Breastfeeding can be a challenge in the first few days, especially for first time moms.
Contrary to the popular notion, breastfeeding does not necessarily come all that “naturally” to most new mothers. You have to know the basics and be focused on the baby and breastfeeding and “work at it”.
At the same time, mom and baby have natural instincts for breastfeeding, so stay “tuned” to those. For example, the baby has the “rooting reflex” and as soon as he smells you, he will instinctively try to open his mouth and latch on to your breasts.
Here are some tips for successful breastfeeding.
First few weeks
- Get an early start. Women who breastfeed in the first hour, are better able to breastfeed successfully.
- In first day, the tricky thing can be for the baby to “latch on” properly. This means that the baby should grab the nipples with the areole (the dark area around the nipples that activates milk production) properly. Also, if the baby does not latch on properly, your nipples will get sore and painful. You should ensure that the nurses verify that the baby has latched on properly. The nurse can also show you some comfortable breastfeeding positions for both vaginal and caesarian births (If you have stitches in your belly).
- For the first 2-4 days, your baby will extract colostrum (nutrient packed thick yellowish fluid) from your breasts. The quantity is small, but is adequate. But it is important that when the baby cries, you continue to nurse the baby to stimulate milk production.
- In the beginning (first month), your milk supply might be erratic. On some days you might feel that you do not have enough milk and you have to feed the baby very often and some days you might have excess milk and your breasts might get “engorged”. Be patient, stay calm and continue to nurse the baby on demand. It is good for the baby and for you.
- Breastfeeding is based on the law of demand and supply. The more milk the baby takes in, the more milk will be produced. The more often the baby nurses and empties the breasts, the more milk will be produced. Instead of timing breastfeeding, focus on feeding on demand—meaning you breastfeed whenever you feel that your baby is hungry. That is what WHO and most doctors recommend for the first six months1.
- Feed with both breasts to ensure that both are stimulated for milk production. It is important that instead of just feeding a little, the baby empties the breasts. Emptying the breast is the most important signal to the brain to produce more milk. Many people will advise you to nurse the baby for 15 minutes on each breast. Because of this, many times, the breasts do not get emptied and your milk can “dry up”. If the baby stops swallowing (not making the swallowing sounds and you can also tell by looking at the baby’s throat), it means that there is no milk in the breast. Instead. feed first with one breast. If the baby stops swallowing, it means that no milk is coming. Then switch to the other breast. Next time, remember to start from the breast that the baby nursed from the last.
- Relax and do not get stressed. Stress can affect production of “mothering" hormones like oxytocin and prolactic. Oxytocin is what causes a “let down” or milk ejection reflex allowing breastmilk to come out of your breasts when you start feeding. Prolactin is the hormone that signals the brain to make more milk2.
- If you have problems with low milk supply and your baby is not able to nurse, talk to your doctor about using a breast pump for some time. You can extract milk (empty your breasts) using a breast pump and feed your baby in a bottle.
- When in doubt, do not hesitate to call the baby’s paediatrician.
- Also read our article Breastfeeding - Answers to common questions
1. "Breastfeeding Counseling, A Training Course, Trainer's Guide", World Health Organization CDD Programme, UNICEF
2. "Breastfeeding know how", U.S.Department of Health and Human Services