Breastfeeding 101: What To Expect The First Few Days
Are you pregnant and reading this? If so, congratulations! You are already way ahead of the curve! Because you want to learn about breastfeeding before you have your baby, you are already a great, curious, and very wise mama, and owe yourself a big pat on the back.
When I first started writing this, I planned on it just being one post. But once I started writing I realized that there is a lot of information about the first few days, and each day is different. So I will be breaking it into three days, and three seperate posts. So make sure you tune in for days 2 and 3!
My goal is to give you some basics, and tell you the stuff that nobody else will, about what to expect in the hospital, and for the first few days after birth. That way, the things you might hear won’t sound like a foreign language, and hopefully, you’ll have more confidence going in.
That said, this blog post is for moms who will not have babies in the ICN (Intensive Care Nursery), that will be another blogpost. Some of what I write here is relevant to premies but it’s a very different situation. This post is for moms and babies who come through labor and delivery without major medical issues that cause separation. The vast majority of births turn out fine, and without incident, so try to breathe easy.
Breastfeeding is our biological norm and shouldn’t be intimidating. Unfortunately, our culture seems to make it that way. If you have two working breasts and a baby with a working mouth, you two should be right as rain. It’s a new skill, and like all new skills, it will take a bit of patience to learn. We’ve been doing this for tens of thousands of years successfully. We are supposed to feed our babies with our bodies, that’s biology. It’s our culture, and lack of education about early breastfeeding that has made it scary. So, with a few tips you can relax and know what to expect, know when there is something to be concerned about, and more importantly, when there isn’t.
• Birth Matters!
So, much of how your baby behaves after birth is totally dependent on how that birth goes. If you have a vaginal birth at home, at a Birth Center, or in a field of daisies, with no drug intervention, you’re not in labor very long, and you push out a nice, ripe, full term baby, you no longer need to continue reading this. Proceed to baby happiness and booby rainbows, you will be among the very few.
Epidurals, Pitocin (the medicine that makes you contract more), and long labor times can, and usually do, affect the baby. How much this will affect the baby completely depends on how much intervention was used. Usually, if you have an epidural for hours, followed by a big dose of Pitocin, you’ll have a very sleepy baby. If you have a very long labor with or without and epidural, you’ll have a very sleepy baby. If you have a cesarean you’ll have a very sleepy baby. See where I’m going here?
After you give birth, you will be exhausted. Try to remind yourself that your baby just did it all with you and they will be exhausted too. The most important thing to do right after you give birth is lots and lots of skin to skin.
• Bonding and Why Skin to Skin is so Important
Even if you have a c-section, you should be able to do skin to skin. Skin to skin literally means having the baby naked on your bare chest. If you are not at a hospital where they do this automatically, tell the staff you want your baby on your chest immediately after birth for at least an hour. Unless there is a medical reason for you to be separated from your baby, you want to do skin to skin for at least the first hour directly after birth. It takes about an hour for babies to “crawl” toward their mother’s breast and try to latch for the first time.
Skin to skin is super important! It regulates your baby’s breathing and heart rate, it calms baby as they are in their and will raise your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the “love” hormone that boosts maternal feelings, and generally gives you the warm fuzzies. Babies who are not swaddled and have lots of skin to skin contact cry less, and get through medical procedures easier, and with less stress. Mounting evidence is showing that when mother and baby do at least five hours of skin to skin per day for the first week, babies breastfeed better, and moms report feeling calmer and happier. There is also evidence showing that mothers who do skin to skin and breastfeed run a lower risk of Postpartum Depression, or PPD.
Here is a wonderful video by researcher Ann Bigelow, PhD., a professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
Also, if you’re at a hospital where they encourage you to be separated from your baby, by taking them to the nursery so “you can rest”. Say thank you. Being with your baby all the time, or “rooming in”, is very important. Unless there is a medical reason for separation, stay with your baby.