Breastfeeding in those first days after you come home from the hospital can be both amazing and incredibly stressful. It is a time of bonding as a new family, as you and your baby learn about each other and figure out nursing in the midst of sleep deprivation and roller-coaster hormones.
While everyone’s journey looks a little bit different, here are some tips that can help you get through those first eight weeks!
Learn your baby’s cues
It may seem like newborns don’t do much, but there are a number of ways that they can communicate with you about their needs! Learning the cues that tell you when they are hungry can help you offer a feeding before they reach the point of crying and frantic hunger, which always makes latching more difficult. These signs can include:
- sucking on their hands
- rooting with their mouth
- looking for the breast
- becoming active and restless.
The more you nurse, the more milk gets removed, and the more you are telling your body to produce, so frequent nursing is what establishes your supply and helps your baby to gain weight. The biggest challenge in the beginning is often getting a good latch, where baby opens wide and latches onto a big mouthful of areola, not just onto the nipple.
It can take practice! If latching is painful or your baby is fussing a lot, trying different positions like the football hold, laid-back breastfeeding or side-lying in bed. When a feeding isn’t going well, take a breath and know that as long as baby is fed, you’re doing ok.
Every nursing session is a fresh start!
Spend lots of time skin-to-skin
The transition from their cozy life inside of you to the big, cold world can be a rough one for your baby, and they still need to stay close to you – there’s a reason the first 3 months of life are called the fourth trimester!
One of the best things you can do for your milk supply and for your baby, starting immediately after birth, is to spend time in skin-to-skin contact. Doing this will:
- regulate your baby’s temperature
- calm their mood
- stabilize their heartbeat and breathing.
The hormonal effects of having your baby close by will encourage your body’s milk production, not to mention the positive mood effects of all that oxytocin from snuggling your newborn!
Make your nest (your breastfeeding nest)
In the beginning, it can feel like you do nothing but breastfeed, and that’s because it’s probably true! Newborns typically need to eat about every two hours or 8-12 times per day, and in the beginning it’s not unusual for these feedings to take 45 minutes to an hour! That’s a lot of time spent breastfeeding!
Wherever you plan to nurse the most, whether your bed, the couch, or a nursery glider, make it a comfortable nest by keeping what you need easily within arm’s reach such as:
- diaper changing supplies
- burp cloths
- snacks and hydration for you
- a phone charger.
Not having to get up or send someone to get something you forgot across the room makes the hours spent on newborn feedings and snuggles less stressful.
Not only are you feeding a new life, you have also just gone through the incredibly physically depleting experience of labor and delivery! Eating nutritious food and staying hydrated is essential. Nursing mothers need approximately 500 extra calories per day, and milk production is very sensitive to any dehydration.
Stock up on some easy meals ahead of time – especially foods that can be eaten one-handed while holding a baby! – and keep a water bottle or electrolyte drink handy throughout the day. Challenge yourself to hydrate during every nursing session.
Keep a record
The stereotype of the forgetful “mom brain” is definitely rooted in the reality of hormones and sleep deprivation of the early postpartum days!
It can be so hard to remember all the details of exactly when your baby last ate, slept, or pooped, and at the same time it’s normal to be consumed with worrying that these things are happening enough, especially if there’s feeding or weight gain concerns.
Find some way to record whenever your baby eats or you change a diaper, whether that’s a notepad next to your bed, a note in your phone, or one of the many baby tracker apps out there. Regular wet and dirty diapers are reassurance that your baby is eating enough, and you’ll feel more at ease not having to mentally keep track.
Doing this also makes it easy to bring this information to your pediatrician or lactation consultant when you see them!
Take care of your own mental health
Being a first time parent of a newborn can be overwhelming, as your life is pretty much turned upside down overnight, and it’s also not uncommon to have some bumps in the road as you begin the journey of breastfeeding. Postpartum depression and anxiety are also much more common than most people realize.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for some support if you are feeling overwhelmed or down – your OB/GYN and pediatrician are a great place to start to find resources. Taking care of yourself also includes incorporating self-care into your daily life! It’s easy as moms to put everyone else’s needs first, especially with a new baby.
Make a point to pick one thing each day that you do for YOU such as:
- hand the baby to a family member while you take a shower
- take a nap instead of using baby’s naptime for chores
- take five minutes to sit quietly with a cup of tea.
Use your community
Before your baby arrives, start thinking about who your circle of support will be, beyond just your spouse. Do you have close friends you could ask to bring by a meal? Extended family willing to come not just to admire the baby, but also to clean your house or bring some groceries?
Especially when you’re breastfeeding, the ways others can help with the baby are limited, but that doesn’t mean you should have to do everything yourself. Don’t be afraid to express your needs and let people know what would be most helpful for your situation!
Talk to an expert
If you are struggling with any aspect of breastfeeding, making an appointment with a lactation consultant can be a lifesaver. They can help:
- problem-solve a difficult latch
- perform a weighted feed to see how much milk your baby is taking in
- answer questions about bottle feeding and pumping
- tell you what is normal at every stage.
Most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff, but there are also many in community and private practice who can come to you for a home visit!
Breastfeeding support groups, such as La Leche League and Baby Cafe, are a wonderful way to get support from experienced moms, and connect with other moms who are going through the same things. Also be sure to ask your pediatrician who might have one on staff.
Focus on the big picture
Cuddle your baby. Nurse frequently. Get whatever sleep you can. Have grace towards yourself for not getting anything else done. If you and your baby are safe and fed, the day is a success!
These early days can be oh-so-hard, and may seem endless, but one day you will suddenly realize that time has flown by, your snuggly newborn has turned into an energetic toddler, and the challenges have all changed!
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I am a public health nurse and Certified Lactation Counselor, and have worked with families in the hospital and through home visits providing pregnancy and parenting education and breastfeeding support. In 2019, my husband and I welcomed our daughter and I began my own journey of parenting as a breastfeeding mother. I am passionate about supporting healthy families, and love helping new moms learn about feeding their babies!