11 Tips from the Trenches
By Kelly Camden, CD-DONA
If you are a new parent, you may be looking for information on breastfeeding. You know that it will be wonderful for you and your baby in many different ways, but you are wondering how to get started. How will the baby know what to do? Will you be able to breastfeed?
A mother’s body is capable of warming her baby faster than a baby warmer.
The following are simple, yet effective, tips for early breastfeeding:
- Turn down the lights, and turn up the heat. Babies are used to being in a warm, dark place and will be less inhibited if the environment in the birth room is somewhat subdued. As soon as the lights are dimmed, Baby will open his eyes. You can ask the nurses for help with dimming lights.
- Mother and Baby should be skin to skin. A mother’s body is capable of warming her baby faster than a baby warmer. So go ahead and unwrap the baby, placing him directly on Mom’s skin and making certain that the blankets are spread over Mother and Baby. Baby also needs to wear a hat.
- To start, the mother should sit up as much as possible. If she is reclined and the nipples are facing the ceiling, the baby would have to be face down in order to latch on. Side-lying works well for situations where a mother does not feel that she can sit. Another option is to use a “donut” or pillow to sit comfortably.
- Start off at the right angle. In order to figure out where Baby needs to be, look to see where the mother’s nipples fall naturally. You will notice that this may not be at a 90 degree angle from the mother’s chest, but more like a 45 degree angle. The baby’s mouth should be in front of the nipple.
- Is the baby rooting? Rooting involves licking lips and/or the nipple, opening mouth, moving head as if searching for a nipple or putting the fist to the mouth. If the baby is not rooting, gently insert a clean pinky finger into the baby’s mouth and touch the roof of the mouth. About halfway back, there is a reflex point that will trigger suckling. Letting the baby suckle on the finger for a minute or two helps the baby realize what to do.
- Align the baby’s body in a comfortable position. Mother and Baby should be belly to belly, and the baby’s head should not be flexed or extended. It is worthwhile for partners to check the positions; oftentimes they are able to help the mother with positioning after the family has returned home.
- Try helping Baby out. Mothers who are first learning to breastfeed might try to lift and move the nipple to put it into the baby’s mouth. The key is to bring the baby toward the breast instead. Watch for the baby to cry or open her mouth. Wait until it is open to the widest point, which may mean letting it open and close a few times. When the mouth is open to the widest point, like a yawn, quickly draw the baby in toward the breast. This movement facilitates inserting a large portion of the areola into the baby’s mouth, rather than just the nipple. When the baby is nursing on as much of the areola as possible, breastfeeding is more comfortable for the mother. Also, when the baby is latched on in this manner, nursing will pump the breast more efficiently, and there is better milk flow.
- For latch troubles, use the “sandwich” technique. It may be useful to hold the breast like a “sandwich” if the baby isn’t latching onto the breast. (When we eat a sandwich, we hold it so that it is going in the same direction as our mouth.) New mothers may benefit from assistance with this, as the father or doula can assist by holding the breast and draw the baby closer at the appropriate time. To do this, compress the breast behind the areola, with thumb and fingers in a “c-shape.” The hand will be angled as if you are holding a sandwich for the baby. When he opens his mouth wide, guide the baby forward to quickly put the mouth over the nipple. Hold the breast for a moment while the baby latches on, and then let go. See if Baby maintains the latch and starts suckling. Repeat these steps a few times, as needed. It may be helpful to stimulate the reflex point again and have Mom express a little colostrum for the baby to taste.
- Your eyes and ears will tell you if it’s a good latch. With a good latch, the mother feels a pulling or tugging from the center of the breast. The breast will look as if it is being pumped. The baby is not making smacking sounds, but becomes quiet, with a pumping jaw and look of concentration. When Baby becomes sleepy, there will be a more relaxed suckling rhythm.
- Wait for the milk. People are often concerned about whether the baby is getting enough, because they don’t see milk right away. However, colostrum will be present before the regular milk “comes in.” Colostrum is full of antibodies for a strong immune system and healthy bacteria that prepare the digestive system for breaking down food. Colostrum will look like just a few drops. As the baby nurses regularly, the mother’s body is receiving a signal to make more colostrum the next day, and soon the colostrum turns to milk.
- Get all the support you can. In U.S. hospitals, women typically stay for 24 to 48 hours following their baby’s birth; therefore, a mother’s milk usually does not “come in” during her hospital stay. As the milk is coming in, the body’s hormones are shifting, which may cause an emotional day or two for the mother. During this time, mothers benefit from having extra support and encouragement.
Remember that with early breastfeeding, Mother and Baby are both learning something new. In the beginning, a mother is becoming accustomed to holding her baby, who is seeing the world for the first time. Getting comfortable with nursing may take practice, but the opportunity to practice comes at least every two to three hours! Soon nursing will become a coordinated effort.