Breastfeeding Tips: Getting Off To The Right Start

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  • January 15, 2015
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You’ve heard “breast is best”and maybe your doctor or friends have encouraged breastfeeding, too. Maybe you also have friends who have told you how hard it can be. Yes, it is recommended by many health organizations and yes, it can be hard! Breastfeeding is a learning curve, steeper for some moms and babies than others. Most of that learning happens with your baby in your arms, but there’s a lot you can learn before your bundle arrives, too. Here are some tips to getting breastfeeding off to a good start:

Skin to Skin

Many hospitals and birth centers have come a long way from taking the baby from mom right after birth, bathing her, wrapping her up tightly and keeping an eye on her in the nursery most hours of the day. Instead, research has shown the benefits of doing the opposite: bringing that baby right up to mom’s chest after birth (when mom and baby are well and stable enough), delaying the bath and swaddle, and keeping baby right on his or her biological home as much as possible. If you think of it, your baby has been in the womb (as close to you as possible!) for 9 months. The next best place: right on mom’s chest, at her breast. We are mammals after all!

Early and Often

One benefit to having your baby brought right to you after birth and spending lots of warm, cozy time on your chest is that you’ll both be ready to go when hunger hits. He’ll be all ready “in the kitchen” as opposed to tightly wrapped up in someone else’s arms across the room. Babies have amazing reflexes that will tell you they’re ready for some delicious mama’s milk and soothing comfort of sucking on mama’s familiar smelling breast/skin. If baby is right there, she’s more likely to latch sooner and more frequently. “Early and often” are two keys to getting your baby the nutritious colostrum to help coat their gut (CITE), and get your milk making factories going!

Another way to ensure feeding often is by keeping your baby right in the room with you throughout the day and night. We’ve learned a lot over the years about the risks of separating baby and mom and benefits of keeping them together.  Hospital nurseries can be a great resource when you’re alone in your room and you need to use the bathroom, shower, etc., but research has shown that mom doesn’t actually sleep any better when baby is taken to the nursery.

Deep Latch

So far you’re set up well: Baby is near you, on your chest, early and often. Even at night. Now what?! This is the part that is best learned with your baby IN your arms, but there are a few things that can be helpful to know ahead of time.

Remember: it’s called breastfeeding, not nipplefeeding! The deeper your baby can be latched onto your breast, the better! How far? Try this: drag your tongue along the roof of your mouth from the back of your front teeth back to your soft palate. Do you feel where your hard palate starts to meet your soft palate? Aim for latching your baby on so that your nipple almost reaches that soft palate in your baby’s mouth. Yes, your nipple will stretch! (Our bodies are amazing, right?)  The key is to have your nipple far enough back so that your baby’s tongue is not rubbing the face of your nipple over and over again. {INSERT latch video links, resources}

Brief keys to getting this deep latch? Position (link to latch and positioning post) your baby comfortably for both of you, talk to your baby, wait for her open her mouth wide and assertively bring her nice and close. Ideally her chin and cheeks are right up against your breast.

Healing and Relief

It may seem ironic that while your whole body is recovering from bringing a baby into the world, your nipples are participating in a whole new reality, too. You may be sore. Your bottom half and your top half. This is where nurses and postpartum doulas can be especially helpful: helping YOU get comfortable so you can nurse comfortably. (You know, kind of like “Place your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.”) You’ll be more likely to establish a comfortable latch and keep it that way if you can sit comfortably and stay that way for a good 30-45 minutes!

The best way to prevent sore nipples is to establish that deep latch at each and every feeding, and getting one-on-one in-person help as soon as you start to feel sore. There can be a number of causes of sore nipples that a qualified professional can help you understand and treat. Otherwise, keep those nipples clean and dry and have some lanolin on hand just-in-case.

Ask ANY and ALL questions

Even if you’ve already breastfed 5 children, you’ll have questions. This is a new baby, a new breastfeeding relationship. Just like you should try to nurse early and often, ask those questions early and often!

Hopefully the topic of breastfeeding comes up in your prenatal appointments, but if not, ASK! Let your care provider and nurses know you’re interested and would like some support and education. Gather phone numbers of the support people to call once you’re home: Lactation Consultants (hospital LCs as well as and private LCs), office nurse, postpartum doulas, other mom friends who have nursed for at least a few months. Post them on your fridge or program them into your phone. While you’re gathering info, write down meeting time and locations of all local breastfeeding groups. Join some breastfeeding groups on Facebook for those middle of the night questions and “is anyone else awake right now?!” chats.

If your baby is going to be born at a hospital the first person helping you with breastfeeding will be your labor and delivery nurse. She may be your same postpartum nurse or you may have a new nurse after baby is born. Have a question or need some assistance? ASK! They are there to care for you and your baby (and a few others) while you’re there. Sure, they may be busy, but unless you say something they may think you’re just fine on your own. (And you may be, but speak up when you need to.)

If your baby is going to be born at a birth center or at home, your midwife and/or birth doula will be your point of contact, and likely throughout your stay. Take advantage of this consistency of care.


Once you’re home, find that list of phone numbers and call away. Chat with those other moms.  Attend those breastfeeding groups. Make an appointment or two with an LC. (Take advantage of the Affordable Care Act coverage: “Comprehensive lactation support and counseling, by a trained provider during pregnancy and/or in the postpartum period, and costs for renting breastfeeding equipment.” http://www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/)

Affirmations

Statements of encouragement and support can be especially powerful during labor, but their strength doesn’t end there. Labor, thankfully, is over within a few hours (for the lucky few) or at least within a few days. Breastfeeding will hopefully last your intended and recommended days, weeks, and months. There will be moments of joy, relaxation, pride, and sweetness. There will also be moments of fatigue and worse, doubt. When you can’t get out and meet up with those other moms, take out that list of affirmations.

  • My breath is easy, deep, and full.
  • I trust my intuition.
  • I deserve and receive all the love and support I need.
  • I can handle whatever comes up.
  • My body is wise and purposeful.
  • My baby loves to breastfeed.
  • I have enough milk to nourish and grow my baby.
  • I trust my body.
  • I trust my baby.

Starting Off Right Tip Sheet

  1. Skin to Skin
  2. Early and Often
  3. Deep Latch
  4. Healing and Relief
  5. Ask ANY and ALL Questions
  6. Affirmations

Kara Kaikini is the Course Developer and Educator at Doula Spot as well as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Besides being a mom, Kara’s main gig is the Parent Education Program Coordinator at Maine Medical Center’s Family Birth Center where she immerses herself in everything pregnancy, birth, postpartum, babies, and breastfeeding. Having spent time as a postpartum doula Kara loves providing education and support to new parents and babies as they embark on this new adventure of parenthood. She spends her “free time” on the beautiful coast of Maine on her dad’s boat or at her family’s home, and daydreaming about future family adventures. Kara lives in Freeport, Maine with her husband and her young sons Bode and Eli.

*Photo by Mothering Touch 

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