Although producing breast milk is natural for our bodies, breastfeeding newborns can be really confusing and stressful if you don’t have the right information or support. Breastfeeding a newborn is probably the most challenging phase of breastfeeding. You’re likely tired and sore. You’re just getting to know this little squirmy person and now you have to figure out how to feed him from your breasts. Luckily, there is a method to the madness. Understanding your baby’s needs and how to respond to them, will make your first few weeks of breastfeeding your newborn much easier. I also recommend taking a breastfeeding course (some hospitals offer free sessions, as does WIC) to get as much information as possible before your baby comes. This article will include: how to identify your newborn’s hunger cues, how to get your newborn properly latched to your breast to nurse, breastfeeding positions for you and your newborn, and how often to breastfeed your newborn.
How to Identify Your Newborn’s Hunger Cues
Hunger cues are signals your baby exhibits to let you know they are ready to be fed. It’s important to pay close attention to your baby to catch their hunger cues and start nursing at the right time. By the time baby starts crying, they have already shown a series of hunger cues and now needs to be calmed down to nurse. On the contrary, if you start getting baby latched onto your breast when you notice the early hunger cues, it will make the process much easier for both you and baby.
Early Cues means “I’m ready to eat. Get ready to feed me.”
- Opening and closing mouth
- Sucking on hand or smacking lips
Active Cues means “Feed me…like now.”
- Stretching, squirming
- Increased physical movement i.e. lying back or pulling on your clothes, hitting your arms or chest
- Rooting/seeking to nurse by turning head with mouth open
Late Cues means “Now, I’m upset. Calm me down and then I’ll eat.”
- Agitated body movements
- Skin turning red
Calm baby by rocking, bouncing, swaying, skin-to-skin, or sound (singing, white noise, talking) then latch.
How to Properly Latch Your Newborn to Your Breast
Getting your baby latched properly is essential. A good latch will shield your nipple from pain and damage and produce more milk for baby. Most lactation consultants will tell you, if it hurts it’s wrong. For me, in the very beginning even when it was right, it was uncomfortable. I was never one for nipple stimulation, like in life so having my new, huge, tender nipples cozied up to with a tiny infant mouth wasn’t my idea of comfort. The best thing that helped me distinguish the discomfort from a poor latch and just unfamiliarity with breastfeeding was learning that a good latch should feel like gentle tugging and not pinching. Once I had those ideas juxtaposed in my mind, I could clearly tell when JT was latched on properly. Over time (with the help of nipple cream and JT’s mouth getting bigger), it became less and less uncomfortable and eventually (within a month) completely comfortable (and I weaned off the nipple cream).
In my opinion, nothing is more beneficial than seeing what a good latch looks like and how to actually do it though. So instead of me rambling on, watch this 10 minute video that shows you how to latch and the importance of a proper latch.
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Sometimes baby will fuss you out and not latch until you get them into the right position they want to be in. Around week 3, JT refused to nurse off of my right breast until my mom (did I mention she’s a lactation consultant? Mom goals, right?) had me try the laid back position. Before then, we had only done the cradle and football hold, but suddenly that wasn’t okay for him. It worked out though, because I found the laid back position to be very comfortable. We’re now going on breastfeeding exclusively for 9 months and still use the laid back position.
Whatever position you decide to nurse with, make sure to get yourself comfortable with enough support first, then bring baby to you. If you’re sitting up, having something to prop your feet up will help with your posture so you’re not hunching over to baby (I struggled with this, but my mom stayed on top of me about it the week she was with us). Being comfortable will encourage you to continue feeding as long as baby needs.
I used my pregnancy pillow (also known as the only reason I slept the last few months of my pregnancy) to nurse JT in bed and that was really helpful. Recently, I used a reading pillow to nurse him while we were staying at my mother in-law’s and it was really comfortable and it had me thinking, why didn’t I get one of these? I, personally, didn’t find the Boppy very comfortable to nurse with, but I also found out a few weeks after he was born that they come in different sizes and allegedly mine wasn’t the big daddy so that could have been why. So no shade to Boppy. I’ve heard good things and JT liked to lounge on his when he was smaller.
How Often to Breastfeed Your Newborn
- The short answer is whenever they want, better known as on-demand. Long answer…Baby should be allowed to feed whenever he gives you those hunger cues shown above. Some days it will be more frequent than others. Studies have found that newborns breastfeed 8-12 times per 24 hours. So ignore your auntie telling you that he keeps eating because he’s not getting enough milk and he needs some formula to fill him up. His stomach is literally the size of a walnut and breast milk is more easily digestible than formula, so breastfed babies typically need to feed more often than formula fed babies. It does not mean you are not making enough milk. If you can hand express your milk, hear your baby swallowing during feedings, or notice your breasts are softer after a feeding those are signs that you are producing milk and baby is drinking it. Also, producing the right amount of wet and dirty diapers is a sign they’re getting enough milk. So no worries if your newborn is nursing often. She’s coming back for more, because she knows mommy’s got the good stuff. Being responsive to your baby’s cues will establish security, trust, and a better milk supply. More on feeding responsiveness here.
- Some newborns are very sleepy in the first days or weeks and will sleep beyond their necessary feedings if you let them. For at least the first 4 weeks or until baby has established adequate weight gain patterns, wake baby for feedings. Newborns should be woken up to nurse ever 1-3 hours during the day and every 3-4 hours at night, if they do not wake on their own. I’ve stripped JT down and even taken off his diaper to feed him, during those early days when he insisted on sleeping past a feeding. Consistent feeding will ensure healthy weight gain for baby and good milk production for you.
As per usual, I hope this article was helpful. I still recommend attending a breastfeeding class, if possible. Also, while you’re in the hospital after you give birth, make sure the lactation consultant comes in to watch you nurse to make sure you’re doing it right and help you if you are struggling. It’s easy to feel uncertain in those early days and having someone reassure you in person is always nice. Often times, they will give you a number to call if you have questions when you get home and let you know when they have weekly breastfeeding support classes with other moms. I wish you the breast..get it? Man, I’m a hoot!