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Tips for Latching & Positioning for Breastfeeding

A guide to feeding an octopus

…I mean newborn!

Picture this: you are in your third trimester of pregnancy and are eagerly awaiting your little bundle of joy. S/he is taking up an ever-increasing amount of space and you’re distracting yourself by researching everything about newborns. You read articles about breastfeeding, watch videos on how to latch a baby, and you feel pretty ready.

Then your baby comes. You proudly set yourself up for a feeding and bring the baby to the breast. Her mouth doesn’t open. She makes a fist, turns her head away from you, and scratches your nipple with her itty bitty razor sharp fingernails. (Remember when your pregnancy app told you that the fingernails had started to grow? They haven’t been clipped since then!) Your research didn’t prepare you for this. You suddenly feel like you gave birth to an octopus because she squirms so much and try as you might, you just can’t manage all those arms! There must be at least 8 of them.

What’s a new mom to do?

Step 1: Checking in

Fear not! This is exactly what people are referring to when they say that breastfeeding isn’t easy. Some moms and babies get it right away and have no issues. They’re the unicorns and don’t worry; they’ll struggle with other aspects of parenthood that will be a breeze for you. It’s very important to keep in mind that this is a common experience and that your frustration is completely normal.

Breastfeeding is a skill. Say it with me one more time: breastfeeding is a skill. You wouldn’t expect to be able to ride a bike after a few months of reading and video watching, and breastfeeding is no different. Even if you had learned everything and were doing it perfectly, your baby didn’t get the memo while he was on the inside. The best thing you can do is to be patient with yourself and get some hands on help. Seek out a friend, your mom, a midwife, or a lactation consultant.

Another thing to remember is that in the first day of life, baby doesn’t need to eat very much. His stomach is teeny tiny. You can hand express your colostrum and feed it by syringe, cup, or spoon until the two of you get the hang of things. This can buy you time and take the pressure off.

Step 2: The set up

Each mom and baby duo will develop their own preferences for a breastfeeding setup. Some will use a comfy armchair and squishy nursing pillow, others (yours truly) will sit on the stairs, and others will recline in bed. I recommend trying different things and discovering what you like. Keep a few things in mind:

  • Newborns will likely tolerate lying down to eat but older babies (8+ weeks) may want to sit up
  • Many “nursing chairs” are narrow and can be difficult for c-section recovery
  • Get comfortable! You may be here for a while
  • It’s easier to help a baby latch with your dominant hand
  • Have food, snacks, and your phone within arm’s reach

Step 3: Let’s do this!

You’ve made a pillow nest in your bed, the snacks are close by, and you’re ready to feed the baby. Now what?

If you’ve been working on your latch and position skills, try undressing yourself and your baby. It can be very helpful to have skin to skin contact during breastfeeding. Get the baby down to the diaper and go topless for yourself. Seriously – it can make a big difference. Next, decide what position you’d like to try (see below). Regardless of the position you’ll want to be tummy to tummy with your baby and line up his/her nose with your nipple.

The biggest thing I learned when my daughter was a baby was to keep my hand off the back of her head. It’s so tempting to hold a newborn by the head because their necks are so floppy! Instead, put your palm between the shoulder blades and use your thumb webbing to cradle the base of the skull. Touching the baby’s head can result in pushing away from you, kicking, keeping the mouth closed, etc. It’s such an easy fix once you learn it!

Hopefully with these three things, your baby will be ready to latch on and feed. When you see a wide open mouth, use the hand on the shoulder blades to apply firm pressure toward you. If your baby doesn’t have a wide mouth opening or if it’s too quick, you can use a finger to pull down on the chin. You may recruit your partner’s help with this step.

Let’s recap:

  1. Skin to skin and tummy to tummy
  2. Nose to nipple
  3. Firm pressure between the shoulder blades

Step 4: Is it working?

One of the most common lactation questions that I get is “how can I tell if the latch is correct?” Let’s go over all of the things you can look for. Depending on your baby and your physiology, not all of these will be present. This is just a guide so that you can know when to seek more help. If you are unsure, check with your lactation consultant.

  • Lots of wet and dirty diapers are a great sign to look for. If it’s coming out, then it must be going in!
  • Weight gain that’s appropriate for your baby’s age
  • A bit of discomfort during feeds is okay, but if you’re having toe curling pain it’s time to get checked out
  • Nipple damage/skin breakdown/wounds are indicative of an ineffective latch

Bottom line

Breastfeeding hard. It can be really freakin hard. There are a few things you can adjust to address common issues and if you’re wanting more individualized help, reach out to someone. At Vida Health & Wellness we are very nerdy about newborn reflexes, breastfeeding ergonomics, latching, and suck mechanics! Come and see us if you need a bit of support.

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