It’s still a surprise to me when visiting mamas in their homes postpartum that they are told this advice: feed your baby for 15 minutes from each breast. That’s it. Breastfeeding success! Wait… what?!
Physiologically this doesn’t make much sense. While breastfeeding your baby, the milk composition changes as the feed goes on, and also changes from one feed to the next! It’s complex, wonderful, and dynamic! Knowing this, it’s important to not look at the clock when breastfeeding, and that’s the best and simplest advice I can give if you are breastfeeding.
THE FIRST 6 WEEKS
You and your baby are on this new journey together – learning how to feed takes time, patience, and a lot of determination. Think of it as two new partners! You’re learning the swing of things and your body is learning to adapt to the needs of your baby. At the same time, your newborn is learning how to effectively latch and suck to trigger that awesome milk production! This is why it’s extremely important to keep your baby at the breast as much as possible and on demand – it will help your baby learn how to latch effectively and will allow your body to produce the milk that your baby needs. Pumping is great and can certainly be helpful, but there is no better pump than your baby when you are together.
LEFT, RIGHT, BOTH?
The key here is to offer one side, and to try to get your baby to “finish” with that side completely. Your breasts are never completely empty, but it’s important that your baby gets the opportunity to receive all the benefits of your breastfeeding session. The foremilk that comes at the beginning of a feed is meant to quench your baby’s thirst and has a higher water content, whereas the hindmilk is fattier with higher calories which will keep your baby fuller as well. This changes as the feed goes on and there’s no magic number to say when this actually occurs! So it’s completely normal that a feed with a newborn could take an hour, especially when clustering is happening (during growth spurts, milestones, illness, etc) – it can take even longer sometimes. I know, it’s intensive and pretty wild, but knowing this saves a lot of anxiety over feeds. The foremilk also has a bluish tinge to it, whereas the hindmilk is creamier and whiter when you express it and see it. It’s not always easy to tell the difference by looking!
KEEP IT SIMPLE
I like to view breastfeeding sessions this way: you offer the first breast as the “meal” and the second breast as “dessert.” Sometimes your baby will just take one side, but you’ll still offer the second. They may take it but only for a short while and that is OK, or they may take it completely! Then with the next feed you will offer that last breast FIRST. This is how you will maintain a high milk production on both sides! Your baby is growing and changing very quickly, and each day they will become more effective at feeds. An hour session will soon turn into 10 minutes. It really does get easier!
I remember setting up a little station on the couch when my boys were newbies. Diapers, wipes, nipple ointments, breast pads, water, snacks, TV controllers… you name it! I knew I would be spending basically all of my time there so I had the essentials close-by at all times. Those first few weeks can be rough and I’ve totally been there. Get professional advice when you need it especially if you’re unsure if feeds are effective. It goes a long way, and stress is never a great addition to your milk production. A lot of mamas think they don’t have enough milk which ultimately leads to the discontinuation of breastfeeding…which usually isn’t the case (it happens, but is uncommon)!