Breastfeeding a Newborn
Breastfeeding a newborn can feel like such a daunting task. Those first few hours, and first few days can seem to contain so many unexpected unknowns. But rest assured, you and your baby know exactly what to do. You have everything within you to be a badass breastfeeding parent. Here are my top 5 “must knows” for that first week.
1. The First Few Hours
When a baby is first born, in those first few hours, they are not hungry… I’m going to say that one more time:
Those first few hours of life, your baby is not hungry.
All of the feeding behaviour that your sweet little one is showing is instinct. The ‘breast-crawl’, smooshing their face into your skin, seeking and latching onto the breast…this is all instinctual behaviour. (1) That babe, right up until the moment the cord was clamped, was being fed by you. Seeking the breast is a reflex. Encouraging, supporting and allowing babe to have the time, and space, to show this reflex is all that needs to be done.
That first hour spend the time meeting your baby, that is all. Hold them, smell them, allow the awe of the revelation of this little human wash over you.
That baby is not hungry, and (unless medically indicated) there is no rush to get that baby feeding.
Colostrum IS milk. (2)
Sometime during your pregnancy (usually around the 16th-20th week!) your body begins to produce your first milk, called colostrum. This amazing first milk is so FULL of nutrients, fats, proteins, immune cells and all things good. (3) It is exactly what your baby needs the first few days of life. You don't have to wait for your milk to “come in”, it is already there! The quantity is much smaller then the more fluid milk that is to come, but your baby doesn’t need large quantities. Your baby’s belly is the size of a cherry when they are born (so itty bitty). They only need an itty bitty amount, and wonderfully that itty bitty amount of colostrum is So. Jam. Packed.
Over the course of the first few days the fluid content of your breastmilk will begin to increase. By bringing your baby to the breast more often, and following their cues you help this process along. The average length of time for the milk volume to begin to increase is between 2-5 days. So, for the first 2-5 days feed your baby colostrum!
3. Follow your baby’s lead
Of course because their bellies are so itty bitty, it does mean that they need to come to the breast to feed more often. Around the clock, frequent feeding, every 1-3 hours!, or more frequent (especially on day 3) are normal. Bringing babe to breast often will help increase your milk volume sooner (4). When you follow your baby’s lead, then you get to listen to what they are telling you. They will tell you when they are hungry, and they will tell you when they are done. Let them lead the way. Following their cues, combined with counting wet diapers can take the guess work out of knowing if they are “getting enough”.
4. Skin-to-skin is the place to be
When your baby is skin-to-skin with you (babe wearing nothing but a diaper, breastfeeding parent bare skin on top) you are telling them “you are safe, you are where you are supposed to be”.(5)
And there is SO MUCH more happening:
- Being skin-to-skin releases oxytocin in both parent and babe, and this helps with breastmilk production
- When you have your baby skin-to-skin early feeding cues can be quickly seen and responded too
- Being Skin-to-skin can help you learn your baby’s cues so it is easier to trust their lead
- A baby who is skin-to-skin often adjusts to the outside world smoother
- If you are skin to skin, then you are resting, which is important for you as well
When a babe is kept skin-to-skin it helps them to regulate their whole system: breathing rate, temperature, heart rate etc. Which means their bodies aren’t working as hard, using up valuable energy, which leads to a more stable control of blood glucose levels (how neat is that?!). So more of their energy can be used on learning how to breastfeed. (6)
5. It may be hard
I won’t lie to you, it feels uneasy not knowing exactly how much your baby is drinking, trying to learn their cues and what they mean, not to mention counting diapers to feel assured that they are getting what they need. Also, I don’t know if anyone has told you this…but when you are learning how to breastfeed it is usually immediately after you gave birth, so you might be tired.
It may be hard emotionally as you transition into the awesome ride of parenthood. It may be hard as you try to coordinate limbs, and hands and try to find a comfortable sitting position. And that is ok. It is ok to feel uncertain. Be kind to yourself. Reach out to your community, use the people around you.
It does get easier.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for both mom and baby. It takes time and patience. Everything you need to be a badass breastfeeding parent is within you. You got this.
Rebecca C. Robertson BA, Doula, Breastfeeding Counsellor, Childbirth Educator
*As always, trust your instinct and have open conversations with your healthcare practitioners about what is best for you and your baby. These are guidelines for a baby born free of special circumstances, coupled with a healthy birthing parent.
(1) Wiessinger D, West D, Pitman T. The Womanly art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition. New York: La Leche League International. 2010
(2) Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. Protein Evolution of Human Milk. 2016. 86:77-85.
(3) Proceedings of The Nutrition Society. Maternal Nutrition and the regulation of milk synthesis. 1995. 54:379-389
(4) Busch, DW, Logan K, Wilkinson A. ‘Clinical Practice breastfeeding recommendations for primary care: applying a tri-core breastfeeding conceptual model’. J Paediatric Health Care Nov-Dec; 28(6). (2014)
(5) Kernerman, Edith. Skin to Skin and Kangaroo Mother Care: Building Better Baby Brains with Protecting Breastfeeding. 2012. Presentation
(6) Chapel, N. Ruiz, JG. ‘The Kangaroo Mother Care Method: From Scientific evidence generated in columbia to world wide practice’. J. Clin Epidemiology. Oct:05 (2016)