We recently hosted a live video talk on our Facebook page with lactation consultant and mother of five Nicola O’Byrne of BreastfeedingSupport.ie. Nicola shared some of her expert breastfeeding tips for new mothers, focusing specifically on the first few days after birth.
Nicola has been working with mothers and babies for over 30 years. As a paediatric nurse, she worked in the neonatal unit of the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital and Crumlin Children’s Hospital. During this time, she helped many mothers to establish effective breastfeeding with both full-term and preterm babies.
She provides practical help and advice with breastfeeding concerns, immediately after birth or at any stage. Currently, she provides this service online while home/clinic consults are on hold.
Read on for some practical tips to help get you through those first few days with your new little one.
How to Prepare for the First Feed
The first time you breastfeed your baby is momentous, but also a completely new experience that might seem scary or strange. The most important thing is not to panic, and both you and baby will find a rhythm.
Here are Nicola’s top tips for that first feed after birth:
When is the First Feed?
“Official guidelines states that the baby should have its first feed within half an hour to an hour after birth. And the reasons why you want the baby to have a feed that soon after birth is because you want to put an imprint onto them as soon as possible. It’s a way to communicate to the baby that this is feeding time, and this is how you do it.”
What If I Can’t Do It?
“Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding isn’t an innate skill, it is a learned one – so don’t panic if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Every baby that you have, you learn again. You might be better second or third time, but it’s still something that you have to work out with your baby about what’s going to work for you both.”
What is Baby Doesn’t Latch?
“It is really common for babies not to latch well initially. Sometimes they’re just a bit stressed after the birth, especially if it was a very quick labour. Hold them skin-to-skin to help regulate them and keep them calm and free from distraction.”
What If the Feed Doesn’t Work?
“If your baby doesn’t latch or if you are separated from your baby directly after the birth for whatever reason, it’s recommended that you should hand-express colostrum. That is the nutrient-rich milk that starts developing in your breasts from around 16 weeks of pregnancy. It really surges in that first hour after birth and it’s when the largest amounts of colostrum are collected.”
Breastfeeding During the First Week
Once you’ve gotten past that first feed, it’s time to get into a regular rhythm. This will take a while to get used to, but here are some general tips from Nicola on the first week of feeds:
“Most babies in the early stages of the first week or two will never take a full feed in one go. A lot do what we call ‘dinner and dessert’. This is where they feed, fall asleep and look like they’re done. But then 15-20 minutes later, they wake up and off they go again.”
“Most of the time, that second feed is not as long, it might be about 5-10 minutes. It’s like they put their knife and fork down, they have a rest, they don’t gobble it all down together as they’re not really strong enough – their tummies aren’t big enough yet to hold the milk that they need to take during that time. So, always expect that your baby will probably come back a second time in those early feeds.”
Wake Your Baby Frequently
“In those first few days, if your baby isn’t waking up by her/himself frequently, you will need to wake them to feed. Don’t let them go longer than four uninterrupted hours in the first week without a feed.”
Most Feeds Will Be At Night
“Remember, most newborns feed more at night than they do during the day. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is probably that your hormone levels are higher at night and you make more milk, that’s when babies feed more frequently. Also at nighttime, it’s quieter. And particularly if it’s very busy during the day, they are more likely to have a couple of hours of more frequent feeding at night.”
Getting the Latch Right
Nicola’s best tips on mastering the latch in those early days of newborn breastfeeding:
Again, Don’t Panic!
“It’s mad, because what happens is in the first couple of weeks is, you have to concentrate so much on the latch, and the baby’s positioning. But then after that, the baby can latch upside down and will still be able to drink milk. So, it’s really only in the first week that you’ve got to be very careful about all of your positioning and latching and holding the baby in really close. After that the baby gets bigger and stronger, and their mouth gets bigger, and this doesn’t matter as much.”
Master One Hold
“Cross cradle hold, football hold…many mothers think that they have to use lots of different types of holds in the early days. You don’t, you just need to master one. So focus on finding the one that works for you and your baby and then stick to that.”
You Are the Guide
“In those first few days, as much as you’re learning, your baby is learning even more.”
“A lot of newborn babies will try to latch with their eyes closed, but can’t. That’s because maybe they are searching with their face to feel the nipple, then if they can’t find it with their face, the hands come in. They start searching with their hands on the breast and if they can’t find it with their hands, the head butting starts! So, help them along as much as you can when guiding the breast into their mouth.”
It’s Breastfeeding, Not Nipple Feeding!
“Ideally, you want your baby to take a big mouthful of breast as it’s breastfeeding, not nipple feeding.”
“When your baby latches, you bring the baby onto the breast, you don’t put the breast into the baby’s mouth. What you want to see is cheeks touching the breast, so that when you look down, all you should see is their nose. You shouldn’t be able to see a gap between the cheek and the under breast.”
More Breastfeeding Tips and Guidance
You can find more practical breastfeeding tips from Nicola, including tips on the cross cradle hold, nipple care and breastfeeding when returning to work in the full video talk here.
You can also book a consultation with her directly, through her website.