Congratulations on your new arrival! After a long wait your little one is in your arms. This is an exciting time, yet there are often lots of questions, learning curves and likely lack of sleep. It is a big transition for many. Breastfeeding and chestfeeding is natural but it is also a learned process for both mom and baby. Here are a few tips to help make your feeding journey smoother.
Here are 6 Tips to Help You Breastfeed or Chestfeed your Newborn
1. Calm and connect:
Skin-to-skin (naked chest to naked chest) time is actually important for baby’s neural development as they use all their senses in the warm comfort of familiar smells and noises. It is also a fantastic way to wake your baby to feed if your doctor requires you to do so or to calm a baby that is fussy before they latch. If baby’s feeding cues were missed, don’t worry this happens, but they need to be calmed before they are able to latch and feed. Sometimes it just takes a few seconds. Skin-to-skin time or gentle rhythmic movements like deep knee bends can be helpful (this is often a great job for your partner).
2. Get the most effective latch possible:
The way that baby attaches to the breast will set the stage for how the drinking and feeding experience will go. It’s not so much about getting a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ latch as having a latch that is effective and pain-free.
- Support along baby’s neck and spine so they can focus on the tongue and jaw muscles needed to feed.
- Start nose to nipple so that when they root and tilt their head back with a wide mouth, the nipple points to the roof of the mouth.
- Bring baby to breast by applying gentle pressure with your wrist or forearm to baby’s upper back to help them lift their chin off their chest into drinking position.
- Baby’s chin touches the breast first and the upper lip then completes the seal. The lower jaw and tongue are the ‘business end’ cupping the areola and drawing it into the mouth.
Troubleshooting: If baby’s mouth is not open wide and the latch is shallow, correct baby’s latch by adjusting the position. Move baby in the direction of their feet and apply gentle pressure through their upper back to help them extend their chin off their chest and into the breast. If baby’s mouth is having difficulty opening wide, try another position such as reclined back or side lying and seek help from a lactation consultant.
3. Keep baby drinking:
Hand expression is a useful tool to perk up a sleepy newborn, provide a little supplement by spoon or cup after the breast and it can help relieve breast engorgement if this complication arises. Place your thumb and pointer finger on your areola about an inch or two from the nipple. Push back into the chest wall and then squeeze your thumb and finger together.
Breast compressions help your baby access the available milk. If baby is getting sleepy or impatient or if their latch is less effective, increasing the flow of milk or colostrum from the breast with your own hands will be helpful. As baby starts to suck, take a big handful of breast far back close to your chest wall, then apply firm but gentle pressure consistently until baby pauses. Then you can release the compression to let the milk ducts refill. This pressure behind the milk ducts paired with the suction of the latch will help move more milk from breast to baby. This is a great tool for the early days to ensure the thick colostrum is getting into baby, and also to keep a sleepy or fussy baby drinking.
Don’t be afraid to switch to the second side if baby’s drinking has slowed. A newborn will often fall asleep without ‘dessert’ unless you take action, break the latch and move them over to the other side where colostrum or a let-down of milk is waiting for them.
4. Know when your baby is full:
It is normal for our bodies to make only small amounts of the rich colostrum as baby’s stomach can only fit a small volume. In turn, it is normal for baby to feed very frequently until your milk comes in on day 3-5. If baby is sucking at the breast it does not necessarily mean that they are drinking. Watch for the deeper longer suck that indicates a swallow that often follows more rapid sucks. If you are unsure if milk is transferring to baby, use breast compressions to help transfer the milk. We also know that what goes in must come out. If you are unsure if baby is peeing or pooing enough, reach out for help immediately.
A baby that is sucking at the breast without active swallows is asking for more milk. A newborn that does not get milk efficiently enough will often fade off to sleep despite not finishing their meal. If this is the case, wake them up with a diaper change or simply lay them on their back on a flat and safe surface, and then offer a second side when they start to wake up and cue. Next time, think about adding breast compressions or switching sides earlier to keep baby awake and breastfeeding. When a baby is actively drinking and starts to take more breaks then comes off the breast or falls asleep, you know that they have chosen to finish their meal and are likely full.
5. Think of yourself too:
It is also important to think about your own position. Bring baby to you rather than hunching over and causing yourself back pain. This will help the milk flow. If a feed is becoming stressful, take a deep breath and change something up (change positions, pass baby to your partner to calm them, drink a glass of water). Pain is not normal and you do not need to suffer through it. A lactation consultant can help guide you to a more comfortable latch.
There are so many variables that can make infant feeding more challenging for some, and all this while you recover from the delivery and transition to parenthood. It is so important to give yourself credit for all the effort and care put into feeding your baby even if the journey is not as expected.
6. Reach out for chestfeeding or breastfeeding help early
Make breastfeeding or chestfeeding comfortable and enjoyable. If it is not, reach out for help early. A qualified International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is uniquely equipped to support families through a wide range of feeding challenges: Finding the correct chestfeeding or breastfeeding position for you and your baby, harnessing you with knowledge and troubleshooting tools, and empowering you to identify and address your baby’s feeding needs. Early support often minimizes undue stress.
Everyone’s breast or chestfeeding journey is different and just like all aspects of parenting, there will be highs and lows. Take it one feed at a time and reach out for help if you have any concerns at all. We are social creatures that are meant to raise our babies in a community. You are not alone. Book an appointment with a lactation consultant today to help you reach your feeding goals.
Tristan Kiraly, RN, IBCLC
Special thanks to Rose LeBlanc, IBCLC