Tips to Thrive: Breastfeeding in the Early Postpartum Days
Within BIRTHFIT, we often talk about the first two weeks being a period of co-regulation in the Motherhood Transition. The first two weeks can be huge transitional period physically and emotionally, especially with learning to breastfeed. As natural and primitive breastfeeding is, sometimes it doesn’t come easy. Here are some breastfeeding tips to help you thrive in your journey from day one.
Connect Skin to Skin With Baby
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby from the first hours after birth to the first few days postpartum helps increase the levels of oxytocin, allows baby to maintain an appropriate body temperature and to begin to seek your breast. Oxytocin increases significantly during skin-to-skin contact and promotes attachment between the mother and baby, reduces maternal and newborn stress, increases breastfeeding success rates, and helps the newborn transition to life outside of the womb.
Nurse on Demand
It has been shown that nursing within the first hour after birth and the frequency of nursing on the second day are correlated with the amount of milk you will produce by the fifth day after birth (1). Colostrum supplies your baby with adequate nutrients for the first 2-3 days, and milk typically comes in around 3-4 days postpartum. Milk production is primarily a supply-demand situation in the immediate postpartum; the more frequently you nurse your baby, the more milk your body makes. In other words, the removal of milk tells your body to make more milk, therefore increasing the total amount produced.
There are several hunger cues that a newborn will demonstrate, such as rooting, bringing their hands to their face, moving their mouth, sucking on hands, smacking lips, clenching fists, acting restless, and crying (2).
Lie in and Rest
As we say often, slow is fast; this also true for breastfeeding. There are many complex hormonal reactions that occur in order to produce milk, primarily involving oxytocin (the love hormone) and prolactin (the let down hormone). Oxytocin is secreted with connection to your baby, so skin to skin and frequent nursing sessions are great ways to achieve this. Prolactin, produced mostly at night when mom is sleeping and nursing baby, lets your body know to make milk and let the milk out (3). When there is stress and increase in cortisol production, it often inhibits the milk let down. Over time, this can lead to mastitis and inadequate draining of the breast.
Dialing in Nutrition
In order for our bodies to make breastmilk, we need approximately an additional 400-500 calories a day, though this number varies greatly (4). The best way to maintain a healthy milk supply is to get those extra calories from whole foods. A healthy diet full of unprocessed whole grains (or grain-like foods such as buckwheat), fats, and quality protein can help get you off on the right start and decrease your chances of feeling depleted. You will use nutrients from your body to transfer into your breastmilk, so it’s important to continue taking your prenatal supplements. Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of water: at least half of your body weight in ounces per day. Dehydration it will decrease milk production. Check out this blog post and this blog post for more on postpartum nutrition.
Address Baby’s Latch
In practice, I often hear complaints of nipple pain. While having a baby suckle on your breast might cause some initial soreness, breastfeeding should not be painful. Some signs that baby has a good latch is comfortable and pain-free nursing, the baby’s lips flange out, you hear and/or see swallowing, the baby’s ears are moving, the tongue extends and cups under your breast, the baby’s mouth opens wide around the areola and not just the nipple, and baby nurses belly against you with no rotation of their head. Check out these blogs for or more information on nursing through lip and tongue ties and bleeding nipples.
Find Optimal Positioning
If the baby prefers one breast over the other, a pediatric chiropractor is a great resource to check for any birth trauma that might have occurred during the birthing process. When a baby is uncomfortable on one breast, there is typically a misalignment of the upper cervical spine. A pediatric chiropractor is trained to gently correct this issue, which allows for babies to nurse comfortably on each breast. To look for a pediatric chiropractor in your area visit https://icpa4kids.com/find-a-pediatric-chiropractor/. In addition, working with a skilled IBCLC can help baby be in a better position to effectively and comfortably transfer milk. The baby’s body should be straight and close to the mother’s body. The neck should be slightly extended to allow for his or her chin to be closer to the breast and get a larger mouthful. The baby should be facing the breast with the nipple pointing downwards. And the baby’s entire body should be supported, not just the head being held.
Ask for help
The La Leche League is an amazing nationwide organization that often has local chapters. If you are struggling with nursing your baby or have questions about latch, milk supply, returning to work or bottle-feeding, reach out to them! There are typically local IBCLCs that offer in-home visits for moms in the immediate postpartum or offer weekly support groups for moms that can get breastfeeding help in a group setting. Check out https://www.llli.org/get-help/ for support nationwide!
Shaina Hickman, DCBIRTHFIT East Cincy @birthfit_eastcincy