No matter how many books a mom reads about breastfeeding, it can seem like she is totally clueless until she tries it herself. Many women are intimidated because they aren't sure that things will come naturally, and they have heard how hard — and painful — it could be. So when it's time to get started, they often are confused and just unsure that they are doing it correctly.
The baby and the mom naturally provide lots of clues as to whether things are going well. For example, a well-fed baby isn't going to cry through the nursing session unless he is sick, and mom can look at his cheeks — and even his hands — to see if he has the suck down. For the mom, she should make sure that most of her areola is in his mouth, and she needs to know that it really isn't supposed to hurt. There are some other cheats that can help, like counting diapers, measuring baby before and after, and more.
If she pays attention to the signs, she will be able to figure out what is going wrong and fix it to allow for a longer breastfeeding relationship and a healthier baby. Here is how to know if breastfeeding is done right.
20 If The Pain Lasts, Something Is Wrong
Every woman fears breastfeeding because of its reputation as being really painful. But the truth is that it shouldn't be that bad. While there is some discomfort at the beginning, if it is really painful, then it's likely that the baby isn't latching correctly.
Usually the most painful part of nursing happens in the first few seconds of each session, but if it is a shooting sensation that lasts more than a few sucks, it's a good idea to stick your pinkie in the corner of the baby's mouth, unlatch him and try again. Things like sores and cracks and bleeding are also signs that things aren't being done correctly, although they can also happen with mastitis. Pain is your guide, so listen to the body and don't believe the hype that it has to hurt.
19 Check The Cheeks
It can be really difficult to figure out the baby's latch, but there are a few signs that it is not being done correctly. One of the biggest is to check the baby's cheeks, as they can show signs that things are good or bad. With a bad latch, for example, the cheeks will look shrunken in. On the other hand, with a good latch and a good suck, you can see the proof all the way from the mouth to the ears.
The correct sucking pattern should be evident by looking at the fact that you can see movement all the way up along the cheekbone, as the jaw should be involved, not just the baby's mouth. It should even be evident in baby's with big kissable cheeks. That's a great place to check first to see if the latch is going well.
18 Watch The Clock: If There's Something Wrong, It'll Take Longer
While babies certainly eat at their own speed, watching the clock can be a way to figure out if things are going well. Some women might find it hard if they don't have anything to compare to, but it's pretty rare that a newborn will need to nurse for an entire hour. In fact, if the baby takes an hour and still doesn't seem satisfied, then he is likely not getting his milk in the proper way.
At birth, the baby's stomach is really tiny, and while it grows quickly, it's still only about the size of an egg at one month. Babies who are well latched can typically fill their tummy in 20 to 30 minutes. Usually, when they are full, they will unlatch themselves. But if they aren't latched well, the process is inefficient, and it will take longer to fill the belly. There are times when it will feel like you are feeding the baby around the clock — particularly during growth spurts — but it shouldn't take all day to get one nursing session done.
17 Lip Tie Can Keep Baby From Latching
The baby's mouth can impact his ability to breastfeed, as some of the structures could make it really hard for him to latch. A lip tie, some say, can keep the baby from latching correctly and might might it difficult for the baby to swallow his milk and gain weight. The tie is just a piece of skin above the top gums that attaches to the base of the lip, and if it is too tight, it can restrict the movement.
Since the baby's latch can cause breastfeeding to be painful and hurt a woman's ability to produce a good milk supply, some doctors recommend treating the issue but simply cutting that tissue. Some pediatricians aren't trained in the issue, so you might have to find a specialist, but a very simple procedure can make a big difference, so it might be worth it.
16 Counting Diapers
What goes in must come out, and that is why counting diapers is a good way to tell whether or not the baby is nursing well. If he is getting enough milk, he will regularly relieve himself. The baby should have at least six to eight wet diapers a day if he is well-nourished. Many babies have just as many diapers filled with No. 2, although some breastfed babies start out with regular bowel movements but then start to have one big one every few days instead of a bunch of little ones each day.
If the baby isn't producing wet diapers like they should, then it's important to talk to the doctor right away. Newborns can get dehydrated quickly, and that can be really dangerous. It might mean a need to supplement, but that doesn't mean that a mom has to give up on breastfeeding.
