Breastfeeding in the Hospital: How to Get Your Best Start
I adore breastfeeding. This is a surprise, considering the rocky start I had with my first son, who wouldn't latch on (lazy!), and with my daughter, who had a tongue tie that led to excruciating pain and bleeding her first week of life.
One of my regrets with my first baby was that I left the hospital unequipped to deal with breast-feeding problems. Even though I took a breastfeeding class before he was born, I had no idea what to expect. Breastfeeding is one of those things you have to experience to really understand. While you're in the hospital, you have access to medical professionals who want to help you succeed in your breastfeeding journey. After you leave, you have some of the same resources in lactation clinics and pediatricians offices, but they are much more difficult to access. Who is willing to bring a newborn out and about the first few weeks of life?
Here are some ideas to help you get your best start at breastfeeding while you're in the hospital. Take it from me, you'll want to check these off your list!
Ask for help
This one is by far the most important tip, because many women leave the hospital without really knowing how to breastfeed, and once you are home, it's much more difficult to get help for issues. Luckily, my hospital is associated with an amazing lactation clinic with same-day appointments and referrals right out of the hospital. So if there are issues during the stay, assistance is already in place. The vast majority of hospitals have lactation consultants (LC) on staff, so if you're not sure if things are going well, ask your nurse to contact the LC.
A word of advice from a two-time breastfeeding mom (whose children both had issues breastfeeding at first): lots of nurses are going to give you advice, and not all of it is good. If an LC is not in the hospital or not available, visit the International Lactation Consultants Association website to find one near you and call right away.
Keep your baby with you
Fifteen years or so ago, healthy babies were whisked off to the nursery so mama could get a little extra sleep. But many hospitals are moving towards rooming-in with your baby. Baby-friendly hospitals, specifically, encourage babies to stay with their mothers the entire stay in the hospital (unless a trip to the NICU is needed)–so moms have easy access for breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact. Keeping your baby in the nursery may give you a few extra hours of shut-eye, but allowing your baby to sleep right next to you can help you get your breastfeeding rhythm down before you leave.
Know what isn't “normal”
Pain during breastfeeding isn't normal. Mildly cracked nipples can happen for some women who have especially sensitive skin, but if they are cracking for more than the first few days of breastfeeding, this could indicate latch problems. Some latch problems are easy to fix by changing positions, but some could occur because of tongue tie or lip tie, which can be diagnosed by your pediatrician or lactation consultant and corrected easily. If you're experiencing pain with breastfeeding, ask for your lactation consultant right away to help you troubleshoot.
Know what is “normal”
Before you have a baby, you might imagine happily and comfortably nursing your newborn in baby bliss. The reality? Breastfeeding can be frustrating, challenging, and maddening (but completely worth it.) This is normal. When you begin breastfeeding (especially if you pump the first few days,) your milk will be a golden color and won't look like “real” milk. This is colostrum, the high-fat super-food your body makes for your newborn. There won't seem like much because your baby's tummy is as big as a walnut. This is normal! Ask your breastfeeding friends to give you their honest assessment of breastfeeding and get a clear picture of what's normal.
Are you planning to breastfeed your baby?