Breastfeeding - a guide for the first few days
Your pregnancy is joyous (apart from that nasty period of morning sickness, the inability to get comfortable anymore and the half-hourly trips to the toilet at night) and you can't wait for the arrival of your baby.
It'll be fantastic; you'll be glowing in the aftermath of a brilliant birth, your partner will be swept away with love for you and your baby, you'll bond instantly with your new life and get loads of pressies from practically everyone you know.
Sounds great, hey? But the reality can sometimes be quite different, and often a little daunting. Sorry to dampen the blissful mood.
Pregnancy and childbirth are exhausting and the first few days/weeks of motherhood rarely give you the chance to catch up on all that lost sleep. Of course there's a lot of joy and it's often these wonderful moments with your newborn that help you cope with the emotion and challenges that come with motherhood. Be prepared for fatigue, emotional highs and lows, unwanted advice from well-meaning twits, and trials and tribulations in initiating successful breastfeeding. The best way to prepare for all these things is to be well informed about what's 'normal' for newborn babies and mums.
Many women suffer what's known as the 'baby blues' around day three, which is thought to be a result of all those lovely pregnancy hormones drying up. Up to seventy percent of mums experience some kind of baby blues but most of these recover quickly and never suffer from postnatal depression. The baby blues are normal affects of the emotional experience of birth and may cause mums to be a little tearful for a day or two.
Some women can feel (painfully) their uterus contracting. This is nothing to worry about; in fact it's one of the benefits of breastfeeding - it helps your uterus contract back into shape more quickly. These contractions will pass soon enough.
ALL new mums are physically fatigued and the most frustrating thing about this is that they often also suffer from insomnia. Lying awake thinking about your baby and your wonderful new life is quite common in the first few days, but it doesn't help lessen the exhaustion.
Newborn babies have just had a rude awakening from a lovely warm, safe haven into a world often filled with flashing lights (of all those cameras). As a result many of them suffer from extreme sleepiness during the first few days of life. The most common reason for sleepiness is affects of drugs the mother has taken during labour. This sleepiness is usually nothing to worry about, although it can cause problems with initiating breastfeeding. Have you ever tried feeding a zombie?
Newborns are also often unsettled and seem to cry consistently (trust me, this is not really the case). If you have your baby in a maternity ward, the crying may seem amplified as you'll be able to hear everyone else's new babies testing their lungs as well. This unsettledness may seem to worsen as they sense your colostrum changing to breastmilk, but should pass relatively soon.
Little ones have little tummies and are only just beginning to develop their suckling strength, which means they usually feed frequently and for what seems like forever. Again, this will not go on for eternity and is definitely not something to fret about. Many babies feed for a few hours at a time the night before the milk comes in and this is often the cause of great anguish for tired mums, terrified this will become the norm. Don't stress. It won't!
Although some babies and mums are blessed with an unblemished road to successful breastfeeding, most duos experience some obstacles in the form of trouble learning to latch on, sore nipples, engorged breasts or even breast refusal. The good news is that even if problems do occur, most of them are overcome quickly with a little support, encouragement and female persistence.
Many new mums worry about their bubs losing weight and wonder if this is due to an insufficient milk supply. However, it's absolutely normal for babies to lose up to ten percent of their birth weight in the first few days.
FAQ: Should a baby feed from one or two breasts at each feed?
Let your baby guide you. Mothers and babies vary, so one breast per feed will suit some while others will need both. Variables include the milk storage capacity of the mother's breasts, baby's appetite at that feed, frequency of feeds, and stage of lactation. In the early weeks, many mothers have an abundant supply, when lactation is turned on full by the hormones and it takes a few weeks for it to downgrade to the amount the baby needs. During that time, a baby may easily get all he needs from one breast. Later, after the supply has settled down, he might like to have both. This varies for different mothers, and there are no hard and fast rules.
Let your baby feed on the first side until he is finished, not according to the clock. He will either come off and not be interested in any more, or he may come off and after a pause and a burp, may indicate that he is still hungry, in which case you can offer the second breast. If he is a baby who doesn't come off by himself, you will know when he is finished at a breast when the pauses are longer than the sucking bursts and you hear hardly any swallows. Letting your baby comfort suck is not harmful, but if you have other things to do, you can decide to end the feed. Also remember that a breast is never empty - a baby stops feeding when he has had enough, not when there is no milk left.