15 If They're Suddenly A Fussy Feeder, It Could Be A Sign
All babies are fussy at times, but when they are newborns, especially, the act of nursing is supposed to be calming. That sucking reflex kicks in, and the baby relaxes and often falls asleep after being satisfied. But if the milk isn't flowing well because of a bad latch or a low supply, it won't take long before the baby starts to fuss.
Many babies are noisy eaters, but there is a big difference in the grumbling of a baby who is enjoying his dinner and one who can't seem to get the milk to flow. It gets a little more complicated when the baby is sickly, and it might be hard to do the breath part in suck, swallow breath, but it's still important to nurse through it. Take advantage of the baby's fussiness and try to offer your breast when his mouth is wide open from crying.
14 Gaining Weight
The goal of breastfeeding is nourishing the baby so he can grow bigger and stronger, so the amount of weight that the baby gains is the No. 1 indicator if things are going well. In the first few days after birth, most babies lose weight — up to 10 percent of their birth weight — while the mom's milk is still coming in. But doctors want that weight to go up fast, as things like jaundice can get worse if the baby isn't getting enough food.
The pediatrician will keep a close eye on the baby during the first few weeks, and if he isn't gaining weight, that might mean that the mom needs to supplement with formula. That doesn't mean that she can't be successful continuing to nurse, but as she and the baby are figuring out, it's best that the baby remains healthy along the way.
13 Mom's Feels Relief After Milk Has Built Up
Moms may not be able to measure the amount of milk that their baby is consuming from their breasts, but they should be able to feel it in the weight that comes off of them. Before a feeding, a woman can usually feel the milk build up, as her breasts get hard and heavy. But after the baby nurses, she feels a major relief because of the milk that has been emptied out.
The feeling can go up and down before and after each feeding, and pretty soon the mom will be able to tell when it's time to nurse even before the baby starts to fuss.
12 Baby's Tongue Tied
The baby's tongue is really important when it comes to latching on correctly. And just as the lip might be a problem, there can also be a problem with the tongue known as the tongue tie. There, the tie is underneath the tongue, and if it is too tight, it won't allow the baby to move the tongue much into position.
The baby's tongue needs to be down and out to properly latch. If the tongue is curled up when he is put on the breast, which can happen if he is mid-scream, then it isn't going to be comfortable for him to get into the suck, swallow, breath pattern. Some doctors are willing to do a minor procedure to fix a tongue tie, but others think that the baby can adapt. They might be willing to help out with training him to get his tongue in the proper position to latch.
11 Proper Positioning: The Baby Must Be In The Right Spot
The baby's neck is a big deal from the time she is a newborn, but it isn't just important to support the neck when you are holding her. You also have to make sure that the baby's head and neck are in alignment while nursing. That's because it can help the milk flow down the esophagus well and into the stomach. The milk that doesn't settle well into the stomach can end up coming back up in the form of spit up, and that is a big deal for many babies. For babies who spit up a lot, the doctor is likely to recommend placing them in a position where they are a little upright as well. That can make the difference between the baby eating well or mom or dad wearing their meal.
10 Signs Of Baby Dehydration
One of the first worries about a newborn who isn't nursing well is that the baby will get dehydrated. That might be evident before the baby loses weight or has any other outward sign of problems. But the first two symptoms — sleepiness and irritability — can be pretty difficult to figure out because they can happen to any newborn.
Even an absence of tears is hard to notice, since most newborns don't actually have tears with their cries for a few months. So moms need to look out for other signs, such as dry mouth. Probably the most evident at this stage is that the soft spot can appear sunken. Eyes do too, but the soft spot is a unique symptom at this stage, so be sure to look out for it.
9 Feeling A Let Down
Breastfeeding is filled with strange sensations for a mom, and while some focus on the feel of the tugging that happens with the sucking of the baby, moms should instead focus on whether they feel a let down to know if they are doing it right.
The idea of a "let down" seems very negative, but it's not. It's a feeling that comes from hormones released by the baby's suck, and it lets the milk move more freely. Sometimes a woman feels warm and tingly at that moment, and she might even feel cramping in her uterus in the first few weeks after the birth. If the baby unlatches, the milk might still spray out. It's kind of hard to describe, but if you feel it you know it, and you'll know you are doing something right.
8 Suck, Swallow, Breath Pattern
There is a pattern to breastfeeding, if it is going correctly. The baby is supposed to have a pattern of sucking, swallowing and breathing, and if they don't it's probably because he has a bad latch. There might be a couple of gulps before the swallow, but it should be rhythmic, or they should start again.
