Breastfeeding your baby? Congratulations! You’ve made a great choice for yourself and your baby.
But does it feel that way, today? Breastfeeding may be perfectly natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always just naturally perfect. Many moms find that the first weeks of nursing a baby are a real challenge. After all, you’re both learning a totally new skill. The question is, how do you hang in there until the honeymoon?
THAT SWEET BABY TALK
How does your baby let you know she’s ready to eat?
Ask many people this question, and they’ll say, “That’s easy. The baby cries.” In fact, crying is a late hunger signal.
Most breastfed babies graze. (If we wrote down every time we eat or drink, we’d probably say moms graze, too!). Newborns who are getting ready to eat often begin by squirming and moving their eyelids around, then rooting – looks like she wants to eat her blanket! – and then sucking on fists, fingers, daddy’s nose, or anything that’s handy.
This is a great time to check diapers, wake baby a bit more, and do a little flirting before baby comes to the breast. Of course sometimes just your presence is enough to make baby decide it’s time for a snack.
Did she “just eat”? Well, sometimes she just wants appetizers, sometimes she’d like a full ten course dinner. Rather than counting the time between feedings, keep track of how many times your baby eats each day. Most breastfed babies eat 10-12 times per day; it’s lovely when most of those feeds happen to come during daylight hours. (And it usually means your baby is over three weeks old!)
Don’t be afraid to nurse, nurse, nurse these first days at home. You’ll establish a good milk supply early, avoid engorgement, and baby will naturally lengthen the time between feeds. If you are dreading feeding time, call someone who cares about you and knows about breastfeeding. Don’t stop now.
PUT YOUR FEET UP, SET A SPELL
In the first days at home, it can be nice to have a nursing nook. Make yourself a comfy space where you can just settle in.
At its simplest, a nursing nook might mean a place to sit or lay down, with a fresh glass of water beside you. Maybe you’d like a corner of the couch in front of the TV, or a spot where you can easily get at your tablet or phone. Use a regular routine in these first days at home, to help your body learn how to easily, automatically give milk to the baby. (For example, get something you like to drink and put it on the table next to the couch. Strip your baby down to a diaper and onesie, put your feet up on the couch, cuddle your baby on your chest, and nuzzle your baby, then take a swig of that drink. Nuzzle some more.)This routine will help trigger the milk ejection reflex or let-down – but it’s really quite a boost when that milk squirts all over that baby’s face. As the days go by, it’ll be easier and easier to trigger this hormonal reflex. In fact, just thinking about your baby may give you milk – at the mall, the pool, or at work. And sometimes when you least expect it!
If feeds have been a struggle, don’t worry about fancy positions, switching breasts “properly”, etc. There are no breastfeeding police! Get your baby on the breast in your favorite way, sit back, and get happy. You’ll have lots of time to practice and do things “properly” – but the bottom line is, a happy mom and a fat, sassy baby means you must be doing something right.
HOW DOES IT FEEL….
Breastfeeding was a lost art for so many years in our society that we actually forgot what normal was. That’s how La Leche League started – seven moms at a picnic started talking about how great it was to have finally figured out how to breastfeed. Some of them were on their third or fourth baby!
One myth we have is that breastfeeding is supposed to hurt. This is not true. In fact, past the first bit of tenderness as the baby draws the nipple deep into his mouth, breastfeeding should feel good. Try it yourself – you can tell without looking when the baby is latched on properly at the breast.
If you are having a hard time with latch-on or your nipples are sore, call a breastfeeding expert – fast! Sometimes this means a lactation consultant, sometimes a friend or sister, a La Leche League Leader, a nurse at the hospital where you gave birth. “It looks good to me” as an answer to your questions means you need to talk to someone more skilled.
THIS IS THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT
Now that baby’s on, how do we know something’s going in?
As your milk ejection reflex gets established, you may feel your uterus cramping. That’s breastfeeding, getting you back in shape. You may feel suddenly thirsty, or you may be leaking milk from the opposite breast. Moms sometimes report feeling sleepy or deliciously relaxed.
You may also notice that your baby changes his sucking rhythm. He’ll change from a “call up the milk” rhythm (suck/suck/suck/swallow) to a suck/swallow rhythm. You may hear little puffs of air coming from baby’s nose, notice a pause in his jaw movements, and see his temples move as he eats slowly and steadily You might even hear gulping! A good time to try a little breast compression is when you see baby “calling for” seconds on that first breast.
Walk your fingers around your breast. Does it feel softer than when you started? It’s a great way to gauge whether your baby will wake up in ten minutes for more! You can also change your baby’s diaper at this point, if you want. It’s a great way to wake him up a bit for the second side.
OOH BABY I LOVE YOUR WAYS
When is a feed over? Your baby will tell you. Little by little, her clenched fists will relax and open. Here eyes will gradually drift closed, and she’ll be floating away to dreamland.
If you notice that your baby does not seem sleepy and sated after these early feeds, get an expert to watch. An expert eye can help with positioning, better let-downs, breast compressions, and give you a hug when you need it. We want you and your baby to fall in love, and for breastfeeding to be a happy part of your new life together.