If you’re like many first-time parents, you probably spent some time learning or reading about breastfeeding before your baby arrived.
Maybe you went to a hospital breastfeeding class, took a lactation workshop, or read a lot about latching. You might have even gotten some help from the nurses or the lactation consultant at the hospital.
But now, you’re back from the hospital, the actual parent new parent of a tiny, precious new being, and everything feels like a blur. You might find yourself struggling to remember what you learned in lactation class or from the nurses in the hospital. Everything feels different now that you’re home.
Don’t panic—we’re here to help.
These best practices can help you start your breastfeeding journey on the right foot:
Feed at the earliest signs of hunger.
The sooner you feed your baby when they display signs of hunger, the easier it is to feed your baby—and the happier and less fussy your baby will become. Early signs of hunger are any type of mouth motion, sticking the tongue out of the mouth, rooting (turning the head from side to side), opening the mouth wide, sucking on anything nearby, and tight fists/strong arms.
If your baby has just woken up from a nap, you should assume they’ll be ready to eat shortly. Crying is the last sign of hunger. If you’ve missed all the hunger cues and your baby is crying, take a few moments to hold and soothe your baby first, and then try to feed them.
Feed frequently, following your babies cues.
The early days of breastfeeding are as much about nourishing your baby as they are about building your milk supply through regular stimulation of the breasts. Frequent feeds allow your body to get the signal to make the amount of milk your baby needs. Let your baby decide when and for how long to nurse in these early milk-building days.
Have your baby sleep near you.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns sleep in their parents’ room in a crib, bassinet, or cosleeper next to their bed for at least six months. Not only does this allow you to nurse your baby more easily and as soon as they show hunger cues; it also decreases the risk of SIDS.
Find things to make you more comfortable while you nurse.
This can take a little time to figure out, but things like nursing stools, pillows placed behind your back, sitting in a comfy armchair all can make a difference. You’re going to be nursing a lot, so finding comfortable ways to sit or lie is key. (Ever wondered what to do with all those receiving blankets? Have someone help you roll them up and stick them under your wrists, elbows or between the baby and your lap or nursing pillow to offer additional alignment and physical support.)
Try different nursing positions.
In addition to the classic cradle pose you might have been shown in the hospital or see frequently, side-lying (where you lay on your side and baby lays on their side right next to you) and laid-back positioning (with your baby on top of you as you are laid back at about a 45 degree angle) are both great positions to try. Football hold (where you hold the baby in the same arm as breast) is another great option and excellent if you had a cesarean birth to avoid pressure on the incision
No matter what position you try, make sure the baby is always “tummy to tummy,” meaning they have their tummy pressed against yours.
Their head should not be twisted when they try to latch. Their head should be free to tip back, so be mindful of not holding their head too high. Their nose should be across from the nipple when they get ready to latch and their chin should be mushed into your breast tissue well below the nipple, which encourages the baby to slightly tip their head back, open their mouth wide, and come in for a deeper latch.
Don’t suffer through painful feeding.
If breastfeeding hurts or your baby is not gaining enough weight, the most important thing to do is to reach out for professional lactation help as soon as possible.
A visit with a lactation consultant can make a huge difference if you have any of the following: Pain while nursing; a baby who is not gaining enough weight or has lost too much weight according to your pediatrician; low milk supply; nipple damage. Although breastfeeding pain is common, it should not be considered normal.
Lactation issues are way easier to resolve when dealt with early on. Resources like boober can help you find a lactation consultant who provides same-day, in-home assistance.
Remember that breastfeeding at home is often different than breastfeeding at the hospital because your breast milk has started to come in, which changes the shape of the breasts, the frequency of the feeds, and the flow and consistency of your milk.
Be patient as you learn your baby and figure out what works for you both.
boober (link: getboober.com) is a femtech start-up founded by Jada Shapiro. Shapiro is a longtime birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor, birth photographer, and mother. An expert in maternal health, she frequently moderates and appears on panels at top parenting conventions and provides birth and breastfeeding consultation to TV shows, A-list actors, and major films (most recently to Jennifer Lawrence in Darren Aronofsky’s latest feature). She is a media expert on childbirth, lactation, and parenting, regularly sought out by the New York Times, The Today Show, Time Out New York, NBC, CBS, E!, TLC and other outlets. She is also the founder of Birth Day Presence (link: birthdaypresence.com), which, since 2002, has helped 20,000+ New York families bring their babies into the community with childbirth education classes and doula services.