Successful breastfeeding is a learned skill. It takes practice, patience and perseverance to become good at it.
Think about anything in life at which you excel. Did you just wake up one day and realize that you are a championship-winning tennis player? Did you magically become excellent at accounting? Did your singing voice wow crowds the first time you walked on a stage?
I would venture to guess that these things would take an enormous amount of practice to reach a high level of confidence and skill. Breastfeeding may not pay your bills or wow big crowds, but we can take the same principles of practice and perseverance and apply them to learning the skill of breastfeeding.
In honor of #WorldBreastfeedingWeek, I’m sharing a few good rules of thumb – and words of encouragement – from a book I’ve written to help moms, called The Breastfeeding Mom’s Survival Guide. Thanks to Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC), all moms who deliver at NGMC are now given a free copy of this book after delivery.
The more you breastfeed in the beginning, the more milk you make you long term.
There are nerve endings that surround your nipple and areola, and those nerves connect to your brain. Every time your baby latches to and suckles at your breast, he or she is stimulating those nerve endings and sending a signal to your pituitary gland to make more hormones that produce your milk. In the first few days and weeks after delivery, your milk supply is very much hormone driven.
The more your breasts and nerve endings surrounding your breasts are stimulated, the more your pituitary gland is stimulated, the more hormones you make, and the more milk you produce. You are literally laying a foundation in your breasts to build and maintain a good milk supply by allowing your baby to have early and frequent access to the breast after delivery.
After the first couple of weeks of breastfeeding, our bodies shift from making milk based on the amount of hormones that are produced from the stimulation at the breast, to making milk based on how much milk is removed from the breast during your baby’s feedings. So as your baby feeds at the breast and milk is removed, your body responds by resupplying and making more milk.
How can I tell between normal soreness and an incorrect latch?
Painful latching is one of the most common reasons why moms stop breastfeeding in the first few days or weeks after the baby is born.
Pain is an indication that something isn’t right. Even one or two times of your baby latching too shallow or just on the nipple can create enough damage to the nipple to keep you sore for days or weeks. If you are attempting to latch your baby and you immediately feel sharp, shooting, or pinching pain that doesn’t go away after 30 seconds or so, take your baby off the breast by gently inserting your finger in the corner of his mouth to break the suction, and then try that latch again.
While general soreness and tenderness are often normal, severe pain is not.
Do babies give hunger cues?
Babies need to show some signs of being interested in nursing. A few early hunger cues to watch closely for are a baby bringing his hands to his mouth, sucking on fingers, rooting (opening his mouth when something brushes against his cheek or mouth), licking his lips, sticking his tongue out, or even something as simple as a sleeping baby beginning to flutter his eyelids.
When you see any of these signs, get ready to feed your baby. Try to get your baby to the breast before the early hunger cues are gone and your baby is in full-blown crying mode. A crying baby is much more difficult to latch since he is already frustrated. Extended crying could cause a baby to expend so many calories prior to feeding that she is now fatigued and just wants to go to sleep once she actually does get to the breast.
“Never wake a sleeping baby” – an old adage that doesn’t apply to feeding
Many moms have told me that they haven’t tried to wake their babies for a feeding because they assumed the baby would wake up when she is ready to eat. That can be both a true and a false statement. While there are times that babies will wake up and give you the cues that they are ready to eat, there are also times that a baby will remain too sleepy and needs to be told that it’s time for a feeding.
Sometimes babies are so sleepy that they aren’t giving any early hunger cues at all. This may especially be true when babies are swaddled warmly and snuggly in clothes and blankets and are being held constantly by admiring family and friends. While there is a time and place for that warm snuggling and constant holding, moms and dads need to be aware that during your baby’s early sleepy phase, she will have a hard enough time waking up for feedings on her own, much less while being constantly wrapped and held.
Get into the habit of waking your sleepy baby. A good rule of thumb and time frame to allow your baby to sleep is no more than about three hours from the start of the last feeding.
So how exactly do you wake your almost comatose newborn? The first thing to do is unswaddle him. Your warm and cozy baby all tucked into his cute little baby blanket cocoon is very unlikely to be eager to go to the breast. Take him out of his blankets, and consider taking off all of his clothes as well. It’s perfectly fine to feed your baby with just his diaper on. He’ll get the benefit of having more skin-to-skin time, and your body heat will keep him plenty warm.
How do I know, really know, that my baby is eating enough?”
First, remember that latching your baby to the breast often and well is what your body needs to begin to increase the amount of milk that your breasts produce. Your body is uniquely designed to respond to your baby’s needs and make the volume of milk that is required to keep your baby safe and growing well.
So what is the amount of breastmilk that your baby needs in the first few days after delivery? The answer is, not much, and here is the reason why. When your baby is born, her stomach is about the size of a large marble. The amount of colostrum that your baby’s tiny tummy can hold is about five to seven milliliters, or about a teaspoon, at a time. So, they don’t need a lot of volume to fill up their tiny tummies; they just need what you have, frequently.
There are some measurable things to watch for in the first few days after delivery, to be certain that your baby is safe and growing appropriately. Check out the signs below:
Signs breastfeeding is going well:
- Breastfeeds at least 8 times in 24 hours
- Begins to gain weight after day 5 and back to birth weight by 2 weeks
- Gains 4 – 8 oz. each week after the first week
- 3 – 4 yellow stools every day, by day 5, and for the first month
- 6 or more wet diapers per day after day 5
- You can hear or see your baby swallow
- Content after feeding
When to seek help:
- Unusually sleepy
- Fussy or restless after feeds
- Can’t hear or see your baby swallow
- Below birth weight at 2 weeks
- Gaining less than 4 oz. each week
- Having less than 3 yellow stools per day
- Stools are still black or green on day 5
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Surround yourself with people who support and motivate you to persevere through any breastfeeding challenges. Seek out the resources that you have in your community through certified lactation consultants, breastfeeding peer counselors, the Le Leche League and even Facebook breastfeeding support groups.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Lactation Center offers experienced lactation consultants who provide breastfeeding support for hospitalized mothers and babies, as well as private outpatient consultations, a telephone support line, community support groups and even breast pump rentals. Visit nghs.com/lacation-center for more information.