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How to get breastfeeding off to a good start

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Get Breastfeeding Started Right After Birth
Photo courtesy of Kristian Thøgersen.

The best way to succeed at breastfeeding is to plan and prepare, while you are pregnant. It can be daunting for a first-time mom to hear about so many women who “couldn’t breastfeed,” “didn’t have enough milk,” “were in pain and bleeding” or “had to supplement.” The stories are endless and it can be very discouraging, wondering if you are going to be another statistic of women who didn’t meet their breastfeeding goals. Sadly, these stories are way too common. However, there is good news and reason for optimism as well. Women have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of the human race, and it’s only been since our parent’s generation that we’ve seen a mass movement toward feeding babies with artificial formula. A woman’s body wasn’t just made to grow a baby for nine months but also to nurture and keep it alive following birth with breast milk. When there were no alternatives, almost every mother breastfed her baby successfully. With proper, qualified lactation support, 95-99% of women can fully breastfeed their babies.

In a two-part series, I’ll detail 15 strategies to help you succeed in your breastfeeding journey:

  1. Prepare for the birth of your baby. Read books, make a birth plan and choose your doctor/birthing facility wisely. If you are giving birth in a hospital, try to find one that meets the BFHI (Breastfeeding Friendly Hospital Initiative) requirements set out by the World Health Organization. We know that the type of birth you have affects breastfeeding, so make a plan for how you’d like your birth to go, and make sure you plan to give birth in a facility that is supportive of your birthing wishes.
  2. Have as natural a birth as possible. Birth really does matter, and drugs during birth do affect your baby and breastfeeding. A natural and unmedicated birth leaves you and your baby ready to start breastfeeding strong. Did you know that a healthy, unmedicated baby has innate instincts and reflexes that if placed on your belly can push himself up and latch onto his mother’s breast unassisted?! It’s been termed the breast crawl and is quite powerful to witness. A natural birth allows you to immediately begin skin-to-skin time with your baby and helps him to be alert, able to latch and suck well for his first breastfeed.
  3. Hold your baby skin-to-skin immediately following birth. Do this for at least the first one-and-a-half hours and through the first breastfeed, before your baby is bathed, weighed, or even wiped off. This is critical bonding time for you and your baby as your body has many hormones that allow you to bond and absolutely fall in love with your new little blessing. Skin-to-skin helps regulate your baby’s temperature, stabilize her heart rate, stabilize blood glucose, reduce crying, stimulate self-latching and coordinate sucking at breast. For mothers, skin-to-skin helps to regulate her temperature, increase oxytocin levels, develop adequate milk volume, bond with her baby, increase her confidence, and decrease breastfeeding problems. If, for whatever reason, you are not able to begin skin-to-skin time immediately following birth, begin it as soon as you can…and continue it as often as possible. Skin-to-skin is not just amazing following birth, but throughout your breastfeeding relationship, too!
  4. Delay screenings, weighing, baby checks, bath, etc., until after first breastfeed. You can never get the first two hours after your birth back and all the key baby checks for a healthy, full-term baby can be done while on skin-to-skin with her mom. Postpone everything else and enjoy these precious moments with your new baby.
  5. Room in with your baby. The best way to get to know your new baby is to spend time together. Keep your baby in your room with you so you can see early feeding cues your baby gives and nurse on demand.
  6. Don’t give any supplements, pacifiers, etc.“Just one bottle” can have a tremendous impact on breastfeeding. Healthy, term babies, held skin-to-skin with mom do not need supplements or pacifiers. If there is any concern about your baby and a supplement is medically necessary, try to express your breast milk to give as a supplement – ideally in a syringe, cup or spoon. If this is not possible, then ask for donor human milk, and give it, while nursing at the breast with an at-breast tube-feeding device. Human babies have a physical need to suckle, so making sure this desire cannot be fulfilled with an artificial teat will encourage and promote breastfeeding success.
  7. Breastfeed often and on demand. It is normal for your baby to nurse often. If you have a sleepy baby, make sure to wake her up and nurse at least every three hours. Many newborns want to feed hourly! What is important is that you are nursing at least 8-12 times every 24 hours, including throughout the night. It is also normal for babies to not only want to nurse for hunger, but also nurse for comfort (“non-nutritive sucking”). Even non-nutritive sucking offers milk, builds your supply and allows you to bond. Breastfeed on one side until your baby unlatches, and then offer the other breast. Nurse until your baby comes off satisfied. Don’t watch the clock, don’t worry about what your friend’s baby does, and don’t try to make your baby fall into a schedule that some “expert” wrote in a book. Not only has your baby not read the book, but these “scheduled feeding” or “sleep training” books can have a very negative impact on breastfeeding. Every mother’s breast capacity is different, so limiting breastfeeding can diminish her milk supply. Every baby’s needs are different. Babies don’t cry to manipulate; they cry because they have a need. Follow your baby’s cues and don’t worry about what those books say.

Many thanks to Krista Gray for sharing her expertise with us. Watch for the second part in this series next week…in the meantime…

If you have breastfed, what advice would you give to moms as to how to get off to a good start?

KristaGray_HeadshotKrista Gray is an IBCLC, La Leche League Leader, and mother of four breastfed children, including preemie twins. At Nursing Nurture Krista shares research-based information and experience to help moms in their breastfeeding journeys. You can also connect with Krista on Twitter {@nursingnurture} and on Facebook {}.


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