What happens if we view the first breastfeeding as part of the birth continuum? When we take a closer look at what is happening in the early postpartum moments we can gain a better understanding of this mother-baby dyad. We can also begin to see how disruptions in the physiological birth process have effects on breastfeeding and how to better honor this process from the very beginning.
Minutes after birth, babies begin to initiate breastfeeding and usually by the first hour have latched. This process may begin with a cry at birth (not all babies cry) followed by a moment of stillness as they relax into their mother before waking up with signs of interest (hand to mouth, looking at mom, making noises, etc). This rest and root cycle will repeat itself as the baby scoots (also known as the breast crawl) their way to their mother’s breast using smell. Yes! Your colostrum smells similarly to amniotic fluid hence why it is beneficial for breastfeeding to delay your babies first bath.
An intervention free birth is the best way to support this natural process, and just like birth we should do our best to keep the early moments of breastfeeding as undisturbed as possible. In fact, when we allow babies to do this on their own they can breastfeed much more effectively. Keeping your baby skin-to-skin, at the breast, nursing on-demand, with no interruption has many benefits.
Colostrum is the first milk and is at its highest volume the first two hours following birth. During this phase the breasts are soft making it easier for babies to practice latching which can in turn be affected by fluids given during labor. On the other hand, 2-3 days postpartum (5-6 for cesarean births) women experience a surge as their milk matures which can cause engorged breasts that may be tender, hot, and lumpy resolving in 24-48 hours. The best thing to do during this time is to nurse your baby, wear loose clothing, and express into a towel before feeding. During this time you can expect feeds to space out a bit more. Babies are born with an immature digestive system, human milk completes the stomach lining making it 15X thicker than that of a baby fed artificial milk. Breast milk also helps babies absorb food more rapidly and easily and resist infections. If you’re interested in learning more about what’s in breast milk, click here!
My dear friend Victoria with Divinebirthco has a background in lactation and a beautifully unique perspective on breastfeeding that I feel very aligned with. She shares that physiological breastfeeding is not mathematical when referring to the amount a newborn receives when at the breast. Although numbers can be helpful for supplemental purposes, keeping it fluid with no restriction of how often or long they feed helps to support that this experience is a deeply personal communication system between mother and baby. Further explaining that your body’s first milk, colostrum is so brilliantly designed to come in small amounts, thick, rich quantities to match the size of your baby’s small stomach. Constant leisurely feedings of these small amounts work to slowly help expand your baby’s stomach preparing it for when your milk surges.
The milk is not the only part of breastfeeding that is beneficial. The act grows our mid face forward developing our airway, pallet, teeth, gums, and jaw. Human breasts can detect even one drop in temperature in your baby. Breastfeeding also has many benefits for the mother as well. When a baby nurses a hormone called oxytocin releases promoting calmness and the feeling of love. Endorphins are also released leaving mothers feeling happier, less tired, and leading to less postpartum depression. Having your baby skin to skin regulates a mother’s hormones, helps her milk supply, promotes bonding with baby, and reduces the risk of problems arising.
Breastfeeding is natural, you and your baby will work together beautifully. Our bodies are designed to nourish and nurture our babies from our womb to our arms. Your body was made for this and although there are issues that come up, the sooner you seek guidance the better. I recommend creating a list of resources and people you can call on when you are starting your breastfeeding journey, even if it includes women in your community who are breastfeeding mothers. There are many other things that can be explored in preparation; nourishing your body through extended rest, warmth, nourishing foods that are warm in nature and digestion, breast expression, breastfeeding positions, and so on.
I hope this has been insightful to the beauty of physiological breastfeeding and honoring these first moments. “Breastfeeding reminds us of the universal truth of abundance; the more we give out, the more we are filled up, and that divine nourishment - the source from which we draw is, ever full and ever flowing.” - Sarah Buckley
If you’re an expecting mama, we’d love to invite you to our free LIVE webinar Birthing Decisions Unveiled: an in depth look at birth options and informed choices with doula insights and a birth options checklist. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of things to know as you prepare for the birth you desire, join us for a morning of uncovering important topics every mama should know before giving birth. Click here to register for more details!