For loss parents, deciding how to feed a baby born after loss can be complicated. Depending on your previous loss experiences, you might feel guilt or sadness at the thought of nursing a new baby. Breastfeeding can also foster healing and bonding, and many parents choose to nurse their babies born after loss.
While breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it comes easily. It’s more of a learned art that takes practice. If you plan to nurse your baby born after loss, it’s helpful to know the basics of breastfeeding before your little one arrives.
Here are a few fundamentals to prepare you for breastfeeding your baby born after loss.
After your baby’s birth, the first hour or so, sometimes called the “golden hour,” is a time when your newborn is usually quiet and alert“Providing Evidence-Based Care During the Golden Hour,” by Neczypor, Jennifer L. and Holley, Sharon L., Nursing for Women’s Health, December 1, 2017, Vol 21, Iss 6, P462-472. Most babies are cuddly and still, and it’s a great opportunity for skin-to-skin contact, which can help facilitate bonding and breastfeeding.
During the golden hour, babies often look into the birth parent’s eyes, listen for the parent’s voice, and smell for the breast. When given the chance, some babies even do the breast crawl and find the nipple on their own. Try to feed your baby during that first hour if possible and whenever they show interest afterward. Skin-to-skin time is also possible following a C-section, so consider talking with your care team about preserving the golden hour if you plan to breastfeed“Skin-to-Skin Care,” La Leche League International..
When nursing a newborn, common positions are the cradle hold, cross-cradle hold, and football hold. Sometimes parents who’ve had a C-section find it helpful to try laid-back or side-lying breastfeeding positions, so there is no pressure being put on the incision.
No matter which position you choose, it’s important that your baby’s head, neck, and spine are aligned. Make sure their chin is up, not pointing down toward their chest. Also, you should feel comfortable, so use pillows to support your arms, back, or baby“Positioning,” La Leche League International..
Helping your baby achieve a good latch is one of the foundational elements of breastfeeding. The latch is simply the way the baby’s mouth attaches to the breast, and proper technique ensures your baby will be able to drain the breast effectively. It also helps to prevent sore nipples, blocked milk ducts, and mastitis in the lactating parent“Getting a good latch,” Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Last Updated August 28, 2018..
To help your baby latch, bring them close and line up your nipple with their nose. Encourage your baby to open wide by touching their top lip with your nipple. When you see their tongue extend over the bottom gum, quickly but gently bring the baby onto your breast, aiming the nipple toward the roof of the baby’s mouth. A large portion of the areola should be in the baby’s mouth, and both the baby’s top and bottom lips should be flared out, not tucked in“Steps and Signs of a Good Latch,” WIC Breastfeeding Support..
Learning infant hunger cues will help you respond to your baby’s needs and can make breastfeeding easier for both you and your baby. Early hunger cues are smacking or licking the lips, opening and closing the mouth, and sucking on lips, fingers, or hands. If you see the baby turning their head and rooting on anyone’s chest, that is an active hunger cue. Other signs are squirming, fussing, or breathing quickly. Crying is a late hunger cue and can make nursing difficult because the baby might be too frantic to get into a good position and latch well“Hunger Cues – When do I feed baby?” by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, KellyMom.com, Last Updated .
Milk Supply and Demand
During pregnancy, your body will begin making colostrum, which is the first stage of breast milk. Immediately after birth, hormonal shifts let your breasts know that it’s time to release the nutrient-dense colostrum. Usually within two to three days, you will feel the sensation of your milk “coming in,” and that’s when the supply and demand system of breastfeeding really kicks in.
The first few weeks of your baby’s life are crucial for establishing a good breast milk supply. When your baby nurses and your breasts become empty, this signals to your body that it should make more milk. Breasts that stay full release chemicals that tell the body to decrease milk production. It’s best to watch your baby, not the clock, and feed on demand, especially during this time when your body is learning how much milk to make“How does milk production work?” By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, KellyMom.com, Last Updated .
“How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat?” It’s one of the most common questions lactating parents ask. Here are a few indicators“Is my baby getting enough milk?” La Leche League International..
