Most women rarely see a newborn nurse immediately after birth aside from their own baby and are surprised to find how different it is than nursing an older baby. A newborn’s head bobs up and down quite a bit as they completely rely on development and instincts to learn how to breastfeed. Though, it feels like they don’t know what they’re doing. You might feel a bit unsure, and a bit sore in your bottom from the birth, making this time awkward. Don’t worry, laying back is helpful for baby, and baby is supposed to do most of the work after birth.
A newborn has the ability to:
- Crawl up your belly, stimulating contractions to help you birth your placenta
- Smell the oils emitted from your breasts, helping baby to find your breast
- See your dark areola, also helping baby to find your breast
- Stimulate oxytocin, the hormone needed to help you bond with your baby and stimulate contractions in the uterus and your milk ducts
A newborn has to learn how to breathe, use their mouth to transfer milk, and swallow in the first minutes after birth. The birth, and their development, will affect how easy this is, but they should be able to breastfeed within the first 30 to 60 minutes after birth.
Smells and noises can be distracting to your newborn. A quiet and calm environment will help your baby learn what to do, and what not to do. Be sure to have your baby skin-to-skin in the first hours and days while nursing, and tuck their bottom in really close to you. After a few hours of good nursing after birth, they will want to sleep and this is a good time for you to sleep, too. Weights, measures, or footprints can wait a bit to prevent interfering with breastfeeding and rest during this time.
The milk your baby gets right after birth, and for the first few days before your hormones change to increase milk production, is made just for your baby. No other milk alternative, and no one else’s milk, will ever be the same as the milk you make for this baby.
At birth, your milk has immune cells that your baby needs which have been created to prepare your baby for life outside of the womb. The milk in the first few days, called colostrum, starts your baby’s immune and digestive systems, which will affect your baby’s health for their entire life, changing every time baby nurses and as baby’s developmental needs change.
Your baby learns how to breastfeed by breastfeeding. At birth, their stomach is the size of a cherry and this is exactly how much milk you will make and baby will need to nurse at least every two hours, and maybe more. Pacifiers, bottles, a finger, or a fist don’t teach baby how to get your milk; so, get them to the breast often.
If your baby has tight muscles or tissues in their mouth, neck, shoulders, has a high narrow palate, an overbite, or tight skin under their tongue or near their lips, your baby may want to nurse even more or may get tired or frustrated more easily while nursing because these tight tissues make it hard for baby to get milk. Try gently massaging your baby’s mouth, cheeks, jaw, neck, and shoulders to release tension.
Craniosacral therapy, Speech Therapy, Osteopathic Adjustments, and other massage or bodywork (and possibly tongue or lip tie revisions) can help your baby breathe better, transfer milk more easily, and swallow milk (without swallowing air) making breastfeeding more comfortable for baby, and for you.
Remember, breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful and baby should be satisfied through unlimited access to the breast. Getting help with breastfeeding early and often can make a big, long-term, impact on a happy and healthy breastfeeding relationship for you and your baby.