Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! I’m glad you’re here. Be sure to check out the other contributors, whose links are at the end of this post.
I have two children, and I had two very different breastfeeding experiences. My daughter Hannah was born 6 weeks early. Between her prematurity, the enforced separation, and my own health complications, it was a rough start. I often felt discouraged and unsure if I could successfully breastfeed her. Jacob, on the other hand, was born at full term with no complications. From the beginning things have been much smoother.
There’s not really anything I could have done to prevent Hannah’s prematurity and our early separation, the two biggest causes of my breastfeeding problems. The good news is like many moms I was able to overcome my difficulties, and went on to have a long and successful breastfeeding relationship. But the things that I learned about breastfeeding in the 3 1/2 years between my babies also helped me get Jacob off to a smoother start. Here are some pointers I have to offer based on hard-won experience:
1. Avoid unnecessary interventions during childbirth.
Research shows that pain medication during labour, including epidural anesthesia, can interfere with breastfeeding. So can medical procedures performed on newborn babies. I would never suggest that you pass up necessary medical treatment. However, there are a some things that you can do to stack the odds in your favour if you want to reduce interventions. The first is to seek out a professional doula. Women who use doulas report lower rates of nearly every type of intervention, as well as greater overall satisfaction with their birth experience. The second is to seek out a care provider who shares a similar philosophy, and to make your wishes clear before you’re in the delivery room. And if things do go sideways, go easy on yourself and remember that the most important thing is that you and your baby are healthy and safe.
2. Spend the first hour (or longer) skin-to-skin with your baby.
Skin-to-skin contact between moms and babies is also called ‘kangaroo care‘. It involves holding a baby wearing nothing but a diaper upright against mom’s bare chest. Babies held this way receive many benefits – their breathing and heart rate are regulated, and their body temperature is, too. Any adult can do kangaroo care, but there is a special advantage for moms. When held skin-to-skin many babies gravitate towards the breast and begin to nurse spontaneously. By spending your baby’s first hour skin-to-skin you can help your newborn to transition to life in the outside world and facilitate breastfeeding.
3. Try baby-led latching.
Back in 2005 when Hannah was born the conventional wisdom dictated a mother-led approach to breastfeeding. You lined the baby up, waited for the mouth to open wide, and then used ‘rapid arm movement’ to get the baby latched. And while it sounds simple, it’s pretty hard to co-ordinate when you’re holding a wiggly newborn. A new approach, called baby-led latching, is becoming the preferred method of bringing baby to the breast for the first feeds. Championed by Dr. Christina Smillie, it follows naturally out of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. You can find detailed instructions online, as well as a review of her fabulous DVD. I used baby-led latching with Jacob, and he really did know how to nurse effectively right from his first moments.
4. Keep your baby with you as much as possible.
Breastfeeding is a two-way street, it requires mom and baby to be together. By keeping your baby near you, you can ensure that you pick up on all your baby’s feeding cues. Babies often have a harder time latching successfully when they’re very hungry and upset, so being present and proactive is a real help. While separation is sometimes unavoidable, the more time you can spend with your baby the better in establishing a good breastfeeding relationship.
5. Nurse frequently in the early days.
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand system. In general, the more that your baby nurses, the more milk you will make. This is particularly critical in the beginning when your milk supply is being established. By bringing your baby to the breast at least 8-12 times in a 24 hour period, you are ensuring that your body receives the proper signals to set up a healthy milk supply. In the days before your milk comes in frequent nursing also ensures that your baby gets lots of colostrum. Colostrum is the yellowish liquid produced by the breasts during pregnancy and immediately postpartum, and it’s packed with immune factors. It also has a laxative effect, which can help prevent jaundice. Colostrum is the perfect first food for your baby’s immature digestive tract. Nursing frequently in the early days really pays off in the long run.
6. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.
Some moms report that nursing really hurts. When your baby is nursing well it shouldn’t hurt and it definitely should not result in nipple damage. If you find breastfeeding agonizing, it’s a sign that something is wrong, and no one else can evaluate that as well as you. It’s especially important to remedy the situation because nursing pain can be a sign of a poor latch, and when a baby isn’t latched well he or she can’t nurse as effectively. If you find a lactation professional dismissive of your pain, please seek out other information and opinions until you find a solution that works for you.
7. Avoid introducing a bottle or pacifier in the first month.
The skills needed to drink milk from a bottle and to breastfeed are different. While many babies are able to switch back and forth without problems, not all babies are. And you can’t tell if your baby will have a problem until you try it. Most lactation professionals recommend avoiding artificial nipples in the first 3-4 weeks of a baby’s life. Meeting your baby’s sucking needs with a pacifier may decrease breast milk intake as well, since it may reduce the time spent at the breast.
Those are my tips for getting breastfeeding off to a good start. I’d love to hear any great pointers you have, too.
Don’t miss these other breastfeeding ‘how-to’ posts.