Excerpted with permission from the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (Random House), 8th edition, by Teresa Pitman, Diana West and Diane Weissinger.
When a baby is born, his instincts and reflexes help him crawl to the nipple and latch on, even if you don’t help at all. But most of the time, you’ll want to help – and that’s instinctive, too!
Here’s an approach that takes advantage of the natural instincts you both have. Ideally, your baby will be in your arms moments after she’s born. Ask for some pillows or adjust the bed so that you are not lying flat or sitting up straight – just reclining at an easy angle that’s comfortable for every part of you. Your baby can lie on top of you, her front on your front, with a towel for you to dry her with and a blanket over the two of you for warmth if you need it. There! Now gravity will paste her entire front against yours, while your hands are free to rub and stroke her wherever you like. That’s really all you need to do at first – just find a totally comfortable way to cuddle together so that you’re completely supported – head, neck, shoulders, body – by whatever you’re leaning back against, and she’s completely supported by your body, or maybe also by the bedding around you.
Your baby might start searching for your breast almost immediately, or she might be a little shocked to find herself outside her warm, wet home of the past nine months. If the trip was a rough one, she may just cry at first. As one experienced helper said, “She needs to tell her story!” And you can tell her yours! Soothe her, stroke her, talk to her, snuggle her. As she recovers from the journey from womb to world, she’ll begin to think about sucking, usually sometime within that first hour. She may start by drooling, or making sucking movements with her lips or brining her fist to her mouth, or licking. After a while, she may lift her head (look how strong she is!) and bob her face on and off your skin. You can help her move closer to the breast or support her as she finds her way. She’s doing all this by feel and by smell, not sight, and she welcomes having you share in her efforts. You don’t need to be skilled; fumbling is a normal, even helpful, part of the process.
At some point, when her face is near your nipple, she’ll lift her head, open her mouth wide, latch, and begin to suck. She’s breastfeeding!
The feeling may surprise you. That’s a strong little mouth, and it may tug and compress your nipple more than you thought. If it’s downright pinchy or painful, try moving her body or yours around just a bit to see if it helps. It doesn’t have to be a big adjustment to make things more comfortable.
Your baby can nurse as long as you both want. Most likely, after a while she’ll either fall asleep with your nipple in her mouth, or let go and fall asleep. Or you might decide to stop nursing because you need to shift your position or get up for a bit. If you’re the one who ends the feeding, take your cue from the baby about whether to offer the other breast. If she’s putting her fist in her mouth or fussing, she probably wants to nurse some more.
Until now, your baby was fed continuously through the umbilical cord, and she’s designed to expect frequent feedings now. So she may nurse, let go, and doze for a bit, then wake up and start looking for the nipple again. That’s normal. It’s how a good milk supply and a well-fed baby get started.