Breastfeeding is a natural and simple way to provide nutrients to your newborn. Nature intended your baby to drink breast milk, and your body is perfectly designed to produce it. During pregnancy your body has been preparing for breastfeeding, and colostrum (early breast milk) will be ready and waiting. Right from birth, your baby is able to let you know when they are hungry, to attach to the breast, and to suck, swallow and digest milk that meets their specific nutritional needs.
So how does it work? Your baby’s sucking at the breast stimulates milk production, so the more they breastfeed, the more milk will be available. Pacifiers and formula supplements will interfere with this process. Your baby should breastfeed at least eight to 12 times in 24 hours during the first weeks. (The exception to this is the first 24 hours after birth, when many babies sleep more.) They may breastfeed in clusters, rather than every two hours, and they should breastfeed until they are satisfied. This ensures that they receive your hind milk, which is rich in fat and calories. Limiting breastfeeding to five or ten minutes on each side deprives your baby of this important and nutritious food. Let baby finish the first breast before offering the second. Watch your baby, not the clock.
Contrary to what you may have heard, you do not need to drink large amounts of fluid or avoid certain foods when you’re breastfeeding. Eat and drink to satisfy your thirst and your appetite, but aim to take in about 500 additional calories per day, for a total of about 2,700 calories daily (discuss your personal nutritional needs with your doctor). Most women find breastfeeding helps shed some pregnancy pounds given it burns between 600 and 800 calories a day.
Your baby will let you know when they are ready to breastfeed with a number of early feeding cues: Rapid eye movements under the eyelids, an imitation of sucking, hand-to-mouth gestures, small sounds and, lastly, crying. If you wait until your baby cries, it may be difficult to help them settle down enough to latch on properly. Keep your baby close, and you’ll learn to spot these hunger cues.
It’s instinctual for a newborn to attach to the breast. Studies have shown that a baby placed skin-to-skin on their mother’s chest right after birth can crawl to the breast and latch on. If you hold your baby in the traditional cradle position, they will be able to latch on properly. You should not have to lean toward your baby and your baby should not have to reach toward you to attach. Wait for your baby to open their mouth wide so that they attach to the areola, not just the nipple.
Another option is the football hold, where your baby is tucked by your side. Hold your baby on their side, their nose aligned to your nipple. Place your arm along their back, supporting shoulders and neck with your fingers and thumb behind the ears. Don’t hold the back of their head; they will instinctively throw it back as they latch on. Be patient and let your baby lead you; don’t rush or put pressure on either of you. Remember, your baby knows how to do this.
As they suck, watch and listen for their swallowing. This is the ultimate assurance that they are getting milk. Your baby will let you know when they are finished by unlatching or falling asleep; they may not want to breastfeed from the other breast. If they don’t, it will feel full when they are ready to breastfeed again, so start with that side.
If you pay attention to your baby’s feeding cues, breastfeed often and allow your baby to breastfeed until satisfied, you can be sure they are getting enough milk. Look for these signs:
- You will notice the change in their sucking: Bursts of sucking will be followed by a pause as they swallow. You can also see the neck muscles move as they swallow milk.
- The color of their stool will change from the dark meconium to mustard yellow by day four if they’re getting enough milk. By day six, your baby should have at least six wet diapers and three or more bowel movements in a 24-hour period.
- Your baby should be gaining weight, although it may take two to three weeks for them to regain their birth weight.
Some babies take a few days or even weeks to breastfeed effortlessly. If yours is not breastfeeding frequently, you are unable to identify swallowing or they are not producing enough wet diapers and bowel movements, contact your health care provider or lactation consultant immediately. Also, keep in mind that it’s common to experience some discomfort during the first few minutes of breastfeeding. However, your nipples shouldn’t hurt throughout the entire process. If they do, it’s likely that your baby isn’t latching on properly. If your baby is latched correctly and you’re still experiencing pain after a few minutes, you should seek help. Most breastfeeding problems have simple solutions, but it’s important to get help sooner rather than later. Many pediatricians and hospitals have lactation consultants on staff and may conduct regular breastfeeding classes. Your local department of health may also have a referral service.
You and your baby were made to breastfeed. Have confidence in yourself and your baby’s ability, and treasure this natural bonding time.