The first time you hold your new baby in your arms is an amazing moment! And the first times of breastfeeding can feel more awkward than expected. It’s perfectly normal to feel like you’re not quite sure how to do this, even when you are having another child! Each baby is unique, and it takes a little time to get the hang of it, especially if you are a new mom. Mothers often wonder if they are holding their baby the right way, or why their baby is doing what they are doing, or why it seems to take some time to get baby latched on. Remember that you are learning a new skill, and be gentle with yourself as well as your baby!
Here are my favorite tips for breastfeeding success:
1. Nurse your baby a lot in the early days and weeks. You are both learning how to do this, so practice helps! The more you nurse the more milk you make, and frequent nursing in the first weeks helps establish your supply so that you have plenty of milk for your baby in the months to come.
2. Keep your baby close. Hold your baby a lot, and let your baby stay near you when you lay her down. Skin to skin contact helps your baby regulate their breathing, heart rate and temperature. It is calming and relaxing for both of you, and a calm baby and relaxed mama make feeding easier. Cuddling often and keeping baby nearby helps you both get to know each other and helps you notice when your baby is waking and showing you they are ready to feed again. When you hold him to nurse, keep his body facing you and cuddled right up against you to help him get comfortable and latch well.
3. Getting a good latch makes all the difference, in your comfort, baby’s success, and in producing enough milk. Your baby needs a wide latch to be successful in getting milk out of your breast. Bring her towards your breast nose to nipple, so that her chin touches your breast and she has to open wide to get around your nipple. Keep her close and her latch will be deeper and more comfortable. If nursing hurts, or weight gain is an issue, get help from people who know about breastfeeding (a postpartum doula, peer counselor, support group or certified lactation consultant).
4. Learn to nurse lying down. Babies need to nurse a lot, and much of that nursing happens at night. That means two things, you are tired when you are waking to nurse at night, and you are tired when you are nursing in the daytime after being awakened at night! If you can rest, or even sleep while nursing it will help a lot. When you are first working on latching your baby it can be hard to lie down without someone to help you position your baby, so ask your partner or a helper to assist you if needed. Lie on your side on a safe surface (see next point) with your head resting on you lower arm, and use your upper arm to scoop baby in towards you. Baby can lie on their side facing you, and line them up as you would in other positions. A pillow placed behind your back, and a small pillow or rolled up blanket behind baby can help the first few times to keep you together. Since you might fall asleep while nursing this way, be sure to follow the safe sleep guidelines below.
Mothers and babies have slept together for centuries, and in many cultures around the world they still do. Because we have lost some of that knowledge, it’s important to follow the Safe Sleep Seven guidelines, as described by La Leche League in their wonderful and well researched book, “Sweet Sleep”, by Diane Wiessenger, et. al. You can find lots of information from the book and at their website, www.llli.org, including references to all the studies their recommendations are based on, but the basics are found in this list:
If mom is:
1. A nonsmoker (inside and outside of house)
2. Sober (no drugs, alcohol or medications that make you drowsy)
4. Full term and healthy
5. Kept on his back when not nursing
6. Unswaddled, in a onesie or light jammies
And you both are:
7. On a safe surface (firm mattress, no couches, no heavy blankets or pillows near baby, nothing to entangle or trap baby causing suffocation) then your risk of SIDS to the same as sleeping in a crib.
If you have questions about any of these things, or about how to make your bed safe, you can find answers from the website or the book. Not only do babies often sleep much better with you, being able to take naps and sleep at night while your baby is nursing can make the difference between coping and just barely coping. Breastfeeding your baby is a wonderful experience, but it often comes with a few challenges as you figure it all out. Remember that the first few weeks of learning and perhaps awkwardness will change, and you will have many months when breastfeeding does come naturally for you and your baby. Don’t hesitate to ask for support, and don’t forget to enjoy those precious early days and weeks! You are taking care of your baby as only you can do!
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