Tips for breastfeeding a newborn – from first latch to cluster feeding – how to survive those first few weeks!
Breastfeeding a newborn is a pretty exciting time.
Not only are you trying to bond with your baby and live on very little sleep, but you are likely feeling a little emotional and stressed about how your baby is eating.
Are they eating enough?
Are they eating too much?
Do I have enough milk?
These are all common questions that most breastfeeding moms will encounter during those first few weeks – and they are totally normal. However, I think many new moms lack the support they need – especially during those first few weeks…and they might feel alone as they learn how to breastfeed.
However, there are a few things I think you can do to make your breastfeeding journey start out on the right foot. Breastfeeding a newborn is a whole different story over breastfeeding a one-year-old.
It’s just different.
So if you are about to have a baby – or your baby has just arrived – I hope that these tips will help!
Perfecting the Latch
Ah, latch. It seems like such a simple thing, but I believe it’s probably the source of the most stress when it comes to nursing your newborn.
Something that is important to remember is that it is called BREASTfeeding – not nipple feeding. Your baby needs to get a full mouth of the breast, and they shouldn’t just be hanging on to the nipple. A poor latch can cause nipple pain, poor milk transfer, etc.
So how do you get the perfect latch? Well, you want to make sure baby opens their mouth as WIDE as possible. This is one of the best videos out there on how to achieve a deep latch.
Skin to Skin
Skin to skin is SO important! It helps the body know that it should produce milk, it can help regulate baby’s body temperature, and it encourages baby to nurse when he or she wants to.
If possible, do skin to skin with your baby as soon after birth as you can. This obviously won’t always be possible – your baby might be in the NICU, or you may be recovering from a C-section. And that is okay. I would just recommend doing skin to skin when you can, and as frequently as you can. Labor and Delivery gowns that you can buy actually can be great for skin to skin! I also love infant kimono tops – they are much more conducive to skin to skin over regular onesies (you don’t have to take them all the way off!)
You should definitely watch some videos of the newborn baby crawl. It’s amazing how instinctive breastfeeding can be for babies when they are given the opportunity.
Newborn Hunger Cues
It’s important to not wait until your baby is crying to feed them. There are other subtle hints they will give you to indicate they are hungry. Remember – they are so tiny! It’s hard to communicate. I mean, my one-year-old can tell me when he’s hungry – and it’s pretty obvious. It isn’t as easy with newborns.
A few cues to look for:
- Opening and closing mouth
- Smacking/licking lips
- Sucking on hands
- Trying to nurse
- Getting into nursing position
- Moving head from side to side.
How Much Do They Need?
The amount a breastfed baby increases daily from the day they are born, as their stomach grows substantially during that day. Once they reach about a month of age, the amount they need does not change until solids are introduced around six months. And then at that point, it slowly decreases until the age of one (breast milk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition until the age of one).
This is a great infographic to show how big a baby’s stomach is during the first month – this is the max amount they need per feeding. Though if you aren’t bottle feeding, just feed on demand!
(photo from ThePerfectLatch.com)
From one to six months, baby needs 24-30 ounces of breast milk a day. This does not increase with age or size (see Kelly Mom for more details).
I run a breastfeeding support group on facebook (please join!), and I think the most common question I see is about whether or not it’s normal for a newborn to want to constantly.
Yes, this is common, and it’s important to not limit the time baby spends at the breast (unless instructed by an IBCLC – in some cases, it may be necessary). The first six weeks is absolutely crucial to establishing milk supply. By not watching the clock and allowing the baby to nurse whenever he or she wants as a newborn is setting you up for a more successful breastfeeding relationship.
Obviously, if your baby is completely inconsolable, having fewer wet/poopy diapers, etc., you may need to visit with an IBCLC to make sure they are eating enough. But if they are having enough diaper output (more on that further down) and just wanting to nurse quite frequently, it typically isn’t cause for concern.
How Often Should a Newborn eat?
I often say the best thing you can do is just to stop looking at the clock. When your baby is a newborn, you really shouldn’t try to get them on some kind of schedule.
However, you shouldn’t let them go longer than three hours. We let Oliver sleep during the day past this mark, and I think it caused some of our problems in the beginning (such as a nasty case of mastitis). Newborns can be very sleepy, but it’s important that you make sure they are feeding regularly. I think that it’s good to keep the eating to at least every two hours.
When I had Jack, the only position I could get to work right in the hospital was the football hold…which I did not love! All I wanted to do was to be able to cradle him while he nursed!
