Breastfeeding is both a science and an art, heavy with conflicting advice from family, friends, medical professionals, and even strangers. So what's a mama to do in those first couple days in the hospital to get breastfeeding off to a good start?
1. SKIN TO SKIN
Mom's chest is home for baby. Newborns know exactly what to do when you place them tummy to tummy with their mother. Their brains are programmed to recognize the nipple, and they have a crawling reflex to get there. It can take a newborn, on average, 50-60 minutes of uninterrupted time with its mother to latch on after birth, so be patient. Your baby will be alert for 2-3 hours, so there is plenty of time for nursing and bonding to happen, and hospital routines can be delayed until after that first breastfeeding session is finished.
It's tempting to invite your family and friends to come see the baby in the hospital as soon as he or she arrives, but remember, you, your partner, and your baby have been through a grueling experience! There won't be much time to catch up on lost sleep, so give yourself the gift of rest whenever you get the chance so that you're at your best to care for your baby during his or her waking hours.
3. FORGET THE CLOCK
Maybe you've heard that breastfed babies should eat 8-12 times a day. In truth, breastfed newborns need to be fed on demand--which means anytime they are showing you feeding cues, including rooting, putting their hands in their mouth, and crying. In the first day or two, breastfed babies can be highly variable in how often they want to eat. Particularly if you had a long labor, your baby may be sleepy and may only nurse 7-8 times a day, but 7-8 good feedings is often better than 8-12 mediocre or poor feedings that a baby isn't truly awake for. Other babies may be highly sensitive to being off the breast in the first couple days and may be content to spend the entire day suckling on and off. Both of these variations are normal. Trust your baby.
4. KNOW WHAT'S NORMAL
Breastfed babies almost always lose some weight during the first couple days of breastfeeding. 5-7% weight loss is average, and up to 10% (or sometimes even more) is normal. Babies whose mothers had IV fluid during labor tend to lose more weight, so keeping that in mind is an important part of advocating for your baby's health in the hospital. It's also totally normal for newborns to have feedings that last 2 minutes or 60 minutes, for a newborn to want to nurse almost immediately after they're "done" and to want to be close to you or your partner all day and night. Remember that all your baby has known up to this point is warmth, softness, your voice, and your beating heart. We know your baby is getting enough based on diaper counts.
5. ANTICIPATE THE SECOND NIGHT
Your little one sleeps sweetly over the first 24 hours and you think, "wow, we lucked out with this baby!" Suddenly, the second night after birth is a whole different story. As soon as you put the baby down, he or she wakes up. Your newborn wants to nurse non-stop but never seems satisfied at the breast. The colostrum in your breasts probably has not transitioned to mature milk yet, and you wonder if your baby is getting enough. Unplanned supplementation tends to happen right after this second night because it coincides with the baby's lowest weight (highest weight loss) and mothers interpret their baby's behavior as hunger. Rest easy, your baby just wants to be close to you. Let your baby drift off to sleep at the breast, gently break the latch with your pinky finger, skip the burping, and then let the baby use your breast as a pillow until he or she falls into a deeper sleep--then try to put the baby down.
Written by: Maura Winkler, RN, Breastfeeding USA Counselor