Breastfeeding's hard. It takes patience, knowledge, commitment. The good news it's best for you and Baby.
The world falls away as you relax in your big, comfy chair snuggling with your newborn on your first day home from the hospital. Everything seems to be going OK … until Baby starts to cry when you try to breastfeed him. One of the main keys to breast-feeding success is your advanced preparation prior to Baby’s arrival.
“I always encourage my patients and their support persons to educate themselves about breastfeeding,” says Beth Bleecker, M.D., OB/GYN at TriStar Centennial Women’s Hospital. Bleecker suggests you read reliable resources, attend breast-feeding classes and to know where to find lactation support available to you once Baby arrives.
“Every mom and baby is unique and a good base of information can help moms start with confidence,” adds Bleecker.
Experts recommend moms breastfeeding soon after Baby’s arrival.
“A new baby has inborn reflexes that help jump start feeding,” says Kate Cropp, APRN, IBCLC, nurse practitioner and IBCLC with Nashville Birth & Babies who also offers lactation services in collaboration with Baby+Co., a natural, luxurious birthing center located in Nashville. “During the first one to two hours after birth, a healthy baby is alert and ready to eat, and we shouldn’t miss this window of opportunity!” Cropp says to place Baby on your abdomen to get him ready for his first meal because most babies make their way to the breast to start feeding in less than an hour.
Watch for Baby’s Early Cues
Crying isn’t the only sign that Baby’s hungry. In fact, Bleecker says, “crying is actually a very late hunger sign.” So, learn the early cues so you don’t get to this point.
“In the beginning, skin-to-skin time is the first step, and then the first feeding as the baby shows interest,” says Bleecker. “Many times, but not always, the newborn will show hunger cues with mouth movements, move toward the breast or begin suckling motions.”
“You may notice your newborn is turning his head toward your body and opening his mouth,” adds Cropp. “He may also make ‘head bob’ motions or shake his head from side to side.”
Those are just the first cues when Baby is beginning to feel the urge to feed.
Watch for stretching, more physical stirring and hand-to- mouth movements next, says Bleecker. “Those are the next signs, before moving onto late cues such as crying and agitation. It’s ideal to start a feeding at the early cues, when baby is still calm.”
If you’re nursing during his later cues, you may feel frustration, and Baby may not latch properly. Just relax.
Relax & De-Stress
Relaxation plays a big role when it comes to breastfeeding, and not just during feedings. Bleecker says to eat well, rest, practice mindfulness techniques and even try postnatal yoga in between feedings. Getting out of the house and going for a walk or a trip to a nearby coffee shop or store is also a good start. “Doing something routine might be just the thing to help you relax,” says Bleecker.
If you’re stressed, you’ll have a more difficult time responding to your baby’s feeding cues says Cropp. “With fewer feeding sessions, milk supply drops. If you receive appropriate help though, things will typically return to normal,” she adds.
When you’re in a calm, positive environment, breastfeeding is more enjoyable and a bit easier. “Moms put a lot of pressure on themselves to be ‘perfect’ at breastfeeding,” says Bleecker. “This really can take away from the whole experience, and can in fact decrease supply, making for more stress!”
Find “Your” Position
Getting Baby to latch just right can be tricky; a real latch does not hurt! Your comfort level all changes with the position you prefer. Start with the most common position: cradling. Then try other positions such as cross-cradle and the football hold — those three positions, Bleecker says, are the most traditional positions to start with. You can even alternate positions.
“Good positioning keeps your baby’s body in close contact with yours, usually with his shoulders and hips aligned, and with his nose right at your nipple,” says Cropp.
You’ll know when you’ve achieved a comfortable position when Baby latches correctly. Bleecker adds, “It’s very helpful to have a lactation consultant check the baby’s latch, and for you to know what latch is correct.”
Understand Supply & Demand
Your body makes as much milk as it needs to fulfill Baby’s hunger. Breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand process and early skin-to-skin contact and latching gets things going.
Plenty of women feel they may be “lacking” supply at the start. This causes them to lose confidence and give up early. Don’t assume you really are lacking. It’s time to reach out to a certified lactation consultant to help you get on the right path.
“A low milk supply is caused by a wide variety of things,” says Alicia C. Simpson, author of Boost Your Breast Milk: An All-In-One Guide for Nursing Mothers to Build a Healthy Milk Supply (Workman; 2017). “While nutrient-rich foods work well in boosting your milk supply, they’ll only be a Band-Aid covering up the larger problem underneath that has caused the low milk supply in the first place.” A quick call to a certified lactation consultant can help you get on the right path.
And of course, there’s pumping — but that’s not something you should do in your early days, Simpson says. Getting your milk established first is a natural baby-and-mother process.
Remember, if you’re unsure, always ask your doctor or lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding support comes in many forms when troubleshooting is necessary.
“I cannot stress enough how helpful lactation consultants can be in those first few weeks of breastfeeding,” says Bleecker. “Even as a professional who takes care of breastfeeding moms daily, I saw a lactation consultant for each of my kids for different reasons. It can be hard to trust yourself and your body to be doing the right thing for your baby … but most of the time your instincts are correct,” she adds.
Maybe it’s a support group that you need. Sharing your experiences with other mothers and hearing what they have to say is helpful. Whatever the case, know that you’re not alone.
Breastfeeding your baby can be the most enjoyable experience you can imagine. Go with the flow and let it happen!