Fortunately, when I got home, it was a lot easier – I think just the fact that I wasn’t confined to a hospital bed anymore helped. However, there are a lot of different positions you can try. When Oliver was smaller, I often had to do the football position to even get him to stay latched.
The Mayo Clinic has this great slideshow that goes over all the different types of positions.
Are they getting enough?
Unless you are pumping and feeding with a bottle, you won’t know how much your baby is getting from the breast. While you can do weighted feeds to determine the amount they are transferring, most mamas don’t have a scale at home (and really, weighted feeds should be done under the care of an IBCLC anyways).
So – how do you know if your newborn is getting enough? There are two things you should look at:
- How many diapers is baby producing in a 24 hour period? According to Kelly Mom, by day four, baby needs to be producing about six very wet diapers a day and 3-4 poopy diapers. While many breastfeed babies will stop producing so many poopy diapers around six weeks (and may go days without one), they do need to produce that many during the first several weeks.
- Weight gain? Babies should regain their birth weight by about two weeks of age. Then they will gain, on average, about 5-7 ounces per week until they are about four months, and then it starts to decrease slowly at that point. Make sure your physician is using the WHO infant growth charts!
It is common to have sore nipples during the first weeks of breastfeeding. Your nipples have likely never had that kind of stimulation before, and it does take time for them to get used to it.
I recommend having something kind of nipple cream – I personally like the Earth Mama Angel Baby brand. I know a lot of people that really like just using plain coconut oil, though!
There are definitely situations where a baby will need supplementation as a newborn – but it’s important to make sure the recommendation to do so is founded. Many pediatricians are quick to recommend supplementation when it isn’t actually needed (so make sure you find a breastfeeding friendly pediatrician).
Some situations where a mother may need to supplement (make sure you are working with an IBCLC):
- Delayed milk coming in (most come in 2-3 days postpartum, though sometimes it may be slower – especially with c-sections)
- Breast augmentation or reduction, or other conditions that may make the breast have less tissue
- Poor weight gain
- Loss of birth weight more than about 7-10% (if the mother had a lot of fluids during labor, the threshold may be higher).
- Defects such as a cleft palate, tongue tie, etc., that make the transfer of milk difficult
If you need to supplement and would like to breastfeed – it is definitely possible! I know it can feel discouraging or sad, but there are many women who had to supplement for awhile and went on to breastfeed exclusively.
However, supplementing does not necessarily mean that you have to use formula if you don’t want to. Many mothers are able to produce enough milk for supplementation by pumping or hand expressing. I have a friend whose baby had low blood sugar at birth, and while the nurses pushed formula, she was able to hand express enough colostrum to syringe feed, which helped raise her blood sugar quickly.
You can also use donor milk – many hospitals offer this now, and you can also get it at milk banks or from mom to mom sharing organizations like Human Milk 4 Human Babies.
When should you start pumping?
As my lactation consultant would say, “For the first month, put the pump away and enjoy your baby.”
I think a lot of women feel like they need to start pumping right away to create a huge stockpile of milk – especially if they are going back to work.
This is not necessary. While, yes, it is nice to have a nice storage of frozen breast milk in the freezer, you don’t need to go overboard.
In some situations, it is necessary to pump. If you are supplementing, you’ll need to pump every time you give your baby a bottle to help keep up your supply. IF your baby is unable to latch or is in the NICU, it’s also necessary.
But if baby is breastfeeding fine and you don’t need bottles for awhile…don’t worry about it. It’s typically recommended to start pumping maybe once a day (even less) about a month before you go back to work.
As I’ve already mentioned, the first six weeks are crucial for establishing your milk supply. Breast milk supply is very much based on supply and demand, and if you are a pumping a ton and breastfeeding full time, you are setting yourself up with oversupply. Ask anyone who has had an oversupply – it is not all fun and games.
Be sure to read this very popular post with 25+ breast pumping tips for when you do start pumping.
You should never feel like you are alone. I think that those first few weeks with your baby should be wonderful, but often, life has other plans.
If you want to breastfeed and are struggling – get help. There are many resources out there that want to help you succeed. You can find a qualified IBCLC in your area to help with any issues you might be having. La Leche League meetings are held across the country. I’d love for you to join my breastfeeding support group on Facebook.
I also highly recommend taking a breastfeeding class before you even have your baby – or after even! I love this online course – Simply Breastfeeding. It’s a very comprehensive lactation course taught by two experienced IBCLCs. It’s $40, and it is well worth the cost!
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