You should go into labor and delivery ready to start breastfeeding, because both skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding in the first 24 hours are extremely important for long-term breastfeeding success.
As long as there are no complications during childbirth or health concerns for you or the baby immediately following delivery, you should plan to attempt the first feeding as soon after delivery as possible. Your baby is likely to come out of the womb ready for nourishment, and the colostrum produced by your breasts is all that he or she needs to thrive.
The first 24 hours after birth are confusing for many new moms, so we want to help you to get started breastfeeding with confidence.
Your Birth Plan
Do you have a birth plan? Creating a plan that is shared with your doctor and later with the hospital medical team is a great way to ensure that everyone is aware of your needs after giving birth. You can include directions to have the baby rest on your chest immediately after birth as long as there are no complications that make that medically unsafe.
This plan should include a breastfeeding plan that starts immediately after the birth. Research has proven that there are clear benefits for the mother and baby when the following actions are taken right away:
- The mother and baby are kept together in the same room to maximize skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding opportunities.
- Skin-to-skin contact is initiated immediately after birth. It’s recommended that the mother continue this contact for at least one hour.
- The baby is given the opportunity to breastfeed without interruptions during the first hour or two of life. Skin-to-skin contact should stimulate the desire to feed naturally.
The first hours of your baby’s life may go smoother if you discuss these desires with your doctor and make sure that they understand the importance of skin-to-skin contact and uninterrupted breastfeeding in the first two hours of life.
The First Hour
Reading that list of what you should include in your birth plan gives you a good idea of how you can expect to spend the first hour of your baby’s life. If all goes well with the delivery and there are no health concerns that need immediate attention, you should plan to cradle your baby directly to your skin, encouraging as much breastfeeding as possible.
Here are some tips that should help you get through what is often referred to as the “golden hour:”
- Expect awkwardness. Your baby is inexperienced and may not know how to latch on automatically. He or she will also be quite eager to feed, and that sense of urgency can lead to incorrect latching and/or aggressive sucking.
- Ask for assistance. Many labor and delivery nurses know a lot about breastfeeding, and they have picked up some tricks for helping new mothers and babies adjust in the early hours of life. If you ask for assistance, they can make the first breastfeeding attempts feel as comfortable and natural as possible.
- Enjoy the bonding moments. Look into your baby’s eyes. Allow your newborn to grip your fingers. The first hour of life is a powerful time to bond with your baby and start to develop that sense of trust that your little one will rely on in the days to come.
- Don’t give up. Breastfeeding does get easier once you remove the IVs, blood pressure cuffs, extensive pain, and buzz of nurses and doctors trying to get early stats and views of the new baby and mother. Your medical team may try to take measurements and look over the baby while you’re getting in that skin-to-skin contact, and you will both feel completely exhausted. Know that what you’re doing is important for the health of your baby and keep going despite the discomfort.
Beyond the Golden Hour
Your baby may continue to show intense desire to breastfeed for the first two or possibly three hours after birth. Even though you’re likely exhausted, you should give your baby as much attention as possible and take him or her up on those offers to feed. This gives you time to master the latch so that healthy breastfeeding habits are formed right from the start.
Here are some tips that will help you through the remaining minutes of your first 24 hours:
- Your lactation consultant is your best friend. Most hospitals will send a lactation consultant to your room for at least one session, but you can request assistance if you don’t think that your baby is latching properly or you have other concerns. Ask a lot of questions, openly discuss your concerns, and listen to all the advice that this professional has to offer. Don’t feel shy to reveal your breasts in the process. Consultants need to see your nipples to detect any potential problems and help your baby master that latch.
- Quality is more important than quantity. Your breasts will produce colostrum that contains everything your baby needs for the first few days of life. While it may seem like you aren’t producing a lot of milk, know that your baby cannot handle a lot right now. A newborn’s stomach is very small, and the digestive system needs to get started slowly.
- You may need to wake your baby up for feedings. That eager feeding in the first hour or two may die out to a sleepy baby who wants to crash out for hours at a time. While you’re also going to feel exhausted, make sure that you wake your baby up to feed every two or three hours. In many cases, just holding your baby against your bare skin or with his or her head close to your breasts will awaken the baby’s instinctive desire to feed.
- Feed on demand. It is important to establish an on-demand feeding pattern right away. Even if you can’t get up to get your baby because of birth complications or a c-section, then have a nurse or your partner help you. Nurses sometimes are not as excited about doing this (because they are busy) but do it anyway.
- Say no to the pacifier. Many hospitals give new mothers pacifiers to help soothe cranky newborn babies, but you can let the nurses know that you don’t want to use them. When your baby is comforted by a pacifier, they may feel less drive to breastfeed. They may also suffer from nipple confusion or have more problems latching onto your breast due to differences in the pacifier and your nipples. It’s best to leave the pacifiers for the experienced baby, if you use them at all.
- Expect nipple soreness. There are nipple creams that you can use, but make sure that you buy one that is safe for your baby to ingest. You can also soothe your nipples by applying a warm, damp rag between feedings or even rubbing a bit of breast milk over them. Know that your nipples will get used to breastfeeding with time, especially as your baby settles into a more predictable feeding pattern.
Related > How to Treat and Prevent Nipple Soreness
Do You Need a Breast Pump?
If you’re planning to pump milk to create a freezer stash or keep your baby well supplied when you go back to work, understand that you may need that pump sooner than you think. You may also need to pump in the first 24 hours if your baby has trouble latching or is taken to the intensive care unit and is unable to breastfeed directly. While we don’t say this to scare you, it CAN and DOES happen.
Since your newborn needs just a little of your colostrum to feel satisfied in the first hours, you can often express milk into a cup with your hands. You may use a pump if your breasts feel uncomfortably full or you want to encourage your milk supply to pick up.
Most hospitals will have pumps that you can use if needed, but you may also want to put yours in your hospital bag. This will allow you to ask the nurses and lactation consultants questions about how to use your own breast pump before you have to use at home on your own.
What About Breastfeeding in the First 24 Hours After Cesarean?
A cesarean birth adds complication to the breastfeeding process, but don’t assume that you can’t hold your baby directly to your skin or breastfeed in the first hour or two. Some doctors are more open to giving you this time than others, so it’s important to discuss your wishes with your doctor prior to delivery. You may also include this in your birth plan even if you don’t expect to have a c-section (because a lot of us end up there even if we intended an all-natural birth!)
Many hospitals will place the baby to your chest immediately, allowing you to breastfeed and cuddle your baby while the doctors work on stitching your stomach. Others will have a more extensive protocol that allows you to fully enjoy that first hour of skin-to-skin contact. Still others may take the baby away for up to four hours, but they may make an exception if they know about your wishes in advance and there are no medical issues that would make immediate contact risky.
If you can’t breastfeed immediately after birth, make sure that your medical team knows that you want skin-to-skin time as soon as possible. Often they will help to accommodate this.
If you can breastfeed within the first hour of life, that’s great. If it takes a bit longer, know that there are likely no serious risks to your baby’s health. Most doctors are aware of the baby’s need to feed after birth, so they will help to get your baby to your breasts as soon as possible.
However, be quite INSISTENT! Tell the medical staff what you would like and stick with it! This is YOUR baby and you have the right to want the best start possible for your little one.
- How to Breastfeed – Success for Beginners in the First Few Weeks
- Prepare for Breastfeeding
- Tips on Getting the Best Start
- Breastfeeding Myths and the Truth Behind Them
- How to Know if Your Baby is Getting Enough
- Learn the Many Benefits of Breastfeeding