The birth of a first baby is exciting but rather daunting for most first-time moms-to-be. Many of us build confidence from antenatal and new baby preparation classes, reading about what to expect and asking advice from experienced moms, often our own. Others take comfort from the fact that the baby is going to be born whatever mental preparations are made or not. Birthing experts will be there to help them through it anyway!
Breastfeeding for first-timers may also present an emotional and mental challenge. The good news is that babies are hot-wired with the instinct to breastfeed capably. They instinctively open their mouths and stick their tongues out, turn their heads from side to side, and when they find the nipple they latch on and suckle. This behaviour appears at birth and lasts for about three months.
Most midwives initiate the process by putting the newborn to the breast and helping mom to express colostrum (first nourishing milk) into the baby’s mouth. It is important to give mom and baby all the time they need in case mom is tired from the birth or medication, or baby needs to rest while on the breast. Moms-in-waiting can check beforehand with their clinic, midwife or doctor if this will happen. Evidence suggests that early skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby stimulates natural breastfeeding behaviour and promotes bonding, reduces crying and warms baby.
Babies also know how much they need at any time. Sometimes they want a three-course meal, at others, just a thirst quencher. While moms may worry that baby isn’t getting enough because she can’t see how much milk is disappearing, the baby will communicate that all is well by putting on weight and showing contentment.
Discussing breastfeeding before the birth, and getting ongoing support after it from experienced mothers who believe in the benefits of breastfeeding really helps, and usually results in a longer breastfeeding period. It’s worth considering contacting the La Leche League for advice. This is an international network of volunteer moms who are committed to helping other mothers with breastfeeding. They are a fount of knowledge and comfort regarding feeding on demand, weaning, supplementing and other new baby concerns. Because they are volunteers with their own busy schedules, build in enough time for them to get back to you.
With babies already knowing how to ensure their next square meal, mom can concentrate on other important things. She needs to ensure that baby latches correctly onto the breast over the whole areola. This is important to prevent nipple pain or damage. If the baby hasn’t attached correctly, insert a clean little finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the suction and re-position her. Never just pull your baby off as this can be seriously painful.
Breast care is also mom’s domain:
•rinse breasts at least twice a day without soap;
•dry them carefully after feeds;
•air them as much as possible to keep them dry (short topless sun tanning sessions are always a fun option);
•use something to stop leaking but not waterproofed pads which exclude air;
•plain lanolin cream rubbed in twice daily helps replace the natural oils and keeps nipples supple;
•don’t let baby suck too long on one side till nipples have toughened up to the task.
Mom also needs to increase her fluid intake to help milk production. Putting out a jug and glass of water will remind her to drink when she passes by. She also needs good quality nutrition before the birth and during breastfeeding, both for her health and for the development of the baby. The Mom2B® range of nutritional shakes can take away a lot of worry about this during those first busy days. It is best practice to start baby on a different breast each time and to move your baby to the other side after two minutes, increasing by a minute a day. This gives each breast a turn to be stimulated by the baby’s hungriest nursing.
New baby’s early days at home are usually quite hectic while mom learns to manage her newbie and the other way around! So go easy on yourself and keep a sense of humour. You will look back on this precious time and realise that you did well. And if all fails, phone a friend at La Leche.