If you're anything like me, you've read up on breastfeeding, think you're prepared, determined to be successful, and envisioning the most beautiful breastfeeding relationship.
Then suddenly, baby is born and everything went in the complete opposite way you so positively envisioned.
It is completely normal for breastfeeding to start out rocky. It's especially alarming in our society because we're generally not accustomed to seeing the normal struggles of early breastfeeding challenges and how they are overcome, contrary to societies of the past.
So, what can you expect in your first week of breastfeeding? I tell moms to prepare for the best, but expect the unexpected.
If you have a straightforward delivery, and baby is okay, skin to skin and breastfeeding initiation can start immediately. Babies inherently know to breastfeed. They start the transition to life, and start familiarizing themselves with mom and the environment, and will generally latch on within the first hour.
It's not necessary to force baby to nurse right away, he will go through a process that involves "the breast crawl" where baby uses the stepping reflex to crawl from mom's abdomen to her chest and start searching for the nipple.
It's very common to have some discomfort in the first few days of nursing. Mom and baby are both learning how to breastfeed. There are a lot of "rules" that people like to talk about, but the number one rule is to follow baby's lead and follow your gut. As long as the pain subsides after the initial latch, and there is no incurring nipple damage, what you're experiencing may be normal. It is true that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but it's normal to have an adjustment period.
The laid back position is really beneficial, especially for sore nipples, because it's comfortable for baby, and generally mom too. Keeping baby and mom tummy to tummy is the natural breastfeeding position you would witness "in the wild". This position facilitates a deep latch more than any other position. The cross cradle/cradle positions are actually adaptations of bottle feeding positions which puts baby and mom both in an uncomfortable and unnatural feeding position, which can make latch challenging.
How do you know if you have a good latch?
A picture perfect latch will mean baby's mouth is open wide,with lips flared, and latched on to, not just the nipple but the areola. I was at a conference where I heard Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC speak once, and she said, "Babies don't nipple feed, they breast feed". I like to remind moms of this! The nipple is just one component of breastfeeding, and we need to help baby latch to the breast.
This being said, if your baby won't get a wide deep latch, but you're not in pain, and she is transferring milk well, don't fight it! If it's working, it doesn't need fixing!
Now that we've talked about the mechanics of breastfeeding, lets talk about the good stuff: the milk.
Your body will produce an early milk substance called "colostrum". Colostrum is often thick and goldish in color, though the hue may range from clear to orange (the beauty of custom milk for custom babies!).
Your baby will likely nurse frequently (read more about feeding patterns here!) to build up your supply. You may or may not be able to express colostrum, as it is a thick substance. But that doesn't mean baby isn't getting any!
Colostrum is high in antibodies to protect babies, because they have a nonexistent immune system. It is also high in protein.
Colostrum is enough for babies in the first days of life! You will notice your milk starting to come in between days 3-8. Depending on a variety of factors, some women experience a delayed onset of milk. Ideally, your LC will screen you for risk factors and watch you closely if you flag. But this isn't always the case, so if you feel you are experiencing a delayed onset of transitional and mature milk, please talk to your provider and find a lactation consultant. You CAN still successfully breastfeed despite a delayed onset, you just might need some extra support and an individualized plan.
Once your milk is in, it is likely that you could experience engorgement. This is a very common breastfeeding challenge. It's a difficult time that seems like it will last forever, but it generally doesn't. You can find tips for managing engorgement here.
Another important thing for you to know is it is very common for babies to experience an initial weight loss. This is generally not a major concern. If breastfeeding is going well, baby is producing enough stools/transitional stools and you are working with a lactation consultant, supplementation with formula can often be avoided. Even in cases where supplementation is necessary, there is the possibility of supplementing with your own breastmilk if you work with an LC to develop a plan.
Breastfeeding is really beautiful and it comes easily to some, and not so easily for others. Many factors can throw our plans sideways, but know, there is almost always the ability to overcome with the right information and support.
Check out Earth Mama's lying in plan here to learn more about setting your environment up for a
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