The first few moments
During the hour immediately after their arrival into the world, most babies will enjoy what is termed ‘the golden hour,’ when they are awake, alert and seeking out their mother. Even if simply left to nature, most will find their mother’s breast, suckle and start breastfeeding. This is the ideal time to introduce them to the breast, and your maternity staff will help you to do this.
In the following days, while you’re recovering from delivering your baby, spend as much ‘skin-to-skin’ time with them as you can, so that your baby becomes used to the smell and feel of you by:
- Talking to them gently (they will already be familiar with your voice; also your partner’s voice, and others they have heard regularly whilst in the womb) and the sound of your heartbeat.
- Stroking their skin, breathing in the scent of them and letting them sleep on your chest (‘tummy to mummy’ – and/or daddy!) for extended periods during the first two or three weeks of life.
- Allowing them free access to your breasts and to feed as often as they wish. The more often your baby suckles and chooses to start breastfeeding, the more colostrum (and later, milk) will be produced.
Physical separation from their mother after birth can cause the stress hormone, Cortisol, to be released into a baby’s blood stream, and this has now been shown to restrict the essential union of the synapses (think ‘electrical wires!’) in the baby’s brain. This in turn has been associated with emotional health and behavioural issues in later life. Separation from her baby causes a similar release of Cortisol in the mother which is linked to reduced oxytocin production (leading to poor milk delivery) and postpartum depression. See study here.
Adapting to their new surroundings
We cannot realistically expect our babies simply to accept being suddenly exposed after birth to bright lights, changes in temperature, unfamiliar sounds and not feeling the comfort and reassurance of their mother’s body around them. Babies who are gently transitioned over two or three weeks to adapt to their new surroundings are shown to start breastfeeding more effectively, cry less, and sleep better than those who are simply put into a cot and expected to cope with it.
Your baby may be quite sleepy for the first few days, but colostrum is extremely calorific, and provides everything they need from infrequent feeds in the early days until your milk comes in. Colostrum is described as ‘the most important meal your child will ever have’ – don’t be tempted to ruin that!
The all important latch
Your milk will naturally be produced from around day 3 following delivery, in response to the changes in your hormones following delivery. At this point, your baby will gradually start to feed more frequently and vigorously. Run your own tongue backwards along the mid-line of the roof of your mouth as far as you can. At the back of your hard palate, you will feel an archway, beyond which the roof of your mouth becomes soft – this is the area your nipple needs to be inside your baby’s mouth. If it’s not quite there, they will crush and bruise your nipple under the hard palate. Imperfect feeding will be uncomfortable, and will affect how much milk your baby can take from the breast, also the amount of milk your breasts produce. If feeding hurts, or doesn’t feel quite right, be sure to get help to ensure your latch is perfect – if you continue to feed without modifying the latch, you will damage your nipples – just like wearing new shoes that seemed fine when you bought them, but are now creating blisters. Damaged nipples will be infinitely more excruciating! A perfect latch is pain-free and is fundamental to successful breastfeeding.
And finally, remember that babies arrive with plenty of fluid on board – they don’t need either water or formula if they visit the breast regularly, and giving bottles will not only confuse their feeding technique, but will interfere with the natural transition of your colostrum to milk and may cause engorgement which can be extremely uncomfortable.
Trained midwife, general nurse and homeopath, Alison Lovett, has spent over 30 years supporting new mothers to breastfeed their babies. She offers prompt video crisis consultations for all breastfeeding problems. For full details of all her support services, please visit TheLatch.co.uk