It is commonly believed that breastfeeding begins as soon as the baby is born. While it is true that we do not see the act of physical breastfeeding taking place until the baby is born, many things are happening in a pregnant woman’s body to prepare her body and her baby for breastfeeding. Her breasts are growing and preparing to make milk. In the latter half of pregnancy she is producing colostrum which is the first milk the baby receives. The baby is also preparing to breastfeed by practicing sucking and swallowing while in the uterus. So there are many things that we cannot see that are happening in order for breastfeeding to take place once the baby is born.
Breastfeeding is also affected by the events of labor. If a woman has her labor artificially induced, if she has a cesarean delivery, or if she receives an epidural or other pain medications, these can all affect her baby’s ability to breastfeed.
It is recommended to have the baby breastfeed within the first hour of life. Babies are typically wide awake and ready to feed within the first hour. This is called the “quiet alert” state, when the baby is awake, but not crying. If a woman has received an epidural or other pain medications, the baby may be sleepy after delivery or may be “disorganized” and unable to coordinate the “suck-swallow-breathe” pattern needed for successful breastfeeding.
The most effective thing you can do to get breastfeeding off to a good start is to hold your baby skin-to-skin immediately after birth and for the first hour or two of life until the baby breastfeeds well. Mothers are biologically connected to their babies. A mother’s body temperature will actually go up to warm up her baby if they are skin-to-skin. Mothers and babies were not meant to be separated. Keep your baby with you as much as possible, hold them skin-to-skin and breastfeed as often as they want to. There is no need for a pacifier in the first few weeks. My next blog post will be about milk supply and I will discuss pacifier use further in that post.
When the baby latches on to the breast, they should open their mouth as wide as possible and take as much breast tissue into their mouth as possible. It should not hurt to breastfeed if the baby is latched on properly. The mother may feel a pulling or tugging sensation, but if it is truly painful, they should unlatch the baby and try again. Babies should breastfeed a minimum of 8-12 times in 24 hours. The frequency of feeding is much more important than how long they feed each time. Watch your baby and not the clock. They should be satisfied or asleep after feeding and be allowed to breastfeed as many times as they would like to, around the clock, without trying to “hold them off” with a pacifier.
Check in with your local Lactation Consultant if you have any further questions on getting off to a good start.By Alicia Fonder, RN, CLC, LCCE, CHBE