or watch some breastfeeding in action. (See resources listed below.)
2. Make breastfeeding a priority … and make sure everyone knows it
Tell everyone involved with your birth (OB, nurses, pediatrician, midwife, doula, and/or family) that you intend to breastfeed. This means:
* If possible, the baby should be given his initial examination on your chest/in your arms.
* The baby should be brought to you for frequent feedings or room with you at all times.
* The baby should not be given bottles or pacifiers in the hospital.
3. Breastfeed early
The “quiet alert state that newborns often enter soon after birth is a prime opportunity to breastfeed. If a baby is placed on his mother’s chest right after birth, he will often start sucking immediatelyto get colostrum (early or pre-milk) and help trigger milk supply.
Circumstances don’t always allow moms and baby to be together immediately. Missing this window doesn’t mean breastfeeding won’t work. But in general, the sooner a mother can get her baby to the breast, the better.
4. Breastfeed often
Women who nurse around 12 times a day (or more) for the first few days are more likely to have success with breastfeeding than those who nurse less frequently. 8 times a day is the absolute minimum for the newborn period. I’m not just saying this to torture you…frequent feedings really are crucial for establishing supply. Sleep and eating schedules (if desired) can be attempted later (after about six weeks), once a good milk-making rhythm is underway.
5. Avoid formula
Studies have shown that moms who feed formula—or even have it in the house—during the early days of breastfeeding are more likely to stop sooner. If hospital staff—even doctors recommend “topping up” with formula it is entirely appropriate to check with a lactation specialist for a second opinion, as they typically have had more training in this area. Find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) by zipcode.
6. Stay close
Proximity between mom and baby is a key part of establishing breastfeeding. Learning what baby hunger signals look like and making your breasts available (day and night) will give you more flexibility (and reduced hassle over supply issues) later on. A baby is hungry is he’s rooting around with mouth open or puckered, sucking on hands or fussing first, then crying.
7. Get support… with positioning
Ask for help establishing a good “latch” (the way the baby sucks on the nipple) at the hospital/at home/at the birthing center/in mother’s groups/in breastfeeding class. Practice a variety of positions for holding the baby so you have some options. Arrange to have someone supportive help out with the baby. This can be especially helpful after a difficult birth or C-section. Your big job is to get nursing going—let someone else do the other stuff if you can.
8. Get support … for the idea of breastfeeding in general
Studies have shown that breastfeeding rates are higher in families and communities where breastfeeding is considered important and normal. If you have someone in your life who is not so excited about breastfeeding, this may come from lack of understanding. Maybe it would help to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 6 months of exclusive breastmilk–sometimes “doctor’s orders” make an impact. Also try to attend as many mother’s groups as you can with other moms doing just what you’re doing. It can be hard enough to get breastfeeding off to a good foot without having this sense that what you’re doing is weird or unnecessary. Being around other moms will show you just how normal it is. Also bring your partner with you to a breastfeeding class before birth so that he or she begins to understand what’s involved in nursing, especially during the early days.
kellymom.com: A wealth of information, links and studies about breastfeeding.
breastfeeding.com: Resources, videos, forums and more.
LLLI.org: La Leche League International website.
ILCA.org: International Lactation Consultants Association Website (find an LC)
Books & Media
So That’s What They’re For! The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide by Janet Tamaro
From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored Guide To Pregnancy, Birth And Becoming A Parent by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris (our very in-depth section on breastfeeding was written in consultation with Catherine Watson-Genna one of the most knowledgeable lactation consultants in the U.S.)
This is the second post in my Breastfeeding Week series. Here is “Breast Is Not Best, Breast Is Normal” and “CDC Says 96% Of Hospitals Are Not Breastfeeding Friendly.”