When I gave birth to my first daughter, I think I was like many other moms. I pictured her nuzzling in the crook of my arm and immediately nursing, minutes after birth. After all I had studied this – I knew about the benefits of breastfeeding (less diarrhea and ear infections, to name a few, woo hoo!). I knew about the calories per oz of breastmilk (20 kcal/oz!). I even knew some of the lactation consultants mantras (wide mouth, cover the areola!). What I didn’t have was personal experience, problem solving techniques or a newborn who had ever breastfed before.
Thankfully for some mom’s, breastfeeding does happen easily. For the rest of us, here are some tidbits that I have learned on my breastfeeding journey of 3 little ones (including twins!)
There are many different ways to hold and nurse a newborn. As a newborn does not have much head strength, she has difficulty repositioning herself for optimal latching and requires a lot of help from mom. If mom supports both the baby’s head and her breast, latching is much easier. This can be done through two different holds: the cross-cradle hold or the “football” hold.
- Cross-cradle: To feed from the right breast, your newborn lies across your abdomen with her head in your left hand. Your right hand guides your breast to her mouth.
- Football: To feed from the right breast, your newborn lies under your armpit with her head in your right hand (like a football player protecting the ball under his arm) and your left hand guides the breast.
Both of these holds allow you to help your newborn learn to latch without having to manage the entire breast. As your newborn gets stronger and more experienced, she will be able to latch without any difficulty and really any hold will do. Also, practicing a variety of different holds promotes emptying of different milk ducts and helps prevent clogged ducts down the road.
This refers to your baby grasping the nipple and feeding. The goal is for your newborn to cover the whole areola (ring of darker skin surrounding the nipple) with her mouth. This allows for better milk drainage and more comfortable nursing. If your baby has a shallow latch, or only sucks on the tip of the nipple, you will likely end up with very sore nipples and difficulty feeding. To create a deeper latch, try gently touching your nipple beneath your baby’s nose and stroking down toward the upper lip. This should stimulate your baby to open her mouth. When you see a wide open mouth, bring baby’s head close to your breast with the bottom lip at the bottom of the aerola. This should allow baby to pull the nipple deeply into her mouth. When I was first learning to nurse, I used to repeat to myself “wider, wider, wider – now!” to remind myself to be patient for the wide open mouth.
Supply and demand
Many moms worry that they are not producing enough milk in those first few days to sustain their newborn. Fear not! Your baby is getting colostrum, a sticky yellow liquid that is exactly formatted for your newborns nutritional needs. The protein, electrolyte and antibody content are different than the milk that “comes in” after a few days. Your newborn’s belly is teeny-tiny and does not need much to fill it up. As baby grows so does your milk supply. The very best thing you can do to increase your supply is to nurse frequently.
If you and your little one are having a hard time connecting, please reach out! My daughter’s pediatrician (yes, pediatrician’s kids have pediatricians too!) was critical in helping us adjust our latch and figure out how to make nursing work for us. A visit with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant can make a world of difference for both you and your baby. Breastfeeding can be tough, but it’s worth every ounce of effort!