As a nurse and lactation specialist, new moms often ask me: If breastfeeding is natural, then why is it so hard? The reality is, for most women, the first time they see a baby breastfeed up close and in person is when they put their own baby to their breast for the first time. For some women, breastfeeding will be easy peasy, right from the start. However, for most moms, there’s a learning curve. Here are some guidelines for getting started.
Guidelines for How to Breastfeed
After your baby is born, do skin-to-skin as soon as possible. Early skin-to-skin contact is associated with babies latching on sooner. It’s also associated with exclusively breastfeeding for longer.
Learn the cues your baby gives to show he’s hungry and ready to eat. These feeding cues include opening and closing his mouth, sticking out his tongue, smacking his lips, turning his head towards anything that brushes his cheek and sucking on his hands.
Crying is considered a late sign of hunger. A crying baby is in a disorganized state, which can make it harder for him to latch. It’s best to calm him first before offering your breast.
There are different positions you can breastfeed in. The most common are cross-cradle, cradle, football and side-lying. Always make sure your baby is turned in towards your body. In most of the common positions, he should be facing you “tummy-to-tummy.” In the football hold, his tummy will be against the side of your body.
A deep latch will be more comfortable for your nipples and will help your baby get more of your milk. Support your baby by holding his neck and shoulders with one hand and the back of his head with your other hand. Position him, so his nose is directly across from your nipple. Touch his upper lip with your nipple. Just rest it there, don’t make it a moving target by moving it back and forth. When your baby opens his mouth big and wide, pull him into your breast. You will get a deeper latch if you bring the baby to you. Avoid moving your breast into his mouth.
Common Breastfeeding Questions
These are some answers to the most common questions parents ask me in the early days of breastfeeding.
How often should I feed my baby?
Feeding frequency can vary a lot in the first few days. The first 24-hours some babies may not eat at all. Others may feed every couple of hours. By the second 24-hours babies should eat a minimum of eight times every 24-hours. This frequency continues for at least the first 2-3 months for most infants.
It’s best to feed your baby whenever he is showing the feeding cues mentioned earlier. Not all babies will eat at regular intervals. More frequent feeding is normal for many babies. They may eat as often as 12 times a day. Periods of frequent feeding, known as “cluster feeding” is normal. Expect the second night to be one long cluster-feeding session.
How long should a feeding last?
An average feeding is about 30 minutes. Babies don’t read those books, though, so those numbers don’t mean much. Some babies can finish a feeding in only five minutes and only eat on one breast. Others will take both breasts and enjoy a leisurely meal lasting close to an hour. If most feedings are taking longer than one hour, a lactation consultant should evaluate what might be the cause.
When will my milk come in?
The milk comes in within 48 to 72 hours after birth. The more frequently a baby feeds, the sooner the milk will come in.
What will my baby eat before my milk comes in?
During pregnancy, your breasts start to produce a special milk called colostrum. This is what your breasts will make in the days before your milk comes in. It is full of antibodies. It has the right amount of protein, carbs, and fats for a brand new baby.
How do I know my baby is getting enough to eat from breastfeeding?
Counting diapers and weighing a baby will let you know your baby is getting enough food from you. A new baby should have an equal number of wet diapers each day as days old he is. He should also be having at least one bowel movement every day. Babies usually lose weight in the first few days. Up to 10% of weight loss is normal. After the milk comes in, they should start gaining an average of one ounce per day.
If you are having problems with breastfeeding or have a lot of questions, set up an appointment with a lactation consultant.
*Author Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC is a nurse and lactation specialist.
How to Breastfeed: Sources
Journal of Human Lactation – Effect of Early Skin-to-Skin Mother—Infant Contact During the First 3 Hours Following Birth on Exclusive Breastfeeding During the Maternity Hospital Stay
Effect of Mother-Infant Early Skin-to-Skin Contact on Breastfeeding Status: A Randomized Controlled Trial