The First Week of Breastfeeding: What New Moms Should Know
For new moms, learning how to breastfeed seems like a full-time job. Nourishing your baby and forming a bond takes ample time, effort, and emotional resilience, especially within the first week, says Susan Fuchs, MS, IBCLC, lactation consultant with Jefferson Health – New Jersey.
Luckily, you don’t have to face it alone. The biggest step you can take to prepare for breastfeeding is to have backup on standby, suggests Fuchs. “Support is crucial for new moms. Know who you can call for help – whether it’s a friend, family member, or medical professional – and allow yourself to be helped!”
The First Feed:
After a traditional hospital birth, lactation consultants and/or nurses assist new moms with positioning and securing a latch. It’s important to feed for about 20-40 minutes within the first hour of your baby’s birth; at this time, their reflexes and instincts are especially strong, explains Fuchs. “The sooner you feed, the sooner your connection starts and the easier they latch on.”
The ‘Power’ of Your Early Milk:
There are three distinct stages of breastmilk: colostrum, transitional, and mature. Colostrum, commonly called “liquid gold,” is produced within the first two to three days and is yellow to clear in color. Colostrum “kick-starts” your baby’s immune system, as it’s full of helpful antibodies and proteins that fight infection, explains Fuchs. “It also flushes out your baby’s gastrointestinal tract and coats it with a protective barrier. Some colostrum remains in the transitional milk period until around day five.”
Finding the Right Position:
The right position is whichever one is most comfortable for you and your baby, says Fuchs. Two common and ideal positions for early breastfeeding include:
- Laid-back: Mom partially reclines (relieving stress) and uses her arms to cuddle/soothe the baby, rather than hold them up. Baby lies chest-down on mom’s abdomen and is in control of the feed.
- Cross-cradle: Mom controls the feed, as she supports the back of the neck/lower head of baby and has a full view. This is helpful for babies who experience more trouble latching.
Regardless of which position you prefer, the following tips can be helpful:
- Bring your baby to your breast, not your breast to your baby.
- Bring your nipple to your baby’s nose, not their mouth, to promote a wide mouth latch.
- Align your ear, shoulder, and hip as straight as possible, so your baby is centered and not reaching over their shoulder to drink.
Skin-to-skin contact can also make a world of difference when feeding. Not only does it help nurture your relationship, but studies show it can also help regulate your baby’s temperature, breathing, and sugar levels, as well as enhance their confidence and ability to cope, adds Fuchs.
How Often Should You Feed?
The rule is “8 or more in 24,” says Fuchs. This averages out to a feed about every two to three hours. Most feeds are substantially shorter than the first, lasting about 10-20 minutes at most.
How Can You Tell If Your Baby is Hungry?
Learning your baby’s hunger cues is incredibly important. Common signs include smacking or licking of their lips, sticking their tongue out, sucking on their hands, bringing their hands up to their mouth, or crying, continues Fuchs.
How Can You Tell If Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk?
Pay attention to how often they pee and poop, says Fuchs. On day one, babies typically have one of each. On day two, excretions increase to two. As the week goes on, they should steadily increase to four or five of each per day. Your baby’s weight will also be assessed during check-ups.
“When babies are full, they’ll appear very relaxed,” added Fuchs. “If the baby is not latched correctly, they may not be able to transfer milk as well, which can cause pain. Be sure to ask for help if it hurts when the baby is nursing."
Is Engorgement Normal?
While not ideal, some engorgement is natural when milk comes in, says Fuchs. Swelling and tenderness result from hormonal changes, but they should pass within a few days. You can alleviate them with ice and an anti-inflammatory/over-the-counter pain reliever.
If engorgement persists, it may be a sign that you’re not feeding frequently enough or over-producing milk, warns Fuchs. “Try not to overstimulate your breasts by pumping/saving a ton of extra milk. It can send a false signal that you’re providing for more than one baby.”
For Moms Who Are Unable to Breastfeed:
In some cases, health complications and insufficient milk supply (or none at all) prohibit moms from breastfeeding. Coping with the stigma of not breastfeeding can be a heavy burden to bear, and it may even worsen postpartum depression, explains Fuchs. This is another reason why support is so important.
The same medical professionals who help with breastfeeding can also walk you through what comes next when you can’t. Sometimes, medicinal options can help increase milk supply, mentions Fuchs. When these aren’t appropriate or effective, they’ll be able to point you in the best direction for formula feeding and strengthening the infant-maternal bond in various other ways.
You aren’t expected to do this alone, reminded Fuchs. If you run into a problem or have any questions, reach out to your healthcare provider or lactation consultant as soon as possible. Don’t self-diagnose, and don’t ignore it.
“If you just need a break – which is OK and necessary – let someone in your support circle watch your baby,” said Fuchs. “Take time to practice self-care. Do something you enjoy. Breathe. Be patient. This is a special dance between you and your baby, and each dance partner is different.”