Bringing home your baby can be a time of much excitement, but also a time of many unknowns! We often focus so much on getting pregnant, the pregnancy itself and the delivery, without considering too much the realities of caring for a newborn. One of the most immediate issues we face after delivery is feeding the baby. Many women plan to breastfeed, but face challenges in doing this, for a range of reasons. Some women choose not to breastfeed, but also need to learn about giving formula, preparing bottles etc. Considering your intentions and goals of how you plan to feed your baby and getting some advice about this during pregnancy and in the early days and weeks after birth can be critical in successful establishment of breastfeeding, if that is what you choose. There are many well established benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby, which are worth considering and discussing further with your obstetrician/GP/midwife/lactation consultant. There are also many useful online resources, some of which are listed at the end of this post. Breastfeeding is a learned skill for you and baby, and is not always easy, so getting appropriate support is crucial to enable you to establish good breastmilk supply and hopefully achieve your feeding goals, whatever they may be.
If your delivery is uncomplicated and you and your baby are well following delivery, you are likely to have immediate "skin-to-skin" cuddles with your baby. This serves an important function in helping your baby adjust to life outside the uterus, stabilising their temperature and other vital signs, and stimulating the release of hormones which help with the establishment of breastfeeding and bonding with your baby. Many babies will have their first breastfeed in the hours after birth. The first milk that they drink, called colostrum, is high in immune properties and nutrition for the baby, though it is very small in volume. It is regular feeding in the hours and days after birth that will allow your milk to "come in" and transition to the mature milk your baby will continue to have throughout your breastfeeding relationship. It is important to seek assistance with these initial feeds, to ensure baby is attaching effectively to the breast, so as to try to avoid significant nipple damage and ensure baby is transferring milk well. Babies will lose some weight following delivery, but effective breastfeeding will often avoid them losing excessive amounts of weight. It is best to feed "on demand", that is whenever your baby signals they are hungry or when they seem unsettled, rather than feeding to a schedule, as this will encourage establishment of your milk supply and is what babies need to be calm and settled. Breastmilk production relies on supply and demand - the more milk that is removed from your breasts, the more your body produces. Babies need to feed very regularly during the day and night in the early days and weeks of life. They usually will have more than 8 feeds a day - this is normal!
Once you bring baby home, continuing to feed baby on demand without timing feeds or watching the clock to schedule feeds is the best way to establish your breastmilk supply and assist baby to gain the weight they need to thrive. If you are having pain during breastfeeding or are concerned about your baby's weight gain or your milk supply, it is important to seek assistance from a lactation consultant (IBCLC).
If you are formula feeding or mixed feeding your baby for any reason, your maternal child health nurse or lactation consultant will be able to assist you with any challenges associated with this also. If you are using a bottle, paced bottle feeding is a great way to feed your baby a bottle, as it allows them to regulate the amount of milk they are taking (see possumsonline.com/video/about-paced-bottle-feeding-renee-keogh for a video demonstrating how to do this).
Bringing your baby home is an exhausting time, and it is important that new mums get extra rest as much as possible. Your own self care is crucial. This can be challenging, but try to make it a priority - the laundry and other jobs can wait! Call on your "village" to help in the early weeks of bringing home your baby - there are so many things that family and friends can and are often very happy to assist with. If you feel you are not coping, please ensure you see your GP for assistance.
Australian Breastfeeding Association
Gestalt breastfeeding technique
The Royal Women’s Hospital fact sheets