Babies are usually born with a jolly good covering of brown fat. This is to sustain them in the early days. They don’t really need ‘feeding’ as such in the first few days, in fact, in an average ‘feed’ is only about 5-7mls at a time.
Nature is therefore perfectly designed to start this feeding thing gently. We produce colostrum in perfect amounts for their tiny stomachs. Colostrum is very high is fat and sugar to give your newborn a little boost. It also works wonders to clear your baby’s gut of all that tarry, black meconium. So, rather than thinking of ‘feeds’, these small first mouthfuls of colostrum are more like doses of ‘medicine’ that ensure your baby doesn’t get dehydrated, passes meconium and learns to breastfeed while your breasts are soft and pliable.
Colostrum is also perfectly designed to coat the walls of your baby’s immature gut which, at birth, is ‘leaky’ and vulnerable to being breached by larger proteins, such as cow’s milk, that can possibly set up allergies or intolerances.
Of course, every perfect system has it’s challenges. Ours often comes around day 2 or 3 when our babies’ stomachs are growing larger and they begin to ‘feed for England’ to stimulate the production of more milk. ‘Lactogenesis 2’ (our ‘milk coming in’) is caused by the placenta coming away and the drop in hormones this causes over the course of a few days. However, the stimulation of your baby coming to the breast frequently helps the process along and hopefully prevents the discomfort that engorgement can often cause.
It can be a bit of a shock all this – the first couple of days we often have a quiet, sleepy baby and then all of a sudden they can wake up and seem to be starving hungry! This can be our first experience of a crying, hard-to-settle baby and it can seem that we just don’t have enough milk to satisfy him!
It’s hardly surprising that the first big drop-off in the breastfeeding statistics are at day 3. When we don’t understand the way our breasts and baby are working together, it can really feel like everything is going wrong. Put this together with the fact that you may be sleep-deprived, recovering from the birth and surrounded by people who may be telling you that you need to supplement the baby with formula and things can seem overwhelming. If, on top of all this, you also have sore nipples, this breastfeeding thing can feel impossible.
So here are some top tips from a Breastfeeding Counsellor:
– Feed your baby as often as he stirs. Keep him skin to skin as much as possible and work with a skilled helper to perfect the latch so it’s comfortable for you both.
– If you feel the help you are receiving is not skilled or appropriate, demand to see the Infant Feeding Coordinator or call a breastfeeding helpline – your antenatal teacher will have given you these numbers.
– Learn to hand express – you can practice this skill before your baby is born, from around 35 weeks onwards. Here is a video.
– If your baby has low blood sugars or jaundice, there may still be not be any need for supplementation. Hand express and ‘top up’ your baby with colostrum in a syringe or spoon and ask a Breastfeeding Counsellor or Board Certified Lactation Consultant for support.
– Sleep when your baby sleeps in the first few days – the ‘cluster feeding’ often happens at the tail end of the day when you’re at your lowest ebb.
– Sleep close to your baby.
– Learn to recognise when your baby is drinking, and how to keep him drinking if he is sleepy at the breast. Here’s a great video showing a baby drinking.
Trust your body and your baby – just as your body is perfectly designed to birth, so is it set up to feed and nurture your baby in the optimal way.
Problems and challenges do sometimes crop up, but it’s rare that things can’t be sorted out with help from someone skilled and experienced.
– If you do decide to supplement with formula, remember that small amounts are better than large feeds, which can make the baby sleepy and less likely to latch back on.
– Consider NOT having formula and bottles in the house ‘just in case’. It can be hard to not be tempted at 3am when things feel difficult – and if medically indicated, formula is available 24 hours a day in hospital or in Tescos 🙂
– The first days of breastfeeding can be challenging and intense, just like labour and birth. But just as labour works the way it does for a reason, learning to dance the breastfeeding dance usually results in a feelings of pleasure and empowerment for all the family – and the music of the dance is different for everyone, so try to be led by your baby.
– Stay in the moment, take things one feed at a time and remember that you are the expert on your own baby!