The short answer: the best time to start breastfeeding is right in the delivery room or recovery room after giving birth.
The long answer: Glad you asked! Breastfeeding is a way to feed your baby, and it’s also a clear sign of our bodies’ intelligence.
Whether you have had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section, a mother can prepare for her first time breastfeeding her baby by having skin to skin contact for an hour after delivery. Skin to skin contact is when the baby is placed naked (or only in a diaper) on mom’s bare chest. There are many benefits of skin to skin contact for all moms and babies that go far beyond the benefits associated with only breastfeeding mothers and babies. Skin to skin contact is used to initiate bonding between mom and baby, initiate breastfeeding, and is also a means to naturally soothe baby, as well as regulate baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing, and blood sugar levels.
After an hour of skin to skin contact, you will notice your baby beginning to show cues of wanting to eat, such as becoming more alert and awake, moving their head and body towards your breast, and demonstrating a newborn reflex called “rooting” which is when a baby opens their mouth, making sucking noises, and turns their head toward the breast.. To latch your baby to the breast, turn your baby’s body towards you so you are both chest to chest. Touch the baby’s nose to your nipple (remember: “nose to nip”), which will cause your baby to open their mouth wide (because of the “rooting” reflex). Bring the baby up and over your breast so they take a large mouthful of your breast, including the nipple and areola. Once their mouth is around the breast, covering the nipple and as much areola as possible, you will see the baby’s lips fanned out like “fish lips.” As the baby sucks, you will see that the baby’s cheek is nice and rounded.
A mother's body is quite smart, and has begun to make milk during pregnancy. After the delivery of the placenta, the body revs up creation of hormones that tell your body to make more milk. The first milk that a mother will see, right after delivery, is called colostrum, which is thick and yellow and full of antibodies that help protect your baby from illness and provide immunity. When a baby is born, their stomach is about the size of a marble, and the small amounts of colostrum are exactly what the baby needs for their feedings during their first few days. Once your milk comes in (usually between days 3-5 after delivery), you will not only see your baby suckling, but you will be able to hear them swallowing milk.
Your labor and delivery nurses and postpartum nurses will help and support you after delivery in teaching you to breastfeed. As well as assist you with becoming more comfortable with latching your baby, different positions for feeding and troubleshooting when problems or concerns arise. However, once you go home from the hospital, it is very important to find support near you, such as a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support group, so you can continue to work on breastfeeding and get reliable support if you have any questions or encounter any issues.
Boston NAPS runs a regular breastfeeding support group for new moms in the greater Boston area; learn more at our Facebook page. If you’re looking for one-on-one support, you can schedule a lactation consultation with a Boston NAPS lactation specialist.