Getting Off to the Right Start Breastfeeding
By Michele Elkins RN IBCLC
Many new moms assume breastfeeding will come naturally, but it can require time and effort. Here are a few things new mothers can do – and keep in mind- to get things off to the right start.
You don’t need a lot of equipment to breastfeed. You will need:
Nursing Bras – You will need to wear them 24 hours a day in the beginning. When shopping for bras remember you will usually increase a cup size, based on your third trimester cup size, with lactation.
Breast Pump – You may want to wait to purchase your breast pump; there are so many on the market and it’s best to make an informed decision based on your needs. You cannot return breast pumps once they are opened and, in the beginning, the baby is the best breast pump.
Breastfeed as Soon as Possible After the Birth
The 1st hour after babies are born they are alert and often will feed well. After the 1st hour or so, they go into a sleepy phase that usually lasts the remainder of the 1st 24 hours; so, the 1st day you may only get one good feeding. Don’t stress if breastfeeding doesn’t click right away; it takes 2-6 weeks for breastfeeding to become well established and most of the hard work will happen once you return home. Keep resource numbers available for local support groups and lactation consultants. Anything you invest in breastfeeding is well worth it because breastfeeding will save you $1500-$3000 in your baby’s first year of life.
Trust Your Body to Breastfeed
New mothers often don’t trust their own bodies and while you will never have ounce marks on your breasts, it’s important to know what to expect with your baby’s first feedings. Breast milk takes 3-5 days to come in, so your baby’s first feedings will be colostrums. Though small in volume, it packs a huge nutritional punch – think of it as a power bar for your baby, meal replacement until the breast milk arrives.
What Comes in Must Come Out
Your baby will lose weight in the hospital. Most of the weight loss is extra fluid and me conium (your baby’s first stool). It will take about 2 weeks for your baby to regain his birth weight. Watch your baby’s diapers. What goes in must come out. In the first 1-3 days of life, babies will have 1-3 wet diapers and at least 1 me conium stool. On day 4, as the milk comes in, they will increase the number of diapers to 6-10 wet diapers and 3-5 yellow stools. Remember: breastfeeding is going well when baby is urinating, stooling and gaining weight. If you are worried, call your pediatrician and go in for a weight check.
Take Every Opportunity in the Hospital to Practice Breastfeeding
Don’t delay feedings because of visitors and don’t put the baby in the nursery at night. Avoiding night feedings can delay your milk coming in and possibly affect your supply later. Also- don’t limit the baby; put the baby on the breast whenever he wishes. In general, babies feed every 2-3 hours, but sometimes more often. This behavior, known as cluster feeding, is common in the newborn period. Babies should eat 8-12 times a day. Avoid using bottles and pacifiers until breastfeeding is well established. Around 4-6 weeks is the time to introduce bottles and purchase your breast pump. At this point, breastfeeding is well established and your baby will not get nipple confused.
A Special Word to Fathers and Support Persons…
You are invaluable to a new mother. She will need your help and support as she recuperates and bonds with her baby. She will not, in the beginning, resume her normal household tasks, so have things in place and assume that for at least the first two weeks she will only be able to breastfeed and care for the new baby. Accept meals, housecleaning, and laundry detail from family and friends who are willing to help. Support the breastfeeding mother by taking over diapering, other infant care and household chores. Mom will need rest and help in the beginning; consider this time the fourth trimester. Encourage Mom to eat well, offer her snacks and fluids while she’s nursing. Just try to make sure she’s comfortable while breastfeeding.
Don’t Put So Much Pressure on Yourself
The first couple of weeks of newborn care can be exhausting. Breastfeeding gets easier as the weeks go by. After the first 4-6 weeks, you’ve made it! There’s no reason you can’t successfully breastfeed for a full year. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Your baby didn’t read the book on breastfeeding. Baby is part of the equation so give yourself and Baby time. Eventually you will actually enjoy breastfeeding; it’s a great excuse to put your feet up. Be proud that you are giving your baby the best start.
Michele Elkins is a proud mother of 5. She has been a maternal child health nurse at Reston Hospital for 14 years. She currently works on the floor and as a lactation consultant at Reston. She also owns Best Fed Babies, specializing in consultation, classes, breast pumps/supplies and doula services.