One sign of a bad latch is that the pattern is disrupted — the baby takes quicker, less full swallows and has a shallow suck. It just doesn't seem to be going in a rhythm and that is probably because he's working too hard to try to get the milk out. If there isn't a pattern, it means that something is just not working for them.
7 Is Sleeping A Sign? Yes And No
The answer to this one is a yes and a no, so we don't want mom to get confused. First, some people think that if the baby is full she will sleep longer at night, and while that is somewhat true, newborns still need to eat every two to three hours, so you should wake up your baby to nurse in the first couple of months if they don't wake on their own. Sleepiness can also be a sign of dehydration, and in the first few days, many babies have to be stimulated with a wet cloth or something to help them stay awake long enough to get enough milk. It's usually not enough to just trust that a baby who is sleeping a lot is well-fed, and it's also not a sign that he needs cereal in his milk to get him to sleep through the night. We recommend moms look for other signs to be certain that they aren't interpreting this one incorrectly.
6 A Big Mouthful
Not all of the work of breastfeeding is up to the mom, but she has to somehow get the baby to comply. One of the best ways to get a good latch is to get the baby to open his mouth extra wide and get a big mouthful of the mom's breast. He shouldn't just latch on to the nipple; the mom should notice a good bit of the areola in his mouth as well.
One of the best ways is to tickle the baby's cheek to get him to open up, or using a free hand to hold the breast and guide it in. It can be difficult, so sometimes the mom might need to slip her pinkie in the baby's mouth and try again.
5 What The Baby's Hands Can Tell You
Some of the body parts that we have mentioned are pretty obvious, like the mouth. But there are other areas that can give a big clue about whether breastfeeding is going well. You might not expect it, but the hands are definitely a place that moms can watch for.
Babies who are having a hard time tend to clench their fists, but if they are able to get a good flow, they relax, and that includes their hands. If the hands are open, that is a good sign that the latch is good and the milk is flowing. Some babies even massage the breast, which can help with the flow even more. It's a sweet sign that moms may not expect.
4 Listen To The Baby's Cries
There are a lot of reasons that babies cry, that is for certain. But since it's the only way that the baby can communicate, it's best that a mom pays attention. A baby that cries before and after a feeding — and even unlatches in order to cry — is definitely not enjoying the experience. A baby who isn't nursing well isn't filling their tummy. They have to do a lot of work for little reward, and they aren't happy about it. It can be difficult to interpret the baby's cries, especially at the very beginning, but unless the baby is teething or sick, he isn't likely to interrupt his meal with a cry unless he's not really getting any food.
3 Weigh Before And After Feedings
It can be hard to figure out how much food that the baby is getting at each nursing session, and that can be really frustrating for a new mom who isn't confident that she has a good milk supply. There is one way that people can tell, and that is by weighing the baby. Mom can either use a baby scale (at home or at the doctor's office) or she can hold the baby and weigh herself before and after the feedings, if her scale measures ounces. One tip, though, is to change the baby's diaper before weighing, and don't change it again until after the second weigh in. Many moms are surprised by how much the baby is eating, although in the first few weeks, it might only be two ounces or so. It will move to four ounces before they know it.
2 Pumping Measuring Guide
Another way to get an idea of the milk supply is to pump. However, if you are also nursing, then there might not be a lot left over for pumping afterward. That is why it can take a while to get the first day's worth of milk before the mom goes back to work. Plus, the pump is not as efficient as a well-latched baby, so the baby is usually getting more than the pump would anyway.
Doctors believe that the baby's saliva and suck trigger the let down reflex, so women who exclusively pump might have a harder time keeping up their supply because it might dip without the more natural triggers. The pump can definitely be a guide, but moms can be reassured that it might not be an exact match.
1 Talk To A Lactation Consultant
We've talked about a lot of signs and signals that can help a woman understand if her breastfeeding session is going OK, but there are some who might see it but still have trouble fixing it. That's why we highly recommend lactation consultants. Many hospitals have experts on staff who will meet with moms for free during their hospital stay, and some have special weekly sessions that new moms can stop by after they go home.
Some insurance companies cover personal sessions with lactation consultants, or they might cover telephone call consultations. It can be worth it to get some tips on the milk supply and the latch, and they can physically help you get more confident with nursing.
Sources: Healthy Children, Fit Pregnancy, Kid Spot