The post below was originally posted on the LactactionLINK Blog by Stephanie Weight Hadfield, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and mom of 4. Stephanie is one of our lactation collaborators at LactationLINK and together with three other IBCLCs, they provide excellent online classes to set new Mamas up for breastfeeding success and then have online follow-up consultations should you hit a snag. Learn more about Stephanie and the team of IBCLCs at LactationLINK here.
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The early weeks of your baby’s life can be a wonderful time of getting acquainted with that new little soul, and they can also be exhausting and overwhelming. Many mothers tell me later that they were completely unprepared for the reality of recovering from their birth plus the demands of caring for and feeding a new baby. I’m here to help lighten the load. In addition to what I have written here today, I would love to help you one-on-one through an in-person breastfeeding consultation or a secure online eConsult. The first 2 weeks are typically the most tiring no matter what. However, if you know what to expect, you can reduce some common stressors. To help, I’ve written a survival guide for breastfeeding in the first 2 weeks of baby’s life.
Keep your focus on you and baby.
They are: FEED YOUR BABY, FEED YOURSELF, AND SLEEP. Outsource everything else that you can. Sit down right now with your partner and make a list of all of the typical tasks you both do to keep your home and family life humming along (childcare, carpools, meals, cleaning, laundry, etc). Plan together for how to delegate or minimize as many of them as you can. Resist the assumption that your partner will just take over all of the tasks. While they may not be recovering from the physical effects of birth and initiating breastfeeding, they will also need time to get acquainted with the new baby and support YOU. Here are a few ideas:
- Carpools and Childcare: If you have older children, ask friends, neighbors, or family for help with shuttling school-aged kids to and from school and activities and/or entertaining toddlers and preschoolers. If you don’t have anyone available to help with young children, gather/buy some special toys and activities (Target $1 aisle does wonders!) that they only get to play with while you’re feeding the new baby.
- Cleaning and laundry: Consider budgeting during your pregnancy to allow for some cleaning and laundry help for a few weeks or months after baby arrives. If getting help isn’t an option, figure out the absolute bare minimum work you can get by with. For example, laundry needs to be washed, but folding it and putting it away is a lower priority for you than resting. It is ok for everyone to get their clean clothes straight from the dryer or laundry basket for at least a couple of weeks. If family stops by, they can help fold laundry too. Consider using disposable dishes and flatware for the first couple of weeks to cut down on the need for washing dishes.
- Meal prep and shopping: Store up some freezer meals in advance. A couple of times a week, make a double batch of whatever you’re cooking for dinner. Eat half of it that night and freeze the other half for after the baby is born. If friends ask what you need for baby – you can suggest gift cards to local restaurants that offer takeout– seriously the best baby shower gift. Print some menus and circle your favorite entrees, eliminating any guesswork for your partner on nights where takeout is your best option. There are also meal delivery services like Freshly and Hello Fresh. Many grocery stores now offer online shopping and grocery pickup. They’ll even load your groceries in your car for you.
- Paid services: Depending on your budget, you may be able to pay for extra help during this time. If that seems out of reach, you might be surprised by what you can afford if you start planning early. Even if you’re just a few months away from your due date, if you start putting aside just $20-40 per week, you could have a good chunk of change to put towards hiring a babysitter, housecleaning service, or laundry service.
Think about limiting visitors
The birth of your new baby isn’t just exciting for you, it’s also exciting for the people who love and care about you. You will probably have visitors who want to come and meet your new baby. While this is wonderful, it is important to make your needs for rest and your baby’s needs for frequent breastfeeding the highest priority.
Will you feel like you need to entertain and be a hostess to your guests? Will you feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in front of your visitors?
- If the answer is yes, then consider asking guests to limit visits to 30-minutes and never having visitors back-to-back. Remember that visitors often carry germs that don’t affect them but could make a baby sick. Ask anyone who will be around baby to wash their hands and limit visitors in the early days.
- If the answer is no, you can make a list of household chores that visitors can pitch in with. Those who care about you will be happy to fold a couple of loads of laundry, clean your bathroom, bring meals, etc. More ideas on how friends and family can support a new mom here and ways grandparents can support breastfeeding here.
Learn to breastfeed in positions that allow you to rest too.
Newborns need to breastfeed a minimum of 8-10 times in 24 hours, but many will feed 12 or more times in 24 hours. Small frequent feeds are optimal for their tiny tummies, and tell your body to produce just the right amount of milk for your little one. The flip side of this is that you’ll be waking up a lot at night to feed and care for your baby. You are going to be tired, so resting at every opportunity you get is crucial. Side-lying and laid-back positions are a great way to multitask and rest while your baby eats. It’s also very important to learn safe co-sleeping practices, even if you don’t plan to co-sleep with your baby. Most mothers fall asleep feeding their babies at some point, so knowing how to do it safely can give you peace of mind and more rest. Check out our blog post on safe co-sleeping.
Let go of the idea that newborns feed at regular intervals.
It is very common for newborns to cluster their feedings together during some parts of the day. Some feedings may be only 30 minutes apart and others 3 hours apart (1). Rather than worrying about the intervals between feeds, count the number of feeds in a 24 hour period. Your baby should be waking to feed a minimum of 8-10 times.
Skin to skin is your best friend. Research shows many benefits of skin to skin contact with your baby. It helps keep babies warmer, reduces crying, and increases breastfeeding frequency (2). Because your baby is right on there on your chest, it makes it easy to catch your baby’s early feeding cues, which means that baby will be more patient to work on getting a great latch. Wearing a lightweight cardigan or robe over you and your baby together is a great way solution for coverage for you while allowing easy access for breastfeeding. You can even wear your baby skin-to-skin in a wrap with a cardigan or robe over the top if you need to be up and about for a bit.
Know the signs that breastfeeding is going well:
- Latching is comfortable. Tenderness during the first 30 seconds or so is normal. If it continues past that point or you feel pinching pain, unlatch baby and try again. If pain lasts for an entire feed, or you have damage to your nipples, you should get some help with latching right away.
- Your baby is having plenty of wet and poopy diapers. For the first 5 days, your baby should be having 1 wet and 1 poopy diaper per day of life (for example 3 wet/3 poopy diapers on day 3). Poops should start to become a lighter color by day 3-4, and be a mustardy yellow color by the end of the first week. After the first week, expect 5-6 wet and poopy diapers per day. If your baby is having less than this, get help from an IBCLC as soon as you can. Breastfeeding problems are easier to work through if you don’t wait.
- Your baby is waking to feed a minimum of 8-10 times in 24 hours.
Lactation Link’s Breastfeeding Basics video course is a great way to prepare now for breastfeeding success. You can watch it whenever and wherever is convenient for you. The best part: you can watch it as many times as you want to, which is handy if you feel like you need a refresher on what you learned after your baby is born and you actually start breastfeeding. Lots more about making a plan with your partner about how to prepare to bring a baby home in this class! Even after taking a class, many moms find that meeting one-on-one with an IBCLC brings them a lot of confidence. We would love to help you one-on-one. We offer in-person consults and secure online eConsults. I hope you enjoyed this survival guide for breastfeeding in the first 2 weeks of breastfeeding.
(1) Mohrbacher, N. (2010). Breastfeeding Rhythms. In Breastfeeding answers made simple: a guide for helping mothers. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing.
(2) Chiu, S. H., Anderson, G. C., & Burkhammer, M. D. (2008). Skin-to-skin contact for culturally diverse women having breastfeeding difficulties during early postpartum. Breastfeeding Medicine, 3(4), 213-237
Photos courtesy of LactationLINK