Breastfeeding is the best thing you can possibly do for your baby to promote good health and nutrition. If you want to give it a try, you are making a great choice for your infant’s health, but it can be a bit daunting at first. It seems as though breastfeeding should be the most natural thing in the world, and many new moms are surprised and disappointed when it is difficult or challenging. Hang in there – with time, practice, and a little help, you will soon be a breastfeeding pro.
The First Feedings
If you have a normal, vaginal delivery you will likely be able to put your newborn to the breast right away, but don’t expect too much. Your baby will be very tired from the birth process and may fall asleep rather than putting too much effort into eating. Full-term babies are born with the sucking reflex, which allows them to eat whether from breast or bottle. Your baby does have the ability to suck at the breast, but may take a little time to figure out how to latch on properly.
Over the first few days of life, you will spend a lot of time practicing latching on with baby. A proper latch is the key to successful breastfeeding, so if you are experiencing trouble with it such as pain or baby coming off the breast repeatedly, ask for help. The best time to get help with early stages of breastfeeding is while you are still in the hospital. The nurses in the maternity ward can offer you a great deal of knowledge and experience. There should also be a specialist in the area of breastfeeding, called a lactation consultant, who can provide help and support if getting started is tough.
During the early feedings, baby won’t be getting large amounts of milk, but the first milk that your breasts produce is vital to baby’s good health. Colostrum, the early milk, is filled with nutrients and antibodies that will protect your baby. Although it has become common to offer a newborn formula as a supplement to the small amounts of colostrum, it isn’t really necessary. Your baby doesn’t need to eat that much in the first 24-48 hours, and the weight loss that can scare some new parents into adding formula is actually normal for newborns. So don’t worry – your baby is getting enough to eat.
Dealing with Engorgement and Pain
It will take a while for your milk supply to truly come in, probably a few days. When it does, you might experience an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the breasts, known as engorgement. This will settle down as the baby establishes breastfeeding and your body adjusts to the amount of milk needed. There are a few ways to deal with engorgement. Some women use warm compresses to soothe the breasts. You can also express some of the milk, either with a breast pump or even by hand to release the pressure. Remember though that the more milk you express, the more your body will think is needed for the baby, so it could perpetuate engorgement.
Early on, you might experience pain, redness and even cracking of the nipples. Some of this is normal; your body is adjusting to the new process. But continued pain is not normal and often is a sign that baby is not latching on properly. If you can’t seem to get the right latch, make an appointment to see a lactation consultant, who can help you get it figured out. In the meantime, apply lanolin to soothe the nipples and make sure you dry them thoroughly after a feeding.
Breastfeeding is not always easy, but it is well worth sticking out the first weeks for the long-term health of your baby. Most women won’t have problems once it is established, but if you do, talk to your doctor and get some help.