Get the rundown of what to expect with breastfeeding your newborn

Starting your breastfeeding journey can be a daunting task but knowing the basics can make things a lot easier. What happens in the first few hours? How do you get a good latch? How will you know when baby wants to eat? How will you know if they are getting enough? What supplies will you need?

Let’s Start at the Beginning

Here you are in the delivery room, you have seen your sweet baby for the first time and you’re falling more deeply in love. The biological norm is for baby to go from birth to your chest, nowhere in between unless medically necessary. This is called skin to skin and it should happen in the first moments of life and continue for several months after birth. You are so perfectly made that your chest temperature (as long as baby is in direct contact with your skin) will rise if baby gets too cool and fall if they get to hot. How awesome is that? Skin to skin will also give baby access to your breast for their first feed.

You know how your areolas got darker during your pregnancy? When babies are born they can mostly see the contrast between dark and light, this darkening allows baby to know where to go to find your breast. Baby will have the ability to bob their head up and down, push with their feet (this also helps your uterus to contract and get back to normal) and use their hands to crawl. All they will need is a little support while they latch themselves on. You’ll be multi-tasking at this point because you’ll be delivering the placenta at the same time. You are so amazing!

What Exactly is a “Latch”?

You’ll hear this term ALL the time now that your baby has arrived. The latch is the way baby’s mouth attaches to your breast. Believe it or not, it shouldn’t hurt….for very long. In the first day or two there can be some pain for the first few seconds of the feeding, but any pain that lasts longer than seconds or persists between feedings is not okay. Pain that lasts more than a few seconds is a sign that the latch is incorrect. You can watch this video by Global Health Media, to show you how to achieve a proper latch and what needs to happen on the inside of baby’s mouth for it not to hurt. https://globalhealthmedia.org/portfolio-items/attaching-your-baby-at-the-breast/

Pain during feeding is most likely a positioning issue. Do not wait to get help! Your nurses at the hospital or your midwife and assistant should be able to guide you in correct positioning. Just remember that, when you look down at the baby while they are feeding, you should see their ear, shoulder and hip all in a straight line.

Is My Baby Getting Enough?

One of the consistent concerns for new families who choose breastfeeding: how to know if baby is getting enough. That concern stems from not being able to count the ounces baby eats, but there are things you can count to assure that baby is getting enough:

  • The ounces baby gains
  • The amount of bowel movements
  • Wet diapers baby has each day

Keeping an eye on those three things will give you a clear idea of milk transfer. Baby should have at least six very wet diapers and four bowel movements larger than a half dollar after the first week and gain about an ounce a day for the first couple of months.

How will I Know my Baby is Hungry?

But how will you know when baby is hungry? Very simply, by watching baby’s hunger cues. You can read this article on kellymom.com for more detailed information on hunger cues: https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/hunger-cues/

Believe it or not, baby is born to communicate, just not with words. From the very first day baby will be telling you what they need. You can watch their lips, hands, and overall expression (stress is a sign of hunger). When baby does anything orally like moving their lips, bringing their hands to their face, or even licking their lips you can assume baby would like to be put to breast. Going to breast can mean they want food or comfort; both are equally important. Remember that crying is an extremely late sign of hunger and a frustrated baby is harder to nurse.

Make sure to have consistent appointments with the pediatrician so that you can follow baby’s weight gain and growth curve. There are lots of apps for your phone that can help you easily keep track.

Breastfeeding Essentials

So, what are the breastfeeding essentials? First, YOUR BREASTS! You already have that part covered, so you are already on the right path. Having nursing pads (inserts for your bra that absorb the milk when you leak) is a good idea. You can use disposable or washable pads, whichever you prefer. Having a nursing pillow is helpful, but regular bed pillows work well too. Baby will need support while you breastfeed, and your arms will need to be relaxed.

If you plan to be away from baby, you’ll need a breast pump. What kind of breast pump depends on how often and how long you plan to be away. If you will be working or going to school, a double electric pump is the best option. Make sure to check your flange size (you can find a great guide here: https://www.rumbletuff.com/post/flanges-plain-and-simple) and check to see if the brand you choose offers the correct size, not all companies offer alternative sizes. If you’re just planning to be away every once in a while, a manual pump may work just fine. Flange options should be considered then too. Owning a breastfeeding and pumping bra can make your life easier. Owning several would be even better because….. laundry!!!

There are lots and lots and lots of breastfeeding products on the market. I’m sure that some of them are very helpful, but I wouldn’t consider them essential. However, if there is something that you desire, consider it part of the job. The hours that you spend breastfeeding are of great value and deserve to be supported.

The last essential breastfeeding item, that’s really not an item, is support from a lactation professional. Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, CLCs (Certified Lactation Counselors) and IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) are all great options. Just remember that, if you have more serious lactation issues (milk supply, oral restrictions, baby’s weight gain) it is wise to reach out to an IBCLC. Spend time reaching but don’t get overwhelmed. A prenatal appointment with a lactation professional will be well worth your time and help you escape common pitfalls. I congratulate you on your new baby and your decision to breastfeed.

About the Author

This article was written by Renee E Davis, IBCLC. Renee has been the lead IBCLC at Rumble Tuff since October 2018. She is a former WIC Peer Counselor, doula, and midwifery assistant. She currently has a private lactation practice in central Missouri.

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