It seems like breastfeeding should be instinctive and natural – and while it is on some levels, it is also something both mothers and babies learn to do. While most parents have not grown up yet seeing babies breastfeed all around them, babies are born with reflexes to help them breastfeed.
Here are some hints on how to help your baby use his or her reflexes to make breastfeeding easy for the both of you:
- Learn about the birth process. Educate yourself on different ways to give birth and how these may affect you and your baby and breastfeeding. Speak with your midwife or doctor about the type of birth you imagine for yourself and how they can help you.
- Immediately after the birth, lay back, relax and put – and keep – your baby “skin to skin” for at least one hour and let your baby do “The Breast Crawl.” This is one of the most powerful things that you can do to make breastfeeding easy for your and your baby. Skin-to-skin helps your baby stay warm and calm, keeps his or hers blood sugars, breathing, and heart rate stable. It is the best way to help your baby adjust to life outside the womb. When baby is calm, he or she will be able to use all reflexes, such as finger flexing, licking, head turning, and stepping to help baby find and latch more properly to your breast. This can take some time (some babies even fall asleep between these reflexes) and it is OK to be patient. When mothers sit up to breastfeed, sometimes these reflexes tend to “push” the baby away from the breast such that the baby has difficulty or appears to have no interest in breastfeeding. Mothers, simply lay back and relax. Enjoy seeing and touching your baby and wait for your baby’s reflexes to take over. Even if you have a C/Section, you can still lay back, have the nurses put your baby skin-to-skin and wait for your baby to move to your breast. Share this information with your partner and your family. Let them know that this is a powerful time for you and your baby and that they can help you best by allowing you this time together, uninterrupted. Even if you and your baby have to be separated for some reason, these reflexes are still strong for the next 1-3 months.
- Once you have moved to the post-partum unit, keep your baby with you and on you. Skin-to-skin continues to help keep your baby calm and warm and even if not always skin-to-skin, keeping your baby on his or her belly on you helps your baby to gain more skill with breastfeeding. Research shows that mothers who put their babies in the nursery during the night get no more sleep than mothers who keep their babies with them. Parents who keep their babies with them have more confidence caring for their babies once they are home.
- Watch for your baby’s “cues” that he or she wants to feed. Most babies will want to feed more during the night and very often, at least 8-12 times per 24 hours. While your body is ready to make more milk, it is the baby’s frequent removal of small amounts of milk in the beginning that will create your milk supply.
- Avoid giving your baby anything but your breast milk. Babies are born fed and your breasts have already started making milk for your baby, which includes important protection against disease. Formula does not contain this important protection and should not be given without a doctor’s order. Mothers who give their babies formula in the hospital may have more difficulty making enough milk and not be able to breastfeed their baby as long as they wanted. Even if you plan to both breastfeed and formula feed eventually, breastfeeding only for the first couple weeks will give you the best chance to do this.
- Ask your nurses and midwives for help! If you are having difficulty helping your baby to latch, experience pain with breastfeeding, or have difficulty getting rest or sleep, we can help you with this. Lactation consultants are also available if you need more help than the nurse is able to give.
By Patrice DeMarco, RN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant in Obstetrics and Midwifery at University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont.