Ideally, breastfeeding should begin within the first few hours of delivery by allowing the baby to nurse or rest, skin-to-skin, on the mother’s chest. During this time, most infants are alert and interested in nursing.
During the initial few days post-delivery, a new mother produces small amounts of a yellowish milk called colostrum. The colostrum is rich in nutrients and provides all the calories that a baby needs for the first few days. Most women worry that this small quantity of colostrum will not be enough for their baby’s nutrition. However, it’s important to remember that the colostrum is present in small amounts (5-10 cc per feed), as the baby’s kidneys are not initially able to handle large volumes of fluid. It is higher in protein and minerals, and lower in fat, carbohydrates and some vitamins compared to mature breastmilk-perfect for your newborn and has immunoglobulins (mostly IgA) that provide anti-infective protection for the baby. It acts a laxative to help the baby pass meconium and is easily digested.
Some breastfeeding techniques recommended by our lactation experts to simplify the breastfeeding process are:
Watch out for early signs of hunger – Women are usually encouraged to attempt breastfeeding as soon as the infant begins to show the signs of hunger. The early signs of hunger mostly include awakening, sucking on the hands, lips, or tongue or searching for the breast (called rooting). Most newborns do not cry until they are very hungry. However, waiting to breastfeed until an infant starts crying is not recommended.
Allow your baby to feed on demand – In the first one or two weeks, infants will mostly breastfeed 8 to 12 times per day. Sometimes, infants will also want to nurse more frequently, as often as 30 to 60 minutes; while some others will have to be awakened and encouraged to nurse. During the first week of life, most doctors encourage parents to wake a sleeping infant to nurse if three hours have passed since the beginning of the previous feeding. Some babies will cluster feed, meaning that they feed very frequently for some feedings and then sleep for a longer period.
The length of time that an infant takes to finish breastfeeding varies, especially in the first few weeks post delivery. While some infants take as little as 5 minutes, some others need 20 minutes or more. Our lactation experts recommend that the infant is allowed to breastfeed for as long as desired actively. ‘Active’ breastfeeding means that the infant is regularly suckling and swallowing.
Most newborns signal that they are finished nursing by releasing the nipple and relaxing the hands and facial muscles. Infants younger than two or three months often fall asleep during nursing, sometimes even before they are finished. In such cases, it is reasonable to try and awaken the child and encourage the child to finish nursing. Once you have finished with one breast, offer the other with an understanding that the infant (especially, if older) may not be interested.
Switching sides – It is not necessary for you to switch sides in the middle of a nursing session. Thoroughly emptying of one breast allows the baby to consume hind milk, which has a higher fat content than the milk available at the start of a nursing session. At the next feeding session, start off your baby from the other side.
Monitor if your baby is getting enough – As long as a baby is active and content, there isn’t much cause for concern. Some clues to estimate if your baby is getting enough breastmilk include monitoring diapers (5-6 wet and 3-4 dirty diapers by week 1), monitoring weight and continuing milk supply.