It’s amazing how much information on breastfeeding is around these days, and I’m so thankful that we know so much more now—but do we really? I remember when I had my first child—the information was shaky at best! It was conflicting and contradictory and seemed too often to defy common sense. The crazy thing is that before breastfeeding became medicalized, women knew more about breastfeeding than most do now. This post contains some of the amazing re-realizations we’ve had over the last 25 years in breastfeeding—realizations that those women, our ancestors, knew before.
Recently I’ve been reviewing a vast amount of this information and thinking about how to help parents truly give their baby the best start in life. I started by updating the GamePlan for Protecting and Supporting Breastfeeding in the First 24 hours and Beyond (it’s pretty impressive, check it out!) and I’m releasing a parenting course to give you the no-nonsense truth about parenting 101. Naturally, some of you will be giving birth before the course, so I had to write something in the meantime:
Babies… they just won’t wait!
Here’s a few dos and don’ts to make sure your baby really does have the best start in life. They’re pretty easy to follow and I know they’ll be helpful in those first few days and weeks of life.
Skin-to-Skin Care (SSC or S2S)
Right after baby is born it’s important to get skin-to-skin right away, and the vast majority of newborns can and will do this immediately if we provide them the time and opportunity to do so. No idea what this looks like? It’s easy! Put naked baby on mother’s bare belly (while baby is dry so they don’t get cold) and watch the magic!
The first time baby latches is going to look like slow-mo, but don’t rush it. This journey is critically important for baby’s neuro-development. As baby begins to “breast crawl” (early dance moves)—which may not happen for up to an hour or longer—they will learn to “self-attach” at the breast.
Baby will get some nutritional superfood called colostrum once baby arrives and latches onto the breast. This “feeding” (since it’s not a true feeding) is more about getting the best start and brain development. After this the baby will likely fall asleep. You can leave off the diaper for the first little while as baby starts to get comfy.
Once baby is sleeping skin-to-skin, they will be kept warm more effectively than an incubator. A blanket may be placed over both of them but don’t put anything between them. This SSC gives parent and baby a wonderful time to connect and get some rest. When baby wakes and looks parent in the eye, a neural circuit is completed and baby’s brain has truly developed in a way that cannot happen any other way.
Get a Great Latch
A proper latch is one of the most important things for easy breastfeeding and baby’s best start. Babies who “self-attach” are amazingly effective at latching when mother helps them. We call this Baby-Led, mother/Parent Guided latching, but any baby can learn. A great latch avoids pain, gets more milk to your baby, and makes the entire experience more enjoyable. Unfortunately, many parents are told their latch is great when it isn’t, and that leads to frustration! Even if your latch starts poorly, you can maneuver your baby to make it better. Avoid unlatching and re-latching (and making baby angry).
Read Feeding Cues
“Hey, I’m hungry!”— wouldn’t it be nice to hear that? Not quite yet, parents! Right now your baby speaks to you without using words, and things like changes in breathing or stretching is his/her way of saying “feed me!” While skin-to-skin with your baby, your baby uses early cues to let you know its time to eat (which is biologically and physiologically normal). However, if your baby is kept swaddled or in a bassinet, the baby might be very delayed in waking and wake up frantic because s/he feels as though s/he is starving. Crying is a late cue, and comes after 15-20 min or so of a whole bunch of more quiet cues to indicate it’s time to eat. But with SSC, you’ll be in sync with your baby’s sleep and wake up when s/he is ready to feed. It’s amazing! Feeding this way will keep your baby calm and content. Also, let the cues decide the time, length, and frequency of feedings. A baby drinking well will not be on the breast for hours at a time.
Bath Directly After Birth
For the best start, it’s better to wait until after the first feeding to wash your baby, and even better to delay many hours or even up to several days. Instead, let someone help you by drying off the baby gently and leaving the creamy layer on the baby’s skin. I know, s/he look kind of dirty! Studies show that that creamy layer protects your baby’s skin. After starting to breastfeed then baby can head to the bath.
Use Artificial Nipples
During the first few days after birth, the breastfeeding parent will normally produce the perfectly adequate amount of milk (as nature intended). However, many parents and healthcare practitioners suggest using bottles at this time to feed baby. Sounds like a great idea… except it isn’t. Bottles have much faster flow than the breast, and since babies love fast flow (we all want everything faster) this can cause frustration with flow at the breast and/or sore nipples. Unless it’s truly necessary to feed baby off the breast (try using a cup—we all need to learn that one day!), keep baby skin to skin and focus on breastfeeding. Nature knows what she’s doing!
Just like artificial nipples, you should only use supplements when necessary. And if you do need to supplement, it’s best to use a lactation aid at the breast before trying cup feeding or a bottle. By aiming for an optimal latch and breastfeeding in the beginning, it becomes much less necessary to consider supplementing. Always ensure that someone suggesting supplementing is a Lactation specialist—like an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who has seen you breastfeeding. The most convenient thing truly is breastfeeding—you’re carrying them around anyway! Free formula samples can work against your milk supply and force you to rely on more formula. I’ll cover how that may be true in a later post. If your baby isn’t feeding well, see a registered lactation consultant so that s/he can help you.
Breathe. You got this!