Breastfeeding Guide for First-Time Mothers
Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby. It provides numerous short- and long-term benefits for both you and them.
You may have many questions about breastfeeding. Below, we’ll explain why breastfeeding matters and how to begin breastfeeding as soon as your baby arrives.
What Is Breastfeeding?
As soon as your baby is born, they will need food just like the rest of us. Newborn babies and infants cannot tolerate solid foods, so the only options you have for feeding are:
· Bottle feeding with infant formula
If you decide to breastfeed your baby, you will provide nourishment through the milk that is produced naturally in your breasts during and after pregnancy.
Infant formula is the alternative to breastfeeding. It does not provide as much nutrition as breast milk. Still, it is sometimes used for babies who can’t breastfeed because they or their mother are unable.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is an optimal food source for an infant.
Benefits of breastfeeding for baby:
- Provides the best nutrition
- Easy to digest
- Helps babies gain weight
- Helps babies bond with their mother
- Contains antibodies to help the immune system
- Decreases risk of respiratory illness, ear infection, asthma, allergies, diarrhea, and other health conditions
- Linked to higher IQ in some studies
- May lower the risk of certain cancers, obesity, and diabetes
- Lower risk of SIDS in some studies
Benefits of breastfeeding for mom:
- Helps her bond with her baby
- For some, helps her get back to her pre-pregnancy weight sooner
- Lowers her risk for ovarian and breast cancer
- May reduce uterine bleeding
- Lowers risk for osteoporosis
How to Prepare for Breastfeeding During Your Pregnancy
You will start breastfeeding right away after giving birth and while you’re still at the hospital.
It can be confusing to know how to get your baby to latch or attach to your nipple. Therefore, nurses or a lactation consultant can help you get started. Lactation is just another word for how your breasts produce milk.
To help make the transition to breastfeeding easier, it’s best to start learning and preparing while you are still pregnant and have time!
Here are some steps you can take:
- Consider taking a breastfeeding class. These are often available through your local hospital or WIC office.
- Make sure you're going to all of your prenatal care visits. If you have additional questions about breastfeeding, ask your provider at these appointments. You can always rely on your WIC office to provide you with breastfeeding information as well.
Breastfeeding for the First Time: What to Expect
When you give birth, your breasts will produce a substance that it is different from regular breast milk. It is called colostrum, and it is yellow and thick. This will be enough to feed your baby for about the first three days. Later, your thinner breast milk will come in, which is white. Keep in mind that you may not see colostrum or milk coming out of your breasts, and you may not feel their presence in your breasts as you might expect. However, this will not indicate whether or not your breasts are actually producing milk.
Right after your baby is born, a nurse will dry them off and place them on your chest. This skin-to-skin contact is important. Your baby will begin to nuzzle your breast, open their mouth, and lick and try latching to your nipple.
A nurse or lactation consultant can help make sure your baby is latching well and is in the right position. If they are in the wrong position, it may feel uncomfortable, or the baby may not get enough milk. Breastfeeding for the first time may feel strange and uncomfortable. Over the first few days, you may experience some soreness because the skin is not used to being used in this manner. You should not experience cracks or bleeding. If you do, contact your lactation consultant or WIC office for assistance.
For about the first six weeks, babies will need to be fed every one to three hours. It is normal to feel like you are breastfeeding all the time. Listen to your baby, and nurse every time they show signs of hunger. Examples of hunger cues include moving their head to the side as if they are looking to latch, putting their hands in their mouth and grunting or crying.
If you are feeding your baby when they show signs of hunger and they are having several poopy and pee diapers each day and gaining weight, this will indicate that you are making enough milk.
Breast engorgement can occur when your breasts produce more milk than your baby is using. It is common among moms who breastfeed. If your breasts are engorged, they may feel hard, swollen, and painful. Sometimes, they will feel lumpy and warm to the touch, and the nipples will flatten. This can make breastfeeding difficult.
To relieve breast engorgement, you must encourage your milk flow and stimulate milk production. You can do this yourself with a technique called hand expression:
- Wash your hands.
- Get a small, clean container to collect your colostrum or breast milk
- Find some privacy, and get into a comfortable position. Try to relax.
Begin gently massaging your breasts. Create a C-shape with your fingers and thumb, and hold it around your breast. Without touching the areola, press, compress, and release your fingers and thumb (release without removing your hand from your breast and still keeping the C-shape.) It can help to lean forward.
Experiment with these techniques until you experience a spray of milk from each nipple. Hand expression may take 20 to 30 minutes.
Remember that every mother has a unique experience with breastfeeding. Remember that it's a learning process. It may not go perfectly at first, and that's alright. Keep trying.