The first few days of breastfeeding can be overwhelming, but with a some basic knowledge, a little help, and a whole lot of patience, you'll be breastfeeding like a pro in no time.
Breastfeeding success depends a lot on what happens early on. The problem is that many moms are unsure about how to get things off to a good start. As a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and mother of two, I have personal experience with what can be a tumultuous, confusing couple of days as moms and babies figure out the ins and outs of nursing.
It's important to take things days by day (latch by latch, even!), so I've broken down the first days of breastfeeding into distinct time periods, complete with everything you need to know about what is happening with your breasts and your baby—and what to do if things go haywire.
In the first hours after birth
If at all possible, spend the first hour skin-to-skin with your baby. Studies have shown that this practice increases your chances of long-term breastfeeding success. Definitely try latching your baby then too, but don't be too concerned if latching is perfect yet—it's your first try!
In the first few days after birth
During those first one to three days, you and your little one will be practicing the art of achieving a comfortable latch—the ticket to warding off nipple pain. Annie Frisbie, a Queens, NY based lactation consultant, gives some simple advice for how to accomplish this. "You and your baby are meant to work together," says Frisbie, "Your job is positioning—belly to belly like he's giving your breast a hug, your nipple lined up with his nose, and his face as close to your breast as possible. His job is latch—he wants to feel your nipple on his nose so he can dig his chin into your breast and come up and over."
You won't be producing tons of milk yet. Your baby's diet will consist of the colostrum you've been producing since the middle of your pregnancy. Colostrum, often called "liquid gold," is chock full of natural immunity boosters, and is just the right blend of fats and proteins for your baby in these first days.
On days four to five
Sometime in the first few days after birth, your milk will "come in." For some women, this will be a gradual process; other women will become painfully engorged with milk. If you become engorged, the best thing to do is breastfeed frequently, and on demand. Sometimes the engorgement can flatten your nipples, making it difficult for your baby to latch on. In that case, you can express a little milk before latching to soften the nipple.
Amy Schecter, lactation consultant and MD, explains that in the early days, it might seem like your baby is nursing very frequently, but this is exactly how a good milk supply is established. "Newborns have an intense need to suck. It may seem like all your baby wants to do is breastfeed, but know that this won't last forever," explains Schecter, "The more often your baby feeds, the better your milk supply will be. The best thing you can do to ensure breastfeeding success is to nurse on demand in the early days."
The second week and beyond
Even after your milk comes in, you may feel anxious about whether their babies are getting enough milk. Besides making sure your baby is nursing frequently (about eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period), and visiting your pediatrician for a weight check, Leigh Anne O'Connor, a NYC-based lactation consultant, has some tried and true tips to help you feel more confident that your baby is eating enough. "Do not look at clocks; instead, look at your baby," advises O'Connor, "Watch him for signs of satisfaction: relaxed body, plenty of wet and dirty diapers." As always, though, if you're worried that your baby is getting enough to eat, consult with your pediatrician.
Some women may experience nipple pain late into the first week. The best advice I can give is to make an appointment with a lactation consultant sooner than later: she can check your baby's latch, and address any other issues that might be causing pain.
In general, if you are still having any difficulties after that first week, reach out for help—in-person help if possible. A La Leche League Leader or an IBCLC are your best bets.
Don't give up. Many more women than you realize experience bumps in the road as they breastfeed their babies, but there are almost always ways to make it work. Remember: You and your baby are just learning in those early days, and with a little help, and a ton of patience, you will be breastfeeding like a pro in no time.