- Your baby nurses frequently, about 8-12 times over a 24-hour period.
- Your baby wets six or more diapers per day by about five days old. (Wet diapers will be less frequent in the first few days of life before your milk comes in fully.)
- Your baby has stools that are loose and seedy by about day five and has three or four bowel movements every day.
- Your baby seems content after feeding, releasing from the breast on their own.
- Your baby is gaining weight. About 5.5-8.5 ounces per week is normal in the newborn phase.
Problems and Troubleshooting
There are several issues that can arise along the breastfeeding journey. Acknowledge them early on and try not to “tough it out.” Here are just a few of the most common breastfeeding problems“Common breastfeeding challenges,” Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Last Updated August 27, 2018..
- Engorgement. This is when the breasts are full of milk and feel firm and tight, making it difficult for your baby to latch. It often happens when milk first comes in and can occur if you go too long between feedings. Hand expressing before feeding can help.
- Sore or cracked nipples. When you and your baby are still learning, you might feel some nipple pain, but it should not be prolonged. Sore or cracked nipples are often a sign of a poor latch. Fix the root of this problem by addressing positioning and latching, and manage pain with topical ointment or acetaminophen.
- Clogged ducts. This is another problem that can happen when breasts are too full. Signs of a plugged duct are a hard lump on the breast, redness, or soreness to the touch. Warm compresses, massage, and vibration can help clear the duct.
- Mastitis. This is a bacterial infection that comes with flu-like symptoms. It’s common in the first few weeks after birth, but it can happen at any time while breastfeeding. The best way to treat mastitis is with antibiotics. Even though it’s probably painful, it’s really important to continue nursing your baby to help clear the infection. The breast milk is safe for the baby to drink; the bacteria that caused the infection most likely came from the baby’s mouth. You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever 30 minutes before a feeding.
One of the best things you can do for your breastfeeding relationship is to seek support“Support for breastfeeding mothers,” McFadden A., et al., The Cochrane Collaboration, February 27, 2017.. Search for a breastfeeding support group, either in person or online. Talk with other nursing moms, especially those who’ve also experienced loss.
Breastfeeding can bring up complex and varied emotions, especially if you run into supply problems. It can be difficult to fight feelings of inadequacy when you’re nursing a living baby after saying goodbye to their sibling. But your body is not a failure. If you’re having trouble, see a lactation consultant“5 Reasons to See a Lactation Consultant,” Medela USA.. Many offer in-person and virtual appointments. They are experts in breastfeeding, and they have specific lactation knowledge that will help you as you feed your baby.
- 9 Things Pregnant and Parenting after Loss Moms want you to know about Breastfeeding after Loss
- When Breastfeeding As a Loss Mama Doesn’t Come Naturally
- Breastfeeding scared the crap out of me
- When Breastfeeding Sucks: D-MER After Loss
- Breastfeeding a Rainbow Baby
|↑1||“Providing Evidence-Based Care During the Golden Hour,” by Neczypor, Jennifer L. and Holley, Sharon L., Nursing for Women’s Health, December 1, 2017, Vol 21, Iss 6, P462-472|
|↑2||“Skin-to-Skin Care,” La Leche League International.|
|↑3||“Positioning,” La Leche League International.|
|↑4||“Getting a good latch,” Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Last Updated August 28, 2018.|
|↑5||“Steps and Signs of a Good Latch,” WIC Breastfeeding Support.|
|↑6||“Hunger Cues – When do I feed baby?” by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, KellyMom.com, Last Updated|
|↑7||“How does milk production work?” By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, KellyMom.com, Last Updated|
|↑8||“Is my baby getting enough milk?” La Leche League International.|
|↑9||“Common breastfeeding challenges,” Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Last Updated August 27, 2018.|
|↑10||“Support for breastfeeding mothers,” McFadden A., et al., The Cochrane Collaboration, February 27, 2017.|
|↑11||“5 Reasons to See a Lactation Consultant,” Medela USA.|