The first few days of breastfeeding a new baby can be challenging and overwhelming. These days also are crucial to creating adequate milk supply and forming a comfortable and enjoyable nursing relationship with baby. Here are some tips to get you through:
Don’t get scared or give up on breastfeeding just because you don’t have a lot of milk in the first 24-72 hours!
It is completely normal that mature, abundant milk doesn’t come in until postpartum day two or three. For the first few days, you’ll have a small amount of colostrum, which is packed with nutrition and immune cells that protect baby from disease. This is exactly what baby needs until the mature milk comes in. Typically, the more you nurse your baby in those first few days, the more quickly your milk will come in. Since supplementing with formula too early can interfere with the crucial supply and demand process that leads to a good quantity of milk, it’s best to exclusively breastfeed unless your baby has special medical circumstances.
If your baby seems sleepy and doesn’t latch well for the first 24 hours, keep trying!
After that initial period of reactivity right after birth, a lot of babies go into a deep sleep and aren’t interested in nursing. Sometimes, their tummies are full of mucous and they don’t feel hungry until they clear it out. Burping them and holding them in upright or side lying positions may help. Even if they don’t seem hungry, still try to wake them and offer the breast every two to three hours. But even if baby doesn’t latch well, formula is rarely necessary in the first 24 hours. Babies have been nourished inside your body and don’t have a lot of nutritional needs that first day. You will likely find that after day one, baby will be ready to make up for lost time by nursing constantly! Which brings us to the next hack…
If your baby seems fussy and hungry and wants to nurse all the time, let him!
Many women have trouble wrapping their heads around this advice, but it’s really not necessary to breastfeed on the clock. While it’s generally suggested to breastfeed a newborn at least every two to three hours, there may be times when your baby wants to eat every 45 minutes! During the first few days or weeks postpartum, when your body is still establishing its milk supply, this is totally normal. Letting your baby latch on and nurse as often and as long as he wants is called “nursing on demand,” and is generally a good idea because it keeps baby content and helps milk come in quicker and more abundantly. Some women worry about being a “human pacifier.” Well, babies certainly do nurse for comfort as well as nutrition, but this is a normal, biological response to the insecurities of being outside the womb. While nursing remains comfortable and enjoyable, “pacifying” your baby at the breast is totally acceptable.
If your nipples are sore from all that nursing, get help!
Nipple pain is a common nursing complication that can really put a damper on the early experience of breastfeeding. Sometimes it takes care of itself over time with the help of creams like Lanolin, but often, additional help is needed. Frequently, nipple pain is caused by a poor latch. Baby may be positioned poorly, and therefore sucking in a way that puts uneven pressure on the nipple, causing friction and nipple breakdown over time. Also, if nipples are flat or inverted, a good latch can be difficult to achieve. Sometimes babies have medical or anatomical issues that make latch difficult. Lactation consultants, usually employed by a hospital, can help by identifying and correcting breastfeeding issues early, which is critical for avoiding and correcting nipple soreness. If you are having nipple pain when nursing, or feel something is wrong with your latch, ask for help as soon as possible!
Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll soon be on your way to mastering nursing.
Ann Ledbetter is a certified nurse midwife at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers.