Visiting a new baby and mother in the hospital is a special time for family and friends. Sharing the joy of a new baby with loved ones in those days just after birth is a fleeting and treasured experience. In large families, there can be a parade of visitors that fill the short 1-2 postpartum days. While this is wonderful and surrounds a new family with love and well-wishes, it is important to keep an eye towards the effect of hospital visitors on breastfeeding success.
New babies need to breastfeed at minimum 8-12 times a day. There are studies surrounding the effect of breastfeeding on the prevention of jaundice that indicate that this recommendation should really be 10-12 times a day. The truth is that given the chance, many newborns will nurse much more often, even every 1-2 hours, or more. But the only way to know what a babyís natural pattern will be is to give them free access to the breast.
Free access to the breast would mean that a baby is near its mother to experience her smell and touch, mothers are watching their baby for feeding cues, that babyís natural sleep/wake/nurse cycle is allowed to develop and that mothers are able to offer the breast frequently. Once can imagine how numerous or frequent visitors would disrupt all of these requirements. Without some strategic planning, feedings may not only meet just the minimum requirements, but inadvertently end up falling significantly short of those requirements, leading to significant breastfeeding challenges that could have been avoided.
Newborns in the arms of others for long periods can tire out and miss out on the physical cues literally emitted by glands in the breasts that help the baby to locate and root for the breast. Early, subtle feeding cues are missed, and even less subtle ones like rooting and mouthing fists are and can move to later cues like crying.
Once the baby is crying, relatives are less inclined than one might think to pass the baby over to the mother Ė they arenít being thoughtless, but they tend to revel in their ability to rock and calm the baby. The problem here is that the babyís cries arenít an indicator of needing to be rocked to sleep, but to eat! But in the absence of the comfort and satiation of the breast, the baby will sleep. The less nursing, the more tired (and potentially jaundiced), and the more tired, the less nursing. Even if the baby is passed back to the mother, a crying newborn may then be too disorganized to easily feed and may cause or lack the ability to overcome latch challenges.
A great solution to hospital visitors is to limit the time of visits to 10-15 minutes and to take a break especially to assess breastfeeding cues in between visitors. This requires clear communication from new mothers and fathers to guests. A great time to do this can be in emails or Facebook posts to friends along with the announcement of the baby. A great job for new fathers can be to stay alert to the length of visits, thank guests for coming and let them know that itís about time to feed the baby so the visit will have to wrap up. Let the next visitors know that the baby is feeding (even if they arenít yet!), and it will be a short wait to give time to assess the babyís needs and offer the breast.
Another helpful tool can be a a sign on the hospital door that says something along the lines of, ďI am learning to breastfeed, and I need to eat a lot. I canít wait to meet you but please be patient while you wait, and our first meeting may be short. Iíll have lots of time to visit and play once I get really good at this!Ē
An advance understanding of the effect of visitors in the hospital on breastfeeding, and a proactive plan to protect this crucial time, while still enjoying and allowing time with visitors can go a long way towards a successfully establishing breastfeeding. It is important to think ahead, because the elation and exhaustion that follow birth can allow the best laid plans to fall aside unless new parents are clear in their intentions.