This post was written for inclusion in the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival, co-hosted by NursingFreedom.org and the San Diego Breastfeeding Center. The participants wrote and shared their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding.
I often joke that the two things in life I’m really good at are writing and breastfeeding. I should probably rephrase this to say writing and nursing are two things that have been rewarding for me and at which I’ve been successful, at least by my own standards!
With my first child, my son, you could say I was quite lucky that we found a breastfeeding-friendly, or a so-called baby-friendly, hospital; that my colostrum and milk came in quickly after my cesarean section; and that baby boy had a good latch.
For my second child, my daughter, her latch didn’t come as quickly or easily and other things didn’t either, but she and I are still going strong.
I believe my continued success at breastfeeding the second time around really rests on a foundation of five key steps I took to prepare for baby girl’s arrival, along with things I did when she and I first met. Easily enough, my five breastfeeding tips can be categorized as “A-B-C-D-E.”
A. Access to lactation consultant
First, make sure you have access to a lactation consultant to help you and baby establish a good latch right away.
Having access to a lactation specialist at the hospital or a private lactation consultant who knows how to help you during baby’s first few hours can only help you establish your bond with baby, your breastfeeding relationship, and your milk supply from the get-go.
Having someone with experience help you position baby’s body and mouth that first time breastfeeding can be key.
When you are plugged into all kinds of things at the hospital and are tired and perhaps nervous, their knowledge and help can be the turning point. Too, their assistance may help to ensure baby doesn’t break skin or unnecessarily hurt you (by pulling off the wrong way) before you’ve even begun your breastfeeding journey!
With my son, I luckily was in a hospital that I call breastfeeding-friendly, in that the hospital staff helped and supported me with breastfeeding. Most hospitals have lactation specialists available, but after my son was born, the hospital’s specialist was “off” until the following afternoon. Luckily, my nurse was a rock star and tracked her down before she left the hospital. Just getting that first latch right made all the difference; I really couldn’t have done it without her–or at least it would have taken a lot more time.
For my daughter, I also had a planned c-section for medical reasons. Thinking ahead this time, I talked with a private certified lactation consultant before baby’s birth and had the consultant on call to help me in case I didn’t get immediate help at the hospital. Luckily, the lactation specialist at the hospital and all of my nurses were superstars.
I had this private certified lactation consultant visit a week after we were back at home to make sure everything was okay, and it was! (Another thing lactation specialists can do is check baby for tongue-tie or other physical characteristics that may make it difficult for baby to latch and nurse.)
And yes, even though I breastfed my first child until he was 23 months (due to food allergies but also because it just worked for us!), I still had a bit of trouble getting my second child to latch. Every child really is different. I needed just a bit of guidance and support from the hospital’s lactation consultant and nurses to help us start off on the right track.
One of the best tips I learned from the nurses is that to detach your baby’s latch, use your finger so she doesn’t pull on or cut your nipple, which happened to one of my friends her first time. Another tip for moms who have c-sections is the so-called football hold, which enables you to keep baby off the areas that are healing.
B. Baby-friendly hospital
Perhaps the most important tip I could give to any first-time mom is to make sure the hospital where you are planning to deliver baby is baby-friendly.
What I mean by this is that some hospitals are not so-called baby- or breastfeeding-friendly. Unfortunately, many new moms don’t find this out until they’ve been in labor for hours on end and have to have an emergency c-section, only to see their baby whisked away after delivery and not see her again for a few hours!
Basically, according to Baby-Friendly USA Inc., “baby-friendly” hospitals are certified as such under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which was created by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to recognize hospitals that encourage this baby-friendly bonding between mothers and their babies.
In particular, according to their website, hospitals that earn this designation have implemented practices known as the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.
One of the key steps is what my goal was: “Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.”
The first time around, my son was a planned c-section due to medical reasons. Luckily, I was at a hospital where they gave baby to papa right away and he held baby by my head while they stitched me up. They then let papa go with baby into the nursery for about 20 minutes and we all met back in the recovery room to start breastfeeding!
For my second child, I switched to an obstetrician who was closer to home and also had privileges at a hospital that was closer. If you don’t know this already, I’m a planner. Even though I’d already had a baby, I took the hospital tour when I was about five months pregnant to check out the new hospital.
Imagine my surprise when the nurse giving the tour said that for c-sections, they take baby right to the nursery; don’t let dad hold her; don’t let dad inside the nursery; and don’t bring her to you until you’re out of recovery. What? All of this means I wouldn’t have seen my baby girl for about two to three hours or more!
When I asked the nurse giving the tour about it, she said, “Well, c-sections are major surgery!” I responded, ” I know; I’ve had one, but why can’t I spend time with my baby?” She said there wasn’t any room in their recovery rooms, and that was the protocol of that particular hospital.
After following up with some people “in the know,” I found out that some hospitals are really behind the times. This particular hospital only recently started letting moms who deliver naturally have their babies remain in their rooms with them while being cleaned up as opposed to taking them to the nursery right away.
All of the younger first-time moms in my tour group didn’t seem to pay attention to my questions or feel my distress at the nurse’s answers, not realizing that, according to statistics, some likely would have emergency c-sections and would eventually be very concerned about the nurse’s answers to my questions.
Needless to say, I was distraught after the hospital tour.
Being separated from my baby for any lengthy amount of time was not acceptable.
It would likely have meant she would have been given formula (which I was adamantly opposed to if she was healthy, because of our family history with dairy allergies). It would have been a definite setback to our breastfeeding success.
