Have you heard of the golden hour?
The golden hour is the first 60 minutes after the birth of your baby. This is considered key time to lay the groundwork for bonding and breastfeeding with your newborn.
Many hospitals are making an effort to isolate you and your baby by delaying all unnecessary medical procedures, keeping your baby in your room except in emergencies, and ensuring that your baby is able to breastfeed within this first magical hour.
Once that hour passes, how can parents continue to build a foundation for bonding and breastfeeding while they are in the hospital? Here are four ideas:
1. Inform visitors that you will be busy bonding
Breastfeed early and often! These are two key words for getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
During the first few days after your baby is born, baby will be eating small amounts of colostrum. This "liquid gold" coats your baby's gut and prepares him for the milk that will come in a few days. Thus, nursing sessions may be very short and frequent.
It can be helpful to notify visitors that you will be busy bonding and working on breastfeeding your baby. Since nursing sessions cannot — and should not — be scheduled, they will likely happen without a lot of notice. Your baby may nurse, and then be ready to nurse again in 20 minutes. This is normal!
2. Get breastfeeding help while you are in the hospital
New mothers might need help and support to get breastfeeding off to a good start.
Many hospitals have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) on staff. This is the highest level of breastfeeding certification, representing a rigorous training in infant feeding and breastfeeding management. If available, the IBCLC in the hospital can observe you and your baby and give you helpful ideas and information.
Other sources of breastfeeding support are the La Leche League (LLL) and other mother-to-mother support organizations.
La Leche League Leaders are women with personal breastfeeding experience who have received additional training to support other mothers with the normal course of breastfeeding.
They are also knowledgeable about resources within the community when a breastfeeding situation falls outside their scope. Attending La Leche League meetings can help moms ensure ongoing breastfeeding success.
Some moms are likely to hit roadblocks while nursing. If you fit into one of the situations listed below, you are especially encouraged to seek help from a LLL Leader or an IBCLC early on. Women who may fall into this category include:
Moms who delivered surgically (c-section) or who had a lengthy or difficult vaginal delivery
Moms of multiples (twins, triplets, or more)
First-time moms, or moms who had difficulty breastfeeding in the past
Moms whose nipples have been described as flat or inverted
Moms who are separated from their babies, such as preemies or sick babies
3. Skip the "baby burrito"
Rather than wrap your baby in a blanket — sometimes described as a "baby burrito" — and place him in the bassinette after an exam, why not ask the nurse or doctor to hand your baby directly to you?
A blanket is a physical barrier that might slow your response to your baby's nursing cues (there is evidence that swaddling a baby can lead to less effective breastfeeding), and though the distance may be small, the space between you and your baby in a bassinette may interfere with mom-to-baby communication and impede breastfeeding.
Instead, more and more moms are asking hospital staff to hand their baby's right back to them, so they can spend time together skin-to-skin. Also knows as "kangaroo care," skin-to-skin is accomplished by keeping your baby undressed and down to the diaper against your bare chest.
Except perhaps for exams, bathroom breaks, and showers, you might decide to spend the entire hospital experience with your baby skin-to-skin. And upon returning home, many moms continue the practice.
Skin-to-skin can be a powerful tool for establishing breastfeeding and bonding. The health benefits of skin-to-skin are well-documented. Some of these benefits include:
Baby's heart rate, breathing, and body temperature are regulated
Baby has easy access to the breast, so he is less likely to have low blood sugar or need supplements
Mom and baby learn each other's smells and mom learns to read baby's feeding cues
Baby is less likely to cry
And, your baby's natural habitat is your warm body, after all!
4. Breastfeed your baby for as long and often as he/she will
Pregnant moms-to-be often have ideas about the logistics of breastfeeding, including how often and for how long. They might have seen guidelines that describe how many hours should pass between nursing sessions, and how long each session should last, per breast.
Sometimes moms are unknowingly preparing to breastfeed their baby as infrequently as possible, and as quickly as possible.
Moms seem to be encouraged to lengthen out the space between feedings, particularly at night. However, this can be problematic for establishing a milk supply.
What if, instead, moms flipped that tendency in their minds to nursing "as often as possible for as long as possible?" To help facilitate this, here are some suggestions to try while nursing:
Any little squeak baby makes, or a flutter of the eyelids, or a movement towards your breast, offer the breast.
If he falls asleep quickly, try switching sides.
Use breast compressions to help encourage your baby to take more milk.
Keep your baby close by day and night, and spend as much time as possible skin-to-skin.
It can also be helpful to keep in mind the signs that your baby is getting enough milk, and where to go for help if he is not getting enough, such as a La Leche League Leader or IBCLC.
If you do have a low milk supply, there is good news: low milk intake is almost always a temporary problem that can be fixed with the right help.
Following these four strategies after the golden hour will not only enable you to continue bonding and breastfeeding your baby, but you will also find increased satisfaction as role of mother to your precious newborn.