I often wish that before the birth of my first child, someone had given me a “quickstart guide” (similar to one that comes these days with electronics) for breastfeeding. Hospitals can be great resources for support to a new mother who wants to breastfeed, but unfortunately, routine hospital procedures can also interfere with or even sabotage breastfeeding. Here are some tips to make breastfeeding a success in the hospital.
In my related article, Breastfeeding in the Hospital, I discuss the importance of breastfeeding immediately and often following the birth of the baby, as well as making use of support resources. (See the related links at the bottom of this article.) These are three important general guidelines, but I also wanted to address a few specific potential issues related to a hospital stay that can be avoided with some planned strategies.
Time transfers and procedures for after nursing sessions
Any post-partum hospital stay will include numerous procedures and transfers. New mothers need to be checked for blood pressure, temperature, etc. in frequent intervals. Babies require various blood tests, exams and screenings. Transfers from labor and delivery and discharge can take time and require paperwork.
The concern with all of this is that attention to all of these things, which are happening on a timeline which has little to do with the natural rhythms of a new baby, can result in missing natural hunger cues or spacing out or reducing the number of feedings in a day. When reasonable and possible, request that moves and procedures happen following a nursing session. Or if it has been a while since the last feeding (and definitely if it has been more than 2 or 3 hours) , respectfully let them know it may be time for a feeding and if the baby is ready to eat that will need to happen first. Beware of “oh, this will just take a few minutes” replies – this is highly unlikely for any sort of transfer and ask for clarification of procedures.
Room-in with the baby 24 hours a day when possible
Rooming in is quickly becoming the norm in most hospitals, but even if you hospital has a dedicated nursery, resist the urge to have the nursing staff take the baby for the night to get a good night’s sleep “while you can.” This may sound cruel, or counter-intuitive, but it is really important to be nursing around the clock in those first days of a baby’s life.
Nursing at least 8-12 times in 24 hours (or more is fine!) is critical to send the body signals to generate strong milk supply. Without getting crazy about schedules, it is best not to have an interval longer than 2 or 3 (at most) hours from the start of one nursing session to the start of the next. If the baby must be removed for temporary NICU treatment or any extended procedure, ask for a hospital grade breast pump to “sub” for the baby and ensure the breasts are receiving that important stimulation.
Bring a travel alarm clock and take care with visitors
A new baby is such a wonderful cause for celebration, but especially for those with big and/or local families, hospital visitors can really cut into necessary breastfeeding frequency. Bring a travel alarm clock that is easily visible and when one feeding begins, set it to go off again in 2-3 hours. Don’t be shy about asking visitors to take a quick visit to the cafeteria or arrange time for a return visit to keep those feedings going. After getting a hang of the first few feedings, you may find it is sufficient to ask them to step outside while you latch the baby on and then come back in to chat once the feeding has begun (you can use a blanket as a nursing cover if it makes you feel more comfortable)
Making the effort to focus on breastfeeding as a primary occupation once the baby is born can pay enormous dividends later in both time and money savings by avoiding supplementation or nursing challenges. Hospitals are certainly supportive of breastfeeding but don’t always see how each individual procedure or policy (often coordinated individually by various teams or personnel) can add up to sabotage breastfeeding success.
Visitors bring the delight over sharing joy over the new baby, but it is important to remain aware of the physical needs of establishing healthy breastfeeding. Squeezing in 4-5 feeds in between visitors is simply not a healthy start to this process. 8-12 feeds each 24 hours from the start is very important for breastfeeding success.
Being aware of these factors and preparing for success (this is a great role for partners to stay aware of these factors as a new mother can be quickly exhausted and overwhelmed!) can make a huge difference in early breastfeeding success.
Looking for great breastfeeding support books? Here are two of my favorites: