When I was pregnant I took a class on nursing, but a lot of what they covered in the class didn’t really sink in, unti
l after my baby was born.
I ended up nursing both of my children more than a year. Two things I will say:
- When breastfeeding clicks and is done right, it is a wonderful, amazing bonding experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
- When it’s done wrong, it can hurt like the dickens.
Whether you choose to breastfeed or not is a personal choice. But if you choose, yes, then read on….
I sat down with Maryland lactation consultant Sandy Resnick and childhood educator Tibbie Turner both with the Shady Grove Hospital in Rockville, Maryland. I asked them what parents-to-be need to know to have a successful exp
erience with breastfeeding.
“The key is starting on the right foot,” says Shady Grove Hospital’s Sandy Resnick. “It’s harder to correct something that went wrong than starting it right in the first place.”
Immediately after your baby is born, the nurses and hospital staff make sure your baby is ok. Then they may dress him, swaddle him and hand your adorable baby to you. At this point he will resemble a little burrito.
As soon as you get your baby try to nurse him. If he’s swaddled, unwrap him. Take the onesie off. Get your baby down to the diaper. Open your hospital gown and place the baby’s skin on your bare chest with his mouth in the direction of your nipple.
Resnick says “Probably the best thing they can do right after the baby is born, as soon as they can, is get the baby on the breast. The baby has a heightened sense of smell at birth… the breast is like a bulls eye for the baby.”
The emphasis here is immediately . Right after birth babies are alert and awake. You want to feed them in this window before the doze off again. Resnick says the baby seems to “imprint” the experience of nursing and the next time knows what to do.
Why undress the baby? As the baby starts feeding he will start getting drowsy. Keeping the baby unwrapped will keep the baby alert a little longer
A second reason, it’s healthy for the baby. Among other things it helps regulate your baby’s temperature
2. BREASTFEEDING WORKS ON THE PRINCIPLE OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND
The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body produces. To establish your milk supply you need to nurse your baby whenever your baby is hungry.
In the beginning newborn babies often feed 10-12 times a day. That’s every couple of hours. This doesn’t last forever, but brace yourself because once the baby comes home many parents are caught by surprise.
Frequent nursing helps bring your milk in.
3. HAVE A GOOD LATCH
It’s important the baby has a good latch on the breast. If baby’s mouth is not positioned correctly it can hurt and lead to cracked and bleeding nipples. No fun. If possible take a breastfeeding class. Many hospitals offer classes to expectant parents before and after baby is born.
Hospitals also have lactation consultants on hand. If you are at all uncertain, speak up – ask for help. Resnick says it often takes just one session to get things back on track.
Does breastfeeding hurt? If you don’t have a good latch– Yes. “If you see that there’s cracking or the nipple comes out looking like a tube of lipstick, that’s a bad latch,” Resnick said. “All you need is 5 minutes of a bad latch and you can do damage. And then it is going to hurt because you have raw open skin and you’re using it and it takes awhile to heal.”
If the latch is done correctly you may feel what Turner calls a “sizzle,” a moment when your milk lets down, but afterward it is a very relaxing and happy (oxytocin-induced) feeling.
4. GET COMFORTABLE
Some moms find it useful to use a breastfeeding pillow like the Boppy or my Brest Friend pillow to help support the baby. Make sure you’re comfortable. Use a footrest or stool to support your feet. Place baby tummy to tummy with you so baby doesn’t have to turn her head to reach your breast. Her mouth and nose should be facing your nipple. Some lactation consultants suggest squeezing your breast with one hand like you’re smoshing a big sandwich or a Big Mac. Guide baby’s mouth to your nipple.
5. KNOW THE COMPOSITION OF MILK
When you first start breastfeeding- Surprise! It’s not milk that comes out. It’s something called colostrum. It’s yellow and sticky and I think it kind of resembles tree sap. But this stuff is powerful. A few drops pack a punch. It’s full of protein and sustains your baby. It’s your baby’s first meal. After the first 3-4 days your milk should come and it will gradually start to resemble what we think of as breast milk.
Once your milk is established, if you pump you will see that there are different components of milk.
The first wave of milk resembles skim milk. This is called the foremilk. As you keep nursing your milk will look richer and creamier. This is the hind milk or what some people call it baby’s “dessert.”
This is important to know because you want the baby to get to the hind milk. This is the most filling for baby and helps fill up baby’s tank to stretch out feedings.
In the first week or so you will want to feed baby on both breasts for every feeding. This is to bring on milk production.
But after your milk comes in, it may make sense to start single-side feedings. Feed baby on the right breast for a longer period of time to allow the baby to reach the rich hind milk. The next feeding feed baby on the left side.
Tip: Pin a safety pin on your shirt or use a hair band on your wrist to keep track of which side you fed last time. I also jotted it down in a baby log book to keep track of which side was next
6. INTRODUCE A BOTTLE AT 3-5 WEEKS, NOT SOONER, NOT LATER
For moms planning on returning to work, Turner says there is something very important to know. “Make sure you introduce a bottle when your baby is about 3-5 weeks old.” Pump milk and have someone (husband, grandparent) give the baby the bottle. And at least once a day your baby should have a little bit of milk from a bottle, even if it’s just an ounce or two.
You don’t want to introduce a bottle too early to a baby because that can interfere with milk production. But you don’t want to wait too long either. “I know women who have had to quit their job because they waited too long and their baby wouldn’t take a bottle later,” Tibbie says. Find the sweet spot at 3-5 weeks.
Last thing on nursing, some women have had to give up breastfeeding for a myriad of reasons. Don’t beat yourself up. Your baby is with you for life. And there are many, many ways and opportunities you will have to bond with your baby. Breastfeeding is a beautiful way to bond. But it’s not the only way.