You’ve just given birth to your beautiful new baby. The first few minutes, hours and days of meeting your new child are so exciting and emotional. With those emotions comes vulnerability and possibly a little anxiety, especially if it is your first birth and you are in a hospital with a nursing staff checking on your status every half hour.
Now that the birth process is over you have a new mountain to climb: breastfeeding. In my personal experience as well as my experience as a birth doula, breastfeeding is generally not easy, especially for first-time moms. Forget the picturesque idea that baby will climb up your belly, find your breast and begin to breastfeed from a breast full of creamy milk while you giggle at the unusual, yet incredible, feeling. That typically doesn’t happen right away. (But let me emphasize that is DOES happen soon and it’s SO worth the pain and effort in the beginning.)
Challenges with Breastfeeding
Typically transitioning into a new breastfeeding relationship is painful, frustrating and emotional, especially if you are struggling with inverted nipples, mastitis, yeast infection, thrush, problems with latching and many more common breastfeeding problems. I believe you have to be educated and ready for the challenges if you want to have success. With dedicated and skilled support, mothers can overcome most of these common problems. (Again, it is SO worth the effort.) I recommend reading The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers and The Breastfeeding Book- Everything You Need To Know About Nursing from Birth Through Weaning before the baby comes (these are affiliate links).
Besides the physical challenges of breastfeeding, one of the challenges new moms face is the newborn feeding schedule that most hospitals and many birthing centers enforce during “recovery”. You’re given a piece of paper with a chart on it to record every time your baby breastfeeds, pees or poops, and someone will be in to check on you to make sure you are sticking to the schedule.
Is it just me, or does this seem like a sort of test you have to pass? I don’t believe new parents need to worry about passing a test, especially because during this time parents are so emotional and vulnerable that they could be persuaded to follow biased advice that the hospital staff claims is “necessary”, but is, in fact, completely unnecessary.
The Newborn Feeding Schedule
I’m sure many nurses and doctors will defend this standard procedure as necessary to ensure proper weight gain, digestion and blood sugar levels. They might even say that they just use the chart to keep an eye on what’s happening, but I just have a problem with the pressure and frustration I’ve seen that little paper give parents. In fact, the World Health Organization declared in 1998 that the newborn feeding schedule is “clearly harmful or ineffective”. There may be an arguable benefit to it, but God has given mothers a better tool to gauge if their newborn is doing well: instinct.
- Is your baby actively attempting to breastfeed?
- Are you establishing a proper latch?
- Is the baby losing weight at a “normal” rate? (They will re-gain it soon, don’t worry.)
- Is there pee and poop in the diaper?
Dr. William Sears says these are signs that everything is okay, and that you should trust those signs.
Your newborn baby’s stomach is the size of a cherry. The baby does not need that much to fill their tummy! What they do need is the constant comfort of your skin and breast to remain calm and transition well into life outside the womb. Overfeeding and unnecessary stress from supplemental feeding could actually increase digestive problems and even cause blood sugar problems.
Low Blood Sugar?
Don’t give in to pressure to supplement your baby with formula or glucose water. This practice is totally unnecessary unless it is firmly established that your baby is diabetic or hypoglycemic, and even if that is the case, establishing a breastfeeding relationship is the best thing you can do for your diabetic or hypoglycemic baby. It should also be noted that the testing level for newborn hypoglycemia is arbitrary, meaning no official “low blood sugar” level has any evidence to support it, and true hypoglycemia can only be determined in a laboratory (source). This study showed that the markers used for testing newborn hypoglycemia had no practical importance if the baby had no symptoms. It has even been suggested that the “low blood sugar” test was designed to “derail successful breastfeeding”. In most cases there is no reason to accept formula or glucose water, and doing so will certainly interfere with successful breastfeeding.
Let Your Baby Create The Schedule
There is no official amount of times your newborn should nurse. Your baby CAN’T nurse too often, but CAN nurse too little. If the baby is crying, fussing, or rooting (turning their head or wiggling their tongue in and out of their mouth), then NURSE! Just because that little newborn feeding chart shows that you are feeding your baby “on schedule” doesn’t mean that your baby shouldn’t be nursed 10 times that amount. Remember, nursing isn’t just about eating…it’s about nurturing and giving your baby the customized attention they need, and not the amount that someone else tells you they need.
The baby also doesn’t have to poop or pee on schedule. My first baby was constantly passing her waste while my second baby’s digestion was VERY slow. There were no signs of discomfort with baby #2 and she was regularly getting stuff out, so we weren’t worried and my midwife or the pediatrician weren’t worried either .
Is Baby Getting Enough Nutrition?
Hopefully your midwife or doctor kept the umbilical cord uncut until it naturally stopped pulsing (talk to your midwife or doctor about this before the birth and have it in your birth plan). This final stage of umbilical cord pulsing is delivering a gush of nutrients to the baby, giving him a final boost of nutrition to sustain him during his first few days until your milk comes in. A healthy newborn isn’t going to starve while receiving your colostrum before the flow of milk comes in. It’s not about the quantity of food at this point, it’s about the quality of those little drops of nutrient-dense colostrum. (Don’t forget! Your milk doesn’t come in right away, and may take a few days to come in.) It will be very clear if your baby has a (rare) case of severe malnourishment upon birth, but the majority of babies are just fine with mom alone, even if the first few days of feeding are difficult. Just make sure you are getting the proper nutrition you need during lactation.
Take Charge Of Your Role As The Parent
When you search “newborn feeding schedule” on the Internet, you will find that formula companies pop up first, and they seem to be the only ones promoting a newborn feeding schedule. That should signal a red flag in your mind! Formula companies love the newborn feeding charts and schedules because they can get a baby started on formula if parents “fall short”. If your goal is to breastfeed your baby, then be aware of this tactic because “women whose babies receive routine supplements are up to five times more likely to give up breastfeeding in the first week and twice as likely to abandon it during the second week as women who are encouraged to feel that their own colostrum and milk are adequate without supplements” (Enkin et al 1995).
Remember to trust your instincts as you establish your breastfeeding relationship with your newborn, knowing that it is just that: a relationship. Some relationships require more time and effort than others and the breastfeeding relationship is no exception. You are not a “bad parent” if you decide to challenge a hospital’s standards of practice, especially if they go against your will (unless you are truly endangering the health of your baby). Do not mistake my suggestions here as medical advice and always seek the advice and support of your doctor, midwife and/or pediatrician as you make health-related choices for you and your baby.
What was your experience feeding your newborn baby?
Enkin M, Keirse MJNC, Renfrew M, Neilson J. A guide to effective care in pregnancy and childbirth. 2nd edition. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995.