Breastfeeding, while natural, is not the easiest task. Especially in the first months, many mothers may have trouble positioning the baby properly or recognizing when the baby is full. Finding the right position to breastfeed a newborn can also be challenging. In this article, we advise on how to make the lactation period easier.
Many mothers await the moment when, right after giving birth, they will breastfeed their baby for the first time. In their minds, they have beautiful images of a smiling woman feeding her contented baby, peacefully nursing at the mother’s breast. However, in practice, feeding a baby rarely looks like this, especially at the beginning.
It’s entirely normal for the first breastfeeding, and even subsequent attempts to satisfy the baby’s hunger, to pose difficulties for mothers. The good news is that breastfeeding a child is like any other activity – with time, practice makes perfect until feeding becomes a pleasant, relaxing moment for both the child and the mother.
To facilitate the task of feeding the baby, having knowledge about proper lactation practices is extremely important.
How does the first breastfeeding session go?
The baby’s first breastfeeding session takes place in the delivery room during “skin-to-skin” contact. It is one of the most exceptional moments right after childbirth, involving placing the newborn on the mother’s bare abdomen by the midwife.
It is crucial for the first breastfeeding to happen as soon as possible, preferably between 20 and 50 minutes, and no later than two hours after birth. This is highly significant for initiating the lactation process because by quickly latching the baby onto the breast, we signal the breasts to start producing milk.
However, latching the baby onto the breast should not be rushed or forced. It is essential to observe signs indicating the baby’s readiness to suckle, such as:
moving their head,
opening their mouth,
increased eye movements,
protruding the tongue,
turning their head in search of the breast,
sucking on their hands.
In a situation where the newborn does not latch onto the breast during “skin-to-skin” contact, the baby should be observed, and their blood glucose levels checked. However, when the baby shows activity, it is worth attempting to latch them onto the breast.
During the first breastfeeding, a mother may need assistance from medical staff. In most hospitals, there are lactation consultants who teach women how to properly latch their babies onto the breast. Midwives also play the same role. It’s important for a breastfeeding woman not to hesitate to ask for help during the first feeding because the sooner we correct any issues, the quicker we learn proper feeding techniques.
How to position the baby for breastfeeding?
To satisfy the newborn’s hunger, we start by ensuring proper breastfeeding technique because only then can the baby adequately empty the breast, satisfying their hunger and stimulating the mother’s lactation.
Therefore, we begin by finding the right position for both the mother and the baby. It’s important for the mother’s body to be stable, meaning the back, arms, and legs should be supported, and the newborn should be close to the mother. The baby’s abdomen should face the mother’s stomach, and their head, shoulders, and hips should be in a straight line. Proper positioning of the baby’s mouth is also important – during feeding, it should be wide open, and the lower lip turned out.
For each feeding, we recommend offering both breasts to the baby. We start by latching the baby onto one breast and after it’s emptied, move to the other. It’s essential to keep the baby active at the breast – they should not fall asleep but actively suckle.
To activate the newborn, activities such as:
unwrapping the baby from the swaddle or diaper,
taking off their onesie,
touching their legs or neck with a damp cloth
can be important.
Feeding should continue without interruption until it naturally concludes.
Will I satisfy their hunger?
It happens that during the first few hours after birth, a mother may feel that nothing is coming out of her nipples. Indeed, in the first few days after birth, there is little milk in the breasts, but that’s precisely what is needed to satisfy the baby’s hunger. Moreover, a mother’s milk right after birth is not white and thin; it’s translucent, yellowish, and thick. This initial milk, called colostrum, completely meets the baby’s needs.
What if there’s too much milk?
An oversupply of milk is a normal, physiological response of the mother’s body, usually occurring in 2nd to 4th day after birth. During milk oversupply, the production of milk rapidly increases. The mammary gland starts producing up to about 10 times more milk than before. This is the result of the proper functioning of hormones, triggered by the release of the lactogenic complex. Women often feel heavy, with very full breasts, and there may be spontaneous milk leakage. However, this is not a cause for concern.
Taking appropriate action can help a breastfeeding woman reduce the negative effects of milk oversupply. So, what should be done in such a situation?
At such times, it’s worth attempting to feed the baby when the woman feels that her breast is engorged. During milk oversupply, the number of feedings should not be limited, but the breast should be offered on demand. However, it’s essential to remember that the baby’s demand does not always align with the “demand for the breast.”
It’s worth latching the baby in various positions, including the “underarm” position.
If between feedings, a woman feels that her breasts are engorged, some milk should be manually expressed or with a breast pump, but only enough to feel relief. There’s no need to further stimulate the breasts to try to empty them.
Wearing a well-fitted bra with nursing pads, which should be changed after each feeding, is important.
Remember about proper hydration. The effects of milk oversupply can also be mitigated with sage tea. It’s recommended to drink 1-2 cups of such tea within a day.
How often to feed the newborn?
According to experts, the average number of daily breastfeedings in the first six months is between 8-12 feedings per day. This quantity gradually decreases with age. These are average amounts, and ultimately, the child decides how much milk they will consume. Therefore, the baby should be breastfed on demand, i.e., whenever they ask for it.
In the first day, the baby may be less willing to suckle on the mother’s breast. This is because the baby is tired after birth, and there might still be amniotic fluid in their stomach. The situation changes on the second day when the baby wants to be on the breast all the time. Such behavior indicates that everything is fine. In the following days, the number of feedings should stabilize.
How long should breastfeeding sessions last for a newborn?
Since it’s the baby who decides how much milk they will consume, the feeding time will also vary for each child. Some babies need 15 to 40 minutes to feel full, while for others, it takes longer. On average, a newborn needs about 15 minutes to empty one breast, and about 30 minutes for both breasts.
Some babies like to stay at the breast longer, even though they’re no longer drinking milk. A clever way to shorten the time the baby spends at the breast is to gently place the index finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth, causing them to release the latch.
How long should breastfeeding last?
Breast milk meets 100% of a child’s nutritional needs up to 6 months of age. This is the period exclusively recommended by the World Health Organization for breastfeeding. At the same time, the WHO does not define the upper limit for how long breastfeeding should continue – it is the decision of the mother and the child.