While breastfeeding can be a source of great joy, getting off to a good start can be stressful. Understanding how to maximize your first 48 hours together will give you the confidence you need to relax and enjoy breastfeeding your baby.
Successful breastfeeding starts right after delivery
Capitalize on the first two hours after delivery, as your infant is likely to be awake and eager to feed. This wakefulness will likely dwindle in the hours that follow. Bring the baby to the breast as soon as possible and let her feed for as long as she is willing.
Respond to the first signs of infant hunger
It’s very difficult to feed a baby who is in a deep sleep or frantically crying in hunger. Therefore, it should be your goal to respond to the very first signs of hunger. Anything that looks like your infant may be waking up and searching for a breast should be treated as a hunger cue. This includes fidgeting, wakefulness, head-turning, lip-licking, mouth movement, finger sucking, head bobbing, etc.
Wake your infant to feed
While it might be tempting to let your baby sleep for long stretches (if they are willing), it is neither beneficial for establishing milk supply nor keeping your baby fed. If you need to wake your infant to feed, place them gently on their back in their bassinet and unswaddle/unwrap them. A diaper change, undressing, or rubbing the tummy and neck with a wet wipe will usually do the trick.
Skin to skin time
There are many benefits to holding your infant skin to skin. It helps calm them, regulates their body temperature, and maximizes opportunities to breastfeed. Put simply, the closer your baby is to their target, the more likely they are to maintain interest.
For some moms, breastfeeding can make you feel vulnerable. Carefully consider which visitors might be a hindrance rather than a help and establish some visitation boundaries before you arrive at the hospital. It’s okay to ask your visitors to step out until after you’re finished feeding.
Practice good body mechanics
Before you start feeding, make sure you’re (relatively) comfortable and have the support pillows you’ll need. Once you’re set, make sure your baby is well-supported and properly aligned. (Your little one’s head, neck, back, and body should all be facing the same direction.) If you’re leaning over forward into your baby, that’s a sign that your baby needs another pillow underneath her to bring her closer to you. The goal is to minimize tension, lifting, hunching, and contorting.
Hand express first
Hand express (squeeze out) colostrum (early milk) to start each feeding. This allows your baby to taste and smell what’s about to happen. The process of hand expression will also allow your nipple to become erect, giving your baby the best possible target for latching. Don’t panic if nothing comes out - your baby’s suck will draw it out during the feeding.
If your baby is eager to suck, he should be breastfeeding. Additionally, the way the pacifier feels in his mouth may be really satisfying, making convincing him to return to your nipple a bit of a struggle. Pacifiers are safe, and okay to use after lactation has been well established and your baby is gaining weight.
Ask for help
Breastfeeding a newborn can be very awkward--especially for first-time moms. If it feels like you need four hands to get everything going, you probably do. Remember, your nurses are here to help! Don’t hesitate to push the call bell for help!
Don’t get discouraged
For most, motherhood has a rough initiation. It’s as exhausting as it is exhilarating, and breastfeeding can have its challenges. Developing your breastfeeding relationship with your child is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t be discouraged if things don’t immediately “click.” You need practice and your baby needs practice. Hang in there, Mama! You got this!
Geneva Baxley, BSN, RN, IBCLC, is a graduate of Duke University School of Nursing and is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She currently works at Beaufort Memorial Hospital where she supports and assists breastfeeding moms and babies. Geneva teaches a breastfeeding class for expectant parents, leads a breastfeeding support group for postpartum mothers, and guides monthly tours month of the hospital’s Collins Birthing Center.
Photo info: Geneva Baxley consults with a new mom about breastfeeding. "Ask for help if you need it," advises Baxley. "Breastfeeding can be awkward at first, especially for first time moms." Photo by Paul Nurnberg.