Shortly before the arrival of your new baby, you can prepare for breastfeeding by taking a class, reading a book, or—most importantly—by watching another mother nurse. Since nursing is a learned behavior, it can be very helpful to familiarize yourself with what nursing looks like. Ask a friend or relative who is nursing a baby if you can sit with her for a feeding and get some advice. If you don’t know anyone who is currently nursing a baby, you can find a local breastfeeding support group in your area and attend; new mothers love to pass on tips and help another soon-to-be mother with this very important area of parenting.
Although the above advice can be valuable, do not worry if you do not have the time to either read a book, take a class or get together with another nursing mother. Many of the hospitals where you will deliver your baby have plently of resources to get you on the right track once the baby arrives. Some hospitals have lactation consultants on staff, some offer breastfeeding classes which you and your newborn can attend during your hospital stay, and many have nurses who are knowledgable about the basics of latch-on and the early days of nursing. Here are some important tips for the early days and weeks of nursing:
1) Feed early (within 30 minutes of delivery) and often (do not limit the duration or length of breastfeeding sessions, particularly in the colostrum period, which is the first few days of the baby’s life). Frequent feeding will get important nutrients into the baby, keep him hydrated, and speed the arrival of your mature milk, which typically “comes in” on Day 3 or 4 post-partum.
2) Ask for help and be assertive! If you are not sure if things are going well, ask for the lactation consultant to stop in and see you. Although many hospitals have consultants on staff, they can be very busy and it can be difficult for them to stop in and see everyone, especially if you are not vocal about your need for help. So speak up, even if you have to remind the staff several times of your request.
3) Do not despair if the doctor or nurse recommends supplementation with formula! There is a misconception that introducing anything other than breastmilk is “the beginning of the end.” This is not true. Although I always encourage frequent breastfeeding in the early days and weeks of your baby’s life, there sometimes are circumstances that may prevent a baby from getting a full feeding at the breast every single time, right from the start. Jaundice, premature birth, general sleepiness…these are just a few examples of situations that could cause a baby not to get all that he needs right away. If the doctor recommends supplementation because of excessive weight loss or jaundice or some other reason, ask the nurse to show you how to supplement, and begin using a breastpump so that the supplement can be breastmilk and so that your milk supply does not become compromised. If you find that the baby regularly needs supplementation after feedings beyond the first few days of his life, I recommend contacting a Board Certified Lactation Consultant for help or attending a breastfeeding support group. www.ilca.org is a good resource for a consultant in your area, and your pediatrician may know resources for help, as well.
4) I have provided much more detailed information at the following website: www.bravadohelps.com.
Heather Kelly is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant in New York City. She is the mother of four children, and runs a weekly support group at the 92 Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She recently completed a book on breastfeeding, whose content can be found at www.bravadohelps.com