If Day 1 of Breastfeeding is Day 1 of Your Baby’s Life …
Many births go smoothly and you can welcome your baby right away with
It’s important to give your baby this unhurried time to feel safe. Important for you too!
When your baby rests on your chest, covered with a blanket or towel, he or she stays warm and relaxes; heart rate slows, breathing slows, stress hormones clear away and no energy is wasted.
You will also relax as your hormones prepare milk and connect you emotionally with this baby. You’ll bleed less too.
She’ll tuck up her knees so she’s curled up, just as she was in the womb. She lies in your cleavage area, below your collar-bone. You can check her head is turned sideways so she can breathe easily.
Do I have to be naked for skin-to-skin contact?
No! Your baby’s front needs to be touching your skin, but you can wear some clothing …
wear a loose pyjama top, nightdress, dressing gown or shirt that unbuttons at the front;
cover baby’s back and you with a towel or blanket;
you can wear a scarf if you like.
Your birth companion or health care professional can cover your lower half with a sheet or blanket, so that you feel comfortable. If this covers the baby too, his or her feet can push on your body, to help with the next steps …
Tip: when you pack your hospital bag, stuff an extra nightdress, shirt or pyjama top in, for this moment. Tell your birth partner when and why you will need it. Write it into your birth plan. (Whatever you wore for labour may get soiled, so it’s nice to have a clean one handy.)
Does the baby have to be naked for skin-to-skin contact?
Right after the birth, your baby will be naked. Your midwife or birth attendant will wipe the baby dry, checking briefly that everything is ok, and help you lift the baby onto your tummy or chest. She will cover the baby with a towel or blanket to keep him or her warm.
Hat? When you kiss the baby’s head, you take in that unique smell and your mouth meets the baby’s skin. Then your body starts making anti-infection factors right away – your breasts tailor them exactly for your baby’s needs, in response to the germs you exchange. If your baby is chilly, health staff may suggest a hat – but you can get some kisses in first!
Your baby’s work
begins now with these 9 steps. Light and cold may shock her so she cries. To check she’s landed in a safe place, she uses touch, smell and hearing:
‘Am I on the body I know? Phew! Where’s the heart beat I’ve heard all my life? Ah, good!’ She can relax.
She wakes and begins to move. She’ll take a rest when she needs to – don’t let anybody take her away yet! This is just a short break.
She starts to crawl, pushing with her feet, patting with her hands. The smell of the womb fluid on her hands guides her, so it’s best not to wash it off yet.
She finds her way to the nipple and gets to know this new and exciting place. ‘Ahh, here’s what I need. I think. What happens if I pat it? Mouth it? Smell it, lick it? Mmm …’
At last she gets her mouth around it and suckles.
Then she sleeps.
Newborn babies can do this ‘breast crawl’ if they are well and unmedicated. Watch this amazing human behaviour and learn more about breastfeeding in the first hours
is to hold her close so her whole front touches yours. Talk to her. Watch her. Marvel at her skill and strength. Kiss, stroke, touch as much as you want to.
Without even thinking about it, you are making colostrum, the first milk. Surges of oxytocin
push plentiful amounts of colostrum through your breasts in this first hour after the birth.
How partners can help
Stay close and connected to both these wonderful people, the little one and the grown up. Watch, talk, weep if you feel like it. The whole process of baby finding breast can take 90 minutes.
Keep your phone in your pocket – this is special time. Wider family and friends can wait a few minutes.
You may need to protect this time and space from interruption. Hospital staff may be rushed and stressed, so there may be pressure to move you all out of this room and into another. Be as fierce as you like – politely of course, and maintaining the calm atmosphere your family needs. If it’s essential to move, you can tuck a sheet round the one who’s just given birth and the baby so the baby is securely tied on. They can move the whole bed and you can walk beside to help and carry the bag.
What if medical help is needed after the birth?
If the mother / birthing parent and baby have to be separated for essential treatment, you can set up skin-to-skin contact as soon as both are able to be together. The baby will still have the reflexes to work through her nine steps. If they have to be lightly clothed, still the reflexes can work.
Partners can help by reminding staff that skin-to-skin contact is important and offering to help set it up. Broken record technique!
If the birth is by C-section
In an emergency, we all agree on saving lives first. You can set up skin-to-skin contact as soon as both are ready.
If the c-section is planned, the parents can discuss with the anaesthetist how to achieve some skin-to-skin contact on the operating table.
Staff will check the baby right away and wrap her. If baby and mother are in good condition, staff can bring the baby to touch her mother cheek to cheek, or lay her on mother’s chest for a short time.
Partners can help by helping to hold the baby on the mother, and by reminding staff that even a short time of touch is valuable. In the recovery room, skin-to-skin contact should be possible with modification. A towel placed over the wound can protect it.
What if the baby doesn’t do the birth crawl?
Your baby may be sleepy from labour medications. She still has those amazing reflexes, but she can’t use them yet. If you have a time of snuggling skin-to-skin, your body will send hormones swirling through your blood stream, pushing colostrum through your breasts. If your baby can’t suckle yet, you can hand express this early milk and give it to her by syringe. This will give your breasts the message to make more milk by stimulating them. It will give the baby energy to wake when she has rested a while.
Partners can help by asking for a syringe if the baby falls deeply asleep in less than an hour after the birth. You may need to collect the drops of colostrum your partner expresses and feed them to your baby: or staff may have to do this (depending on hospital rules.)
As soon as the baby wakes, you can set up skin-to-skin contact – probably with a nappy on now!
If the mother or birthing parent is unwell after the birth
but the baby is in good condition – the dad, mum, or non-birthing partner can hold the baby against his or her bare chest. You will get a rush of hormones similar to what mothers experience, but dialed down so you won’t produce milk just from this experience. Enjoy!
If Day 1 of Breastfeeding Comes Later …
You may need to remind your medical team you want skin-to-skin contact as soon as your baby is well enough, or developed enough (if she arrived prematurely).
Partners can help with the broken record technique!
Your baby still has those amazing reflexes – up to around 3 months of age. Many families start breastfeeding slowly.
To get your milk supply up and running, if your baby cannot feed at all yet, you need to follow a plan:
Days 1,2,3 : hand express colostrum every 2-3 hours in the daytime and once or twice at night – 8 times in 24 hours or more
After that: pump or hand express 8 or more times in 24 hours. Aim for 10! You can cluster-pump a few times in an hour if that’s convenient.
Your baby can have your milk by tube, syringe, cup, spoon, or bottle, or you can finger-feed her. Ask staff to show you how.
When your baby is ready, hold her in skin-to-skin contact and see what happens. It may be a slow journey, with each lick and nuzzle marking a step along the way. She wants to breastfeed! She’s hard-wired to do it.
Keep her fed, keep her close, keep your milk supply flowing, until she can feed by herself.