The big day is finally here! After you've been in labor for some time and pushing with all your might, Baby is born and the next step is ... breastfeeding? New moms are encouraged to breastfeed their newborns right after delivery, but some are a little wary about it. Questions like, "What if my milk's not in?" "Will he even be interested?" or "How long should I wait before attempting a first nursing?" are just a few that come to many new mothers' minds.
I remember when my first two children were born. They were placed upon my chest so fast after my last push that I was dizzy from using all my strength and had to be told what was lying atop my breast. I was encouraged to gently rub them and talk to them before they were whisked away for the usual medical attention babies need. I was encouraged to provide skin-to-skin contact. Of course, I was on board for breastfeeding, but I had no idea that I should attempt it so soon after delivery. My first worry once I was (almost) back to normal was whether my milk was even "in" yet. I had no clue, but I tried anyway.
With my first child, latching was a problem. Keep in mind breastfeeding is a learned experience. Sometimes it comes naturally and sometimes it doesn't. Don't be discouraged if you don't have immediate success — you'll both figure it out soon enough. It was much more easier with my second. Now, with my third baby due soon, I'm wondering now ... did I miss out on important breastfeeding opportunities with my first two? Was there a right time to start?
"Ideally, babies should be put directly on their mother’s chest as soon as they’re born," says Kimberly Hampton, IBCLC with Middle Tennessee Lactation (middletnlactation.com), which provides in-home breastfeeding support to families in Murfreesboro, Franklin and surrounding areas. "Many babies will latch on right away if given the opportunity. Mothers who have Cesarean births may even be able to do skin-to-skin or breastfeed in the operating room in some hospitals." There isn't a time that's too soon for nursing. "The first hour after birth is referred to as the 'magic hour,' because newborns are very alert, and they use all of their senses to find the breast," says Hampton.
"Unless there have been any difficulties, such as an emergency Caesarean, you'll usually be encouraged to breastfeed your baby very soon after the birth," says doctors Joanne Stone, M.D., and Keith A. Eddleman, M.D., in their book, Your New Pregnancy Bible (Hamlyn; 2015). "Many babies take to the breast immediately and begin to suck away happily without any problems." The act of trying to breastfeed signals your body that Baby is ready to nurse. "There is no reason to delay the first feeding as long as Mom and Baby are both well and there are no complications," adds Hampton.
"Many of the assessments done on newborns after delivery can be done while on the mother’s chest, so as not to disturb the skin-to-skin time between them." If you're not able to begin breastfeeding soon after delivery, don't worry. However, Hampton encourages a period of time concentrated on nursing. "While some babies may latch immediately upon being put on their mother’s chest, others may take a little more time," she adds. "Regardless of how quickly Baby latches, it’s important to give her uninterrupted time to learn how to breastfeed during the first few hours of life. This may mean delaying visitors for a few hours to increase the chances of successful breastfeeding." If Baby doesn't latch immediately, don't fret. "Some aren't quite ready — for example, if the birth has been difficult or the baby is premature," say Stone and Eddleman. "Initially, it's also not unusual for babies to have a six- to eight-hour gap between each feeding. Don't worry that she's not getting enough food — babies don't need a lot in the first few days," they add.
Whatever the case, if breastfeeding has been delayed for any reason, you should still hold your newborn close to your chest and soothe her with your voice. It will help her prepare for nursing later. The important thing to remember is that you really want her to get the colostrum, the substance your breasts produce late in pregnancy that comes before breast milk. It's packed full of nutrients Baby needs. "Mothers and babies who aren’t able to breastfeed early on can still have a successful breastfeeding relationship with good breastfeeding support," adds Hampton.