INITIATE FEEDINGS IN BABY’S REM SLEEP: Breastfeeding is easier when you feed on cue. But by the time new moms notice the cues and get comfy, a gently lip-smacking baby may by crying. A crying baby is not one that is relaxing to latch or easy to get latched well. Many well-intentioned supporters will tell you, “please pee/shower/nap/get dressed/etc. first,” and I’m all for taking a bit of ‘you’ time, but it’s silly to always start 5 minutes late – you will feel better when your baby is calm when you get her to the breast. UNICEF’s Baby-Friendly Initiative now lists REM sleep as the first feeding cue, so when you notice baby’s sleep state change get them positioned – they sometimes will latch without even opening their eyes.
GET A GOOD LATCH: One of the best things to do is lay back, get comfortable, bring baby onto you, and let your baby initiate the latch. Laid back breastfeeding requires no major instructions. Yet sometimes it is helpful to understand some principles at work behind comfortable breastfeeding if you’re having troubles or just like more details.
It can help to start SKIN TO SKIN, baby’s whole body facing you (not only belly to belly but both knees facing you), and nipple pointed to nose (not mouth – reason being you need more space at the top of baby’s mouth for the nipple since the bottom of the mouth is taken up by the baby’s tongue – also baby will open wider from this starting point). Initiate quickly after you see the very wide open mouth, but wait for the wide open mouth patiently. If you’re seated upright, really make sure your baby is supported by your arm and not the nursing pillow so that you can pull baby up and in at the right moment. Please don’t lean breast toward your baby because you end up giving all nipple skin and not breast tissue.
If you start all this in a REM cycle you have plenty of time to get a comfortable latch.
NURSE IN SHORT, FREQUENT INTERVALS and START RIGHT AWAY: Check it out – your levels of prolactin don’t spike based on the total number of breastfeeding hours you log – they spike when the distance between feedings is close. Each time you get a spike in prolactin you produce more milk. Some mamas get into a routine if they find breastfeeding challenging where they don’t nurse for a long time (3 hours turns accidentally into 4 by the time they get everything ready to nurse), and then they keep the baby on for an hour+ when they do nurse. This just perpetuates the challenges of breastfeeding. If you shorten each nursing session (10-30+ minutes with some snacky 5 and 7 min feeds peppered in throughout the day), and bring baby to the breast more frequently (less schedule, more on cue, but if you’re dying to hear a number: 10-16+ times day AND night over a 24 hour period), you will produce more milk, baby will transfer the milk easier so they don’t need to linger forever during each session, and the whole thing will go more easily. If you really need to pee, nurse for 5 mins, take baby off, go pee, bring baby back on and finish the session. That will mean 2 spikes in prolactin during this pee-interrupted nursing sessions.
At the hospital, I have heard staff say that some babies aren’t really ready to nurse in the first day and THIS SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE. When mothers and babies are separated there’s just less syncronicity so they may appear uninterested during some of their opportunities. If you are separated from your baby or don’t get a good latch right away, don’t despair! Just stimulate your supply yourself with a simple hand expression technique (sometime in the first hour even for just 10 minutes, and again as much as possible in the absence of a straightforwardly nursing baby), and keep baby with you (on you) as much as possible.
Remember that many of these “rules” can be broken if everything’s working well. Please spend time with other nursing mothers in general, and consult a lactation consultant or counselor (IBCLC or CLC) if you have concerns (and certainly before agreeing to supplement). Your well-meaning pediatrician may not have a good protocol to protect your breastfeeding relationship.
One more word to the wise – you have enough milk! Doubting it causes you to do all kinds of things that can actually hinder breastfeeding. You don’t need proof that your heart is beating or that your stomach is digesting – trust your body to do what it needs to do.
Please call me if you want to talk or have any questions!
Julia Mannes, CD(DONA), CLC, RYT, and mom
Labor & Postpartum Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Yoga instructor