The first hours, days, and weeks of breastfeeding are the most critical of the entire breastfeeding journey.
They set the tone for all the days that follow.
Breastfeeding is established during this period known as the “calibration phase”. Your newborn is learning to latch, you are learning positioning, timing, and troubleshooting through all of those problems that arise at the beginning. Your body is taking signals from you and your baby on how much milk to produce, when to produce it, and what it’s composition should be!
There is a lot going on behind the scenes!
There are some specific steps you can take in the immediate postpartum period to establish a strong and healthy breastfeeding relationship that will last. You might find that these suggestions actually help you to thrive as a breastfeeding mama, rather than just survive it
SUPPORT, SUPPORT, SUPPORT
This has to be number one.
It’s the foundation for everything else, and is the most basic
of all. A knowledgeable certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) can help you navigate all kinds of issues and literally save your breastfeeding journey from ending too soon. Besides medical support, also having one or two friends who have successfully nursed their babies can provide helpful emotional and experiential support.EDUCATION
Please don’t limit your “mom” research to only obstetricians or labor and delivery. There is a whole new world to navigate after your baby arrives, and it’s important that you are educating yourself accordingly. Success in breastfeeding hinges largely on your preparedness as the mom.
Things you can do: read breastfeeding blogs (hi!), buy one or two informative books on the topic, take a prenatal breastfeeding class either in person or online, listen to podcasts that discuss breastfeeding.
Most women are shocked at how complicated nursing can be (in the beginning) and how steep the learning curve can be. Don’t be one of those women! If you arm yourself with knowledge now, you won’t be scrambling to figure it out later.
ENCOURAGE FEEDS TO LAST & BE FREQUENT
It goes back to basic supply and demand: the more your baby asks your body for milk, the more your body will produce. Especially if your milk is delayed at all in coming in, the best thing you can do is continue to put in your order by letting your baby nurse often.
Longer, frequent feeds will send all the right signals to your body so you can have a robust and healthy supply. Go ahead and expect for breastfeeding to feel like your new full time job so you’ll be up for the challenge and won’t feel as overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes up. (It will get better! Your baby will become much more efficient eventually, but efficiency is not the goal in the beginning stages.)
MASTER THE LATCH
There are many finer details related to breastfeeding that you can hone with time, as you learn and get more comfortable. But establishing a proper latch right off the bat is pivotal and should be the first thing you focus on conquering. That’s because without a solid latch your baby will not be able to effectively remove milk from the breast, which as we’ve discussed, will be sending the wrong the signals to your body, resulting in decreased production. Definitely not what you’re going for! A good latch also means you shouldn’t experience pain at feedings, and that plays a major role in whether moms stick with breastfeeding or not.
Make the latch your #1 goal each time you nurse your newborn, and ask for as much help as needed until you get it exactly right.
MAKE REST A TOP PRIORITY
Basically, your job as a new mom is to care and provide for your new baby. Period. Unending visitors, a packed to-do list, a busy schedule -- there is no room for these things in the life of a postpartum mom. Rest allows your body to recover from all it’s been through, and unfortunately there isn’t a shortcut here. Rest also gives you the opportunity to de-stress which is a critical component of a good milk supply.
Focus on your own health and your baby’s - that’s it!
BE SELFISH, FOR YOUR BABY’S SAKE
This point dovetails perfectly with the previous.
Your baby is THE priority. Let him/her direct your decisions in your immediate postpartum phase.
What do you need to do to feel comfortable and confident as a breastfeeding mom? A quiet atmosphere? No relatives around during feeding times? A giant cup of water within reach at all times? A lot of skin-to-skin time with baby? Limited phone calls?
Whatever it is for you and your baby - do that. Get someone else on board to help you implement these so you don’t have to. This is temporary, but so important.
Can you see now how significant and precarious the “calibration” period is?
I once heard this little mantra in relation to parenting and it couldn’t be more fitting: “Start as you mean to go on.” Basically: don’t try to “wing” this, or just “figure it out” in the moment. Be as intentional in prioritizing breastfeeding as possible so you can shift into more of a “cruise control” mode later on.
All of this hard work will pay off, mama! You can do this, and do it well.