What I ended up doing was asking my obstetrician’s office about it. The office staff confirmed that this hospital didn’t allow dads in the nursery and that I might be separated from baby for a few hours while recovering. Too, my then-obstetrician only had privileges at that hospital.
Ultimately, I ended up switching to an obstetrician with privileges at another hospital–a “baby-friendly” hospital. I carried my baby girl to term, delivered her via c-section, and papa held her by my face so I could snuggle with her while they stitched me up.
She heard my voice. She felt my touch. She was in her papa’s arms. She was calm. We were both happy and had already started bonding.
Papa then took her to the nursery (holding her himself) for about 20 minutes while I got cleaned up, and we all met back in my recovery room, where I immediately began to breastfeed. My colostrum came right in and my milk came in shortly thereafter.
Her latch was not as natural or as strong as my son’s right away. But the hospital’s lactation consultant and nurses helped me figure it out. In fact, a few times each day I asked them to help me–to make sure we were doing it correctly, to help me position her, to assist me in finding the best hold for her.
I am happy to report that we are still going strong!
C. Communicate your plan to breastfeed exclusively
Effectively communicating to hospital staff that you want to breastfeed exclusively is essential.
You have to be adamant that they should not give baby any formula without your permission, which means unless absolutely necessary. In fact, another option is donor breast milk. If your baby is premature and your milk hasn’t come in, or if there are other medical issues, you could ask your hospital staff to help you find suitable donor breast milk instead of formula.
For my first child, they gave him some formula right away without our permission. And now he has a dairy allergy. I’m not saying that was the cause, but food allergies are the result of many factors and I doubt cow’s milk in his immature stomach was a good thing. It was completely unnecessary; my milk came in right away.
To avoid this mistake the second time around, I made a sign saying my baby girl was being exclusively breastfed, which meant no artificial nipples of any kind were to be used. I taped this to her bassinet. I didn’t want there to be any confusion.
In fact, according to the Baby-Friendly USA Inc. website, these are two of the steps followed by “baby-friendly” designated hospitals:
“Give infants no food or drink other than breast-milk, unless medically indicated.”
“Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.”
I also was adamant about holding my baby as soon as possible–known as skin-to-skin contact–to establish our bond and to facilitate breastfeeding right away. I did this when baby met me in the recovery room about 20 minutes after being born, and she latched on and nursed right away (with the help of my nurse)!
My fourth tip is that, in addition to being demanding, you should breastfeed on demand.
In line with effectively communicating, you will have to be demanding about what you want and don’t want. With my first child, someone who shall remain nameless actually visited us at 8:30 p.m. on the day he was born! With the catheter, IV, being tired, trying to breastfeed, and being constantly awakened by nurses taking your temperature and blood pressure, you’re often interrupted. All of this infringes on your breastfeeding and bonding time.
Thus, visitors should be limited. You’ve gone through labor and/or just had major surgery and need your rest, which is essential for successful breastfeeding too. I explained this to family and friends ahead of time the second time around, and only had a few family members visit me while I was in the hospital–and not on the first day! It really made a big difference.
You also want to breastfeed frequently and on demand to establish a good milk supply.
For me, breastfeeding on demand meant nursing baby whenever she wanted, and letting her suckle to help get my milk in as well as boost my supply.
I didn’t know this the first time around, when everyone advised me to space out and schedule feedings, time them, etc. How stressful that was! Now, I know breastfeeding on demand is the way to go. And it is so much easier!
So throw out the notepads, put away the clocks, and just listen to your baby!
E. Expect to “room in”
Expectations are another big one. In addition to breastfeeding exclusively, another expectation that you should have is for baby to room in with you.
As long as baby is not born prematurely and there aren’t any other medical issues that would require baby to be in the nursery or in the neonatal intensive care unit, “rooming in” is another key practice for hospitals that are certified as “baby-friendly.”
With my first child, I was one of the few moms who had baby stay overnight in the room with us. During that stay, whenever we passed the nursery, there was a long line of babies.
However, with my second child, the hospital expected its moms and babies to be with each other. When we passed the nursery during my stay, there weren’t any babies sleeping overnight in the nursery except for one sweet baby boy who was being treated for jaundice. What a difference five years makes!
These expectations of having access to a lactation consultant, breastfeeding exclusively, breastfeeding on demand, and rooming in with baby are things that in my experience can really help moms establish a good foundation for successful breastfeeding. Stay true to them and be steadfast if you can.
(Speaking of being steadfast, even the second time around, someone I had been relying on for help at the hospital while my husband was at home with our son had tried to get me to give our baby girl formula and a pacifier. It was upsetting, to say the least, after I had gone over my breastfeeding wishes in great detail. No, their visit didn’t last long. I stood up for myself and my baby.)
With that being said, you and your family undoubtedly will have several expectations about other things that will happen as well. My best advice is to discard as many of them as you possibly can. Nothing goes as planned. The less expectations you have about every little thing, the better your state of mind, which will already be under the influence of hormones, possibly medicine, and everything else after baby is delivered.
Certain things will be out of your control. It may not be your plan, but it will be your baby’s plan.
Most importantly, stick up for yourself, your wishes, your instincts, your baby. Focus on your baby and the little miracle that she is, and everything else will fall into place.
Breastfeeding is the most rewarding and most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. If you are reading this and are preparing for your baby’s arrival, I wish this gift for you as well!
This post is my first in a series of articles about my breastfeeding journey. Please note that it is based on my own personal experience; everyone’s birthing experience is truly unique and special. Do you have breastfeeding tips you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about your breastfeeding journey!