I remember thinking at one point (pre-baby obviously) that breastfeeding was the way to go because it was easy. Now, after years of working with women and their newborn babies, I know that many women walk into the hospital thinking they will breastfeed, but walk out bottle feeding. We have this delusion that breastfeeding is going to be a breeze because it is the natural thing to do. Let me just cut to the chase and tell you that breastfeeding the normal newborn is tough, much tougher than most people will tell you.
Now, I don’t say this to scare you. I am quite frank with my patients and tell them what is to be expected. My motto is “set your expectations low so when it goes better, it is truly awesome!”. Call me a pessimist, it works.
A list of what to expect
I have learned quite a bit from working with the mama and baby couplet. This list is just a small fraction of what bits of info I have gleaned. My hope is that you do not get discouraged by this list, but instead are well informed for what the experience may be like. Knowledge is power.
So, what can make breastfeeding the normal newborn tough?
- You are exhausted (usually) and that, ladies, is a no brainer! Sometimes, labor can persist for days before baby finally makes an appearance. Even if it only lasted for 12 hours, pushing a tiny human out is tough work. Family members and visitors don’t make it any better by interrupting your sleep. Diffuse some essential oils and get some good sleep for a better chance at handling breastfeeding or anything really!
- Baby is sleepy. But, like I said, delivery is tough and it is super tough on babies too! Newborns tend to be SUPER sleepy for the first 24 hours. The first feeding may go swimmingly, but then baby is impossible to wake. This is completely normal and not of concern with a normal newborn. This is a good time for hand expressed drops of colostrum and skin to skin.
- Baby is uncoordinated. Yep, even if it is a natural process, most babies really have no idea how to suck. This can be made worse by long labors or sore and swollen heads (from the birth canal). Skin to skin is your best friend if your baby is uncoordinated.
- You are new to this too! It always use to shock me how many women would think that they totally should know what to do with breastfeeding. Let me just put this out there. Breastfeeding a newborn is tough and definitely not as simple as putting baby to the breast. There are holds to learn, latches to check, and comfort levels to monitor. Give yourself a bit of grace and just know that you are super new to this skill too. In about 1 weeks time you will have a handle on it.
- It can be a bit painful. This is where a lot of women get really tripped up. Don’t just assume that the latch is good with the first few feedings. Let a professional assist and evaluate that latch to be sure baby has a good latch. This is very important. It only takes a couple bad latches to lead to sore nipples. Once sore nipples happen, it just gets worse and worse until the latch is improved. Let a nurse or lactation consultant assess the latch, educate you on a good latch, and assist with a poor latch.
- It takes a lot of practice. Matter of fact, it takes about 8-12 practice sessions a day:). No, but really, baby needs to eat a lot. Just take it in stride and know that all this practicing will help you get better with breastfeeding.
- Babies eat…a lot! Newborns have a very strong urge to suck (especially the night after birth or after that 24 hour mark). They will be at the breast almost continually. Don’t be concerned if this is the case. This is a two-fold process. Not only does this almost constant feeding help them get practice, it also causes your body to recognize that your baby needs to eat. Milk production is based on stimulation. The more nipple stimulation (from sucking) the more milk you will produce.
So whats a mama to do when her baby is not a champ with breastfeeding?
Skin to skin has been shown to give babies a more coordinated suck and stabilize their blood sugar. Not to mention that it really helps with bonding. Also, practice makes progress. You will make a lot of progress because you will be practicing about every 2-3 hours. Get the help that is offered and seek out help that isn’t offered. Even when you are home you should have access to assistance.
In all reality, whether you have a sleepy baby (or mama) or neither one of you really know what to do, the fact is that in a few days it will be like second nature. Just know that all the things listed above can be completely normal for your normal newborn (and you) to experience.
Best of luck and please let me know if you have questions or comments.
Here are some of my favorite resources.
Kelly mom is an evidence based resource for breastfeeding. It has pretty much any info that you can think of that pertains to breastfeeding.
Le Leche League is a group of women and professionals (all professionals at breastfeeding) that assist mama’s with breastfeeding. They tend to do at home visits and group sessions (like support groups). This varies from region to region though.