Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from the Huffingtonpost.com. The original post date was August 16, 2016. Read the original post.
Pregnant and expecting a baby, I asked myself the same question all moms ask: Do I want to breastfeed or formula feed my baby? I knew from the beginning that I wanted to breastfeed my son. I knew all of the benefits and prepared as much as possible — it's not like it's something you can practice ahead of time — and I was excited. I loved knowing I was going to provide my baby with all the nutrients he needed. It seemed like such a wonderfully natural thing to do. I quickly learned that while it may be natural, breastfeeding was definitely not easy for me at the beginning. Those first 31 days can be especially hard for new moms and babies learning to breastfeed.
To help you get an idea of what the first month of breastfeeding looks like, we began sharing a new tip each day in August for National Breastfeeding Month. You can follow along using #First31 on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.
Breastfeeding is different for every woman — whether it's her first, second, or third baby — but here are some of the common challenges breastfeeding moms face in the first day, first week, and beyond, plus tips to help you get through them.
Days one and two: Bond with your baby. Your first couple of days as a new mom are likely to feel chaotic. You might be exhausted from giving birth. Nurses may be coming and going at all hours, making it hard to sleep. And the weight of being responsible for a new living being may be settling in. Try these tips to help you get off to a good start.
- Feed your baby as soon as possible after delivery. This is a great way to "meet" your newborn, and it's an important step in starting your new breastfeeding routine. Give it a try as soon as she is in your arms. A nurse will probably help you with this first feeding.
- Don't hesitate to ask for help. Hospital staff with breastfeeding expertise will be close at hand and can help you learn good nursing positions, including some that are more comfortable following a C-section.
- Position and latch are key. When breastfeeding, your baby's belly button should face you, not the ceiling. Make sure your baby's lips are spread wide and turned out and that she has most of your areola in her mouth.
- The first milk is called colostrum, or "liquid gold." Your baby only needs small amounts of this, but it's packed with nutrients. Giving it to her clears the way for your milk to come in.
Week one: Get used to breastfeeding before setting any long-term goals. You're home and still recovering from giving birth. Family or friends may be staying over to give you a hand. Your nipples are sore from your baby's inexpert latch, and you're not sure she's getting enough to eat. It takes most new moms weeks to work out a breastfeeding routine. My advice is to let go of unrealistic expectations. Get through the first month before setting long-term goals. I used to tell myself, "It gets easier every day." Honestly, it wasn't always easier until suddenly it was and I'd gotten into a rhythm. Here are some ideas to help you develop the routine that works for you.
- Create a calm and relaxing environment for breastfeeding.
- Follow your baby's lead on when it's time to eat. When in doubt, always offer a breast. But every two hours is a good rule of thumb in the first week.
- When family and friends offer helping hands, ask them to do routine chores. That'll give you more time to relax and bond with your baby, which is the biggest help of all.
- Tender or sore nipples are normal when you start breastfeeding. But if you're in pain, ask your doctor or a lactation consultant for help. They may recommend soothing products or some new breastfeeding holds to help reduce irritation.
- Be patient and just keep trying.
- Don't offer your baby a bottle during this time. It's best for you both to stick with breastfeeding.
Weeks two and three: Count on your amazing body to keep up with your baby's demand for milk.
You and your baby are easing into your breastfeeding routine. You're gaining confidence, and your baby seems to be getting enough milk. But out of the blue your baby starts nursing longer and reaches for your breast more often. You start to worry about making enough milk. But not to fear — it's normal for your new baby to hit a growth spurt around weeks two and three. She'll ask for more milk to fuel the growth. You can help keep your milk supply up by making a few small changes:
- Offer both breasts at each feeding.
- Pump and freeze a supply of breast milk for times when your growing baby just can't seem to get enough.
- Trust your body. Your milk will keep up as you nurse more and more often.
The first 31 days can be tricky, but you and your baby will be a well-coordinated breastfeeding team before you know it. And if you have any questions, we can help! Call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, to talk with a trained breastfeeding peer counselor in English or Spanish.