The first days of breastfeeding are truly an experience like no other. Maybe you did all the pregnancy preparation, took the classes, read the books, and have a lactation consultant on standby. Maybe you were feeling unsure about how to feed your baby, overwhelmed by information overload (and the opinion of everyone you’ve ever met), and so busy with life that you never quite got around to doing any of those things, but now that birth is imminent you’ve decided you definitely want to give breastfeeding a try. Wherever you are starting from, these simple, effective practices will help you begin a healthy nursing relationship.
Be physically close with your baby. Have skin to skin contact, with baby in just a diaper against your chest, as much as possible. Look into her eyes, smell him, stroke his or her skin. Your body will get the message that baby is here to stay.
Remember that your only job is to heal from birth and feed the baby. Nothing else should be expected of you in the coming weeks. Give yourself a break, all the breaks! Get takeout, use paper plates, ask someone else to do a load of laundry, let your older kids watch Daniel Tiger all afternoon. It’s all temporary and it will all be okay.
Feed the baby all the time. You really cannot offer the breast too often in the early days. When milk is removed, more milk is produced. This ‘supply and demand’ loop will establish your milk supply. Scheduling and/or timing feeds increases the risks of unsatisfied babies, stressed parents, and ultimately, low milk supply and supplementation. Anytime a newborn is awake is a good time to see if they’re interested in a little something. There will be a day, when your supply is established and baby is older, that you will fall into a natural rhythm and set gentle boundaries around feedings. The way it is in the beginning is not the way it will always be.
P.S. Don’t worry about ”spoiling“ a newborn- their brain literally doesn’t work that way.
Have at least one person you can talk to about your breastfeeding journey. Anyone. A friend, your mother or aunt, the local La Leche League leader, a postpartum doula, your sister in law, that other pregnant lady you met during childbirth class ...anybody who will listen to your highs and lows is invaluable.
Let go of expectations. This one is really important. I counsel so many parents who are struggling to make their imatinee feeding scenario line up with reality. Nursing may have looked effortless for your neighbor while you feel like it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Your mother may have told you that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world. You’re just wondering if you’ll ever sleep again (you will). You may be dealing with an infant who has a tongue tie or was born prematurely. Or it may swing the other way! You may have had or witnessed a negative breastfeeding experience and are now surprised that your baby latched right away and is thriving. Maybe you were prepared for the time demands of the first few weeks but totally caught off guard by the joy derived from nourishing your baby with your body.
Give yourself permission to simply live within each moment, addressing any challenges and celebrating your victories. Take each day as it comes and remember that you’re doing a wonderful job raising your baby.
If you’ve tried the approaches above and still find yourself or baby struggling, please ask your care provider, pediatrician, or doula for a referral. More specialized help is sometimes needed and is available from a CLC, an IBCLC, or other professionals.