By: Kristen Eriksen
My last blog was about teaching parents about caring for themselves and their babies while hospitalized. This time, I want to talk about breastfeeding. I am not going to reinforce the “breast is best” idea or discuss all that is good about breastfeeding your baby. There are books, pamphlets, flyers, blogs, studies and advocates everywhere that you can find to learn these facts. There are also many reasons why some new moms choose not to breastfeed their babies. I am not writing to debate either form of feeding your baby. What is the old adage? “Different strokes for different folks.”
If you choose to breastfeed, or are debating whether it is right for you and your family, here are some suggestions from your OB nurse blogger.
Discuss feeding options with your obstetrician or nurse midwife. They can see if there are any suggestions to start prenatally. You cannot breastfeed on certain medications, so this should be discussed. Your provider can assess if your anatomy is good, or if there are some things for you to do that may make it easier before you deliver. It may be more difficult if you have had any breast surgery, implants or reduction, but it is not impossible.
Hospitals provide prenatal breastfeeding classes and support groups for nursing moms. Take advantage of the services there. They are provided because they can be very helpful and there is a need for them.
The time to try breastfeeding is in the hospital, when you have lots of support. There are specially certified lactation consultants who are the ultimate experts in breastfeeding. Every OB nurse has special training and expertise to help with nursing as well. Even if you are an experienced breastfeeding mom, there are many babies who can trick you into thinking that they are nursing fine when they are not! Let your nurses at least check that your baby latches on well to avoid problems later. We have a keen eye to spot little things that can really make a big difference in both the nutrition of your baby and in the comfort level for both you and your baby.
Usually, babies are wide awake for the first few hours after birth. If you can, this is the best time to start trying to breastfeed. After that nice awake time, most babies may be quite sleepy for the next 24 to 36 hours. They really can’t decide if it is more important to sleep or to eat. We wake sleeping babies to try to nurse every 2-3 hours to give them practice, get a little nourishment into them, and to start the process of increased milk production to continue to feed the baby. On that first day, unfortunately, the babies may keep falling asleep while feeding, and don’t get a good feeding. If this happens, ask your nurse for help. We have a ton of little tricks up our sleeves to help you. However, moms sometimes postpone feedings for a number of reasons: the baby is asleep, they want a nap/shower/meal, or because they have visitors. This is a big mistake!!! Your body will make milk for the baby, but decides how much milk to produce depending on how much the baby demands. If you don’t nurse, or nurse very infrequently, your body makes less milk. If your baby doesn’t get enough milk, he/she may have a drop in blood sugar, and get lethargic and ill.
After the sleepy 24 hour period, most babies want to nurse very frequently. Unfortunately, parents get “psyched out” on the first day because the baby falls asleep instead of eating. I often hear parents say “I don’t think he is hungry” or “She doesn’t seem to like it.” Then, on the second day, babies tend to be insatiable. I often here “I must not have enough or any milk, because he won’t stop nursing.” These statements are not true! Your baby is doing what he/she needs to do. They are tired, just like you are, right after they are born. Then they wake up and say “Where’s the beef?” or should I say “Where’s the milk?” Your body makes milk in a supply and demand way, so if a baby demands more, you will make more. You know babies are impatient! Initially, you will have colostrum, which is lighter first milk. Your heavier milk comes in 3-5 days after you deliver. The baby wants to make it sooner rather than later.
Ask for help with positioning the baby in different ways. Some positions are more awkward than others. Handling your new precious infant is hard enough without adding trying to hold him or her like a football to feed! Try all different feeding positions while you are in the hospital, and let us help you.
Sometimes, it is recommended to pump to help increase your milk supply, if your baby is not nursing well, or is unable to nurse initially because of medical issues. The nurses and lactation consultants are there to help you with this, too.
If you want to breast feed, limit the use of any bottles or pacifiers unless absolutely necessary. The nurses and doctors will make sure that the baby is not dehydrated, and doesn’t lose too much weight. Infants are weighed daily, and it is expected that they will lose weight. We just make sure it is not too much. Babies have to learn how to nurse, and it is not as easy as you might think. If you add bottles, some babies get confused. If you use a pacifier, you are not feeding the baby when they need to eat and help increase your milk supply. If we really need to supplement the infant with formula, we will do this as little as possible, and in a way that will still support breastfeeding.
Our goal for the most part is to have breast fed babies EXCLUSIVELY breast feed. This is the best way to really support breastfeeding. After several weeks, your milk supply will be established, and then you can try a bottle if you wish.
Our lactation consultants also have a clinic for moms and babies to come back, get a weight check and get more assistance with breast feeding. Sometimes, you will be referred to a visiting nurse, who can assist with breastfeeding and weight checks when you go home. This may or may not be covered by your insurance company.
Remember that you and your baby come first. Don’t postpone feeding your baby for any reason. Ask your visitors to step out so you can effectively feed your baby if you are uncomfortable with feeding in front of them. Get the baby going, and then cover up, if you want to let them come back in. There are some great covers and wraps that you can use so no one can see a thing. This adorable floppy hat is my favorite! Just pop it on the baby’s head once you are nursing, and you are all covered. No need to struggle with a blanket or wrap that is awkward to adjust.
Lastly, take advantage of the expertise that your nurses have while you are in the hospital. We only have 2-4 days to help you. Let us do the best we can for you!!!!!!