Breastfeeding might be the best thing for your baby—but getting the hang of it isn’t always easy. For many new moms, the problems start even before leaving the hospital or soon after being discharged. But it doesn’t have to be that way! We quizzed top lactation experts on how to get off on the right foot in those early days of breastfeeding (a real make-it-or-break-it time!). Read on to learn their secrets for going the distance. What you do before, during, and immediately after delivery can affect your breastfeeding success.
Here’s how to get off to a great start with 12 tips for better breastfeeding:
- Ask for a longer leave. Moms who take more time off from work tend to nurse longer than those with shorter maternity leaves, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. While an extended leave isn’t always possible, it shouldn’t hurt to ask! Telecommuting may be another option that a boss would consider. And don’t forget: Many moms pump on the job and bring breast milk home to their babies—some states even have laws requiring employers to allow it.
- Assemble a support team. While breastfeeding does get easier with time, those first few weeks can be a struggle. But those who get lots of support—from experienced moms, healthcare professionals, and especially from their partners—during this challenging period have much better odds of overcoming any problems and being successful, says Kay Hoover, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant in Media, Penn. Find a support group before baby is born at La Leche League International or by asking your ob-gyn or local hospital.
- Avoid induction, if you can. It might not be the news you want to hear, but expectant moms should resist the temptation to request an induction just because they’re tired of being pregnant, says Jan Barger, RN, IBCLC, a certified lactation consultant in Wheaton, Ill. “The more mature babies are, the better they seem to breastfeed,” she explains. The induction drug Pitocin can also lead to situations that may compromise breastfeeding—such as increased weight loss for the baby (which could prompt hospital staff to supplement with formula) or more painful contractions for you (which might result in needing pain meds sooner).
- Minimize the meds. Natural childbirth isn’t for everyone—and for many women in labor, pain medication (such as an epidural) is a saving grace. However, it can affect a baby’s ability to latch on and suckle at the breast in the hours after childbirth, Barger warns. To reduce the impact on baby, she suggests trying to delay the epidural (or other pain relief) for as long as possible. In the meantime, use breathing and other techniques learned in childbirth class to cope with contractions.
AT THE HOSPITAL
- Nurse in the first hour. Newborns tend to be alert and responsive right after delivery, making it the perfect time to initiate breastfeeding. As long as baby is full term and doesn’t need urgent medical care, the AAP recommends placing her on your bare chest immediately following birth (or up to 45 minutes after a C-section) and letting her stay until after the first feeding. This skin-to-skin contact won’t only comfort baby, but it can also help her tap into her instinctive reflexes to latch onto your breast, Barger says.
- Try being laid-back. While many women do just fine with traditional breastfeeding positions—such as the football, cradle, cross-cradle and side-lying holds—more lactation consultants are beginning to favor “laid-back” breastfeeding, in which you’re in a well-supported, semi-reclined position with baby draped diagonally across your torso. Some moms find that this position is more comfortable and allows baby to feed more effectively, explains West.
- Be roommates. Newborns nurse better and mothers have higher milk production when they room together in the hospital (and at home), says West. By staying in close proximity 24/7, you’re more likely to pick up on baby’s hunger cues and nurse more often. Since not all hospitals let moms and babies room together full-time, consider finding out about your local hospital’s “rooming in” policy before deciding where to deliver, says Hoover.
- Avoid hospital hiccups. One out of every three moms stops breastfeeding early if she doesn’t get good support during those first crucial hours and days in the hospital, the CDC says. Unfortunately, most medical facilities in the United States aren’t providing enough help and/or have policies and practices that can actually hurt the process. State your preferences upon arriving at the hospital and ask your doctor to leave written orders stating that baby is not to receive any bottles of formula or water, says Sally Wendkos Olds in The Complete Book of Breastfeeding (2010). Another tactic: Tape a sign to the baby’s bassinet that states “Only breast milk for me!” or “No bottles or pacifiers, please!”
- Feed baby often. Frequent nursing is key to a well-nourished baby—and a good milk supply. During the first month, every two to three hours is a good rule of thumb. But instead of watching the clock, looks for baby’s hunger cues, such as increased alertness, physical activity, hand sucking, mouth movements (such as opening and closing his mouth or sticking out his tongue) or moving his head side to side (as if looking for something like a breast). Try not to wait until she’s crying—a late sign of hunger.
- Give yourself a hand. The number one reason new moms stop breastfeeding? Not enough milk. Prevent the problem by hand-expressing more milk after breastfeeding, which helps prompt your body to produce more milk, says Jane Morton, MD, a pediatrician in Menlo Park, Calif., and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University. She recommends using one hand to express anywhere from a few drops to a teaspoon of milk into a spoon, then feed it to baby. Do this five times daily during the first three days after birth.
- Set limits on visitors. We don’t blame you for feeling uncomfortable whipping out a breast in front of old Uncle Eddy, but it can mean missed breastfeeding opportunities. Plus, babies tend to get overstimulated when they’re being passed around from one oohing and ahhing well-wisher to the next. Both are great reasons to minimize visitors—in the hospital and at home—while the two of you are still getting the hang of feeding. As Barger puts it, “If they aren’t there to scrub toilets, cook dinner, vacuum or do the wash, then they shouldn’t be there.”
- Put off the pacifier. Babies who start sucking on binkies before they’ve mastered breastfeeding may have more trouble learning how to nurse and may not eat as frequently (which, in turn, could mess with Mom’s milk production). Wait at least a month before introducing one.