One of the best things about my job is helping new mothers and babies to feed in a relaxed, comfortable and pain free position. It is such a joy to see a woman’s shoulders drop as she breathes more easily, gently stroking and whispering to her baby as they are both filled with love.
I like the sound of that! How do I do it?
First, make yourself as comfortable as you can. That might mean a bit of adjustment if you have, for example, stitches in your perineum or a tender tummy and scar after caesarean birth.
Ideally you will be relaxed back, well supported on the sofa or bed, your body providing a gentle slope for your baby. Your baby will be on their tummy on your body, as if you were giving them a lovely cuddle (and you are!) It does not matter too much about the angle of your baby on your body – across, diagonal, or with feet pointing down. As long as your baby would not slip off your body, that is perfect. Put your little one in a place where they can easily reach the nipple without you moving the nipple at all. This works just as well for twins.
Babies are designed to feed like this. Your baby will smell for your nipple, look for the darker areola and feel for the texture changes with their hands and cheeks. It can be frustrating if your baby sucks their fingers, but that is part of the process! You do not need to move your baby’s hands out of the way, unless they are trapped under baby’s body. Your baby will naturally use their senses and instincts to get their mouth right over the nipple. Then they will bob around until they lower their tongue and drop onto the nipple with their mouth open. It might take them a few attempts and they may seem reluctant at first, they are learning a new skill. Take a breath and watch what your amazing baby can do. When your baby is on top of you, they help themselves to milk!
It might take a few seconds for your baby to suck in the nipple. Any initial discomfort should fade very quickly. Once your baby is feeding, you can make the micro adjustments you need to keep you both comfortable. Perhaps you would like a cushion under your supporting arm? Maybe you can hear your baby snuffling and need to move them a tiny bit towards their own feet so that their nose comes clear. Most babies that are feeding beautifully are also breathing just fine!
I tried this already! My baby cannot grab my nipple and just gets frustrated
Some women have softer or flatter nipples that do not naturally form an easy teat shape for their baby to feel. This can leave some babies unsure what to do, as they do not receive the instinctive signal of the nipple at the back of their mouth that would make them suck. A couple of little tricks can help. First, get your baby to suck on your clean finger so that they are already in “suck mode.” Next, use your fingers to squish your breast into an easier shape for your baby to grasp hold of. Just remember to make it an easier not a harder shape (think which way round you would eat a cookie). Working with gravity, if you hold the easy shape your baby will drop its mouth onto it. When baby is sucking well, you can let go of the shape again and relax. Most new mothers do this instinctively.
What about all the stuff I was taught at hospital? Like “nose to nipple, wide open mouth”?
Ever so gently put those “rules” to one side. They sometimes hinder. Feel it for yourself. Look and feel how you and your little one are most comfortable. Forgive the analogy, but if you were told that there was only one way to have sex and that any other way was totally wrong, you would probably say “no, I don’t think so.”
But EVERYONE told me to do nose to nipple!
“Nose to nipple” can work for big, robust babies who will open their mouths wide, lean their head back and patiently wait for their mother to scoop them onto the breast leading with their chin. However, I see hundreds of mothers with damaged nipples and hungry babies who cannot “get it.”
When I watch a sore mother feed this way, I notice similar things. Mum and baby are fighting against gravity. The mother, tense and anticipating nipple pain, holds her baby away from her body waiting for the “wide open mouth.” Her baby may be desperate to feed but cannot feel the breast or reach it, so flails their arms, sucks their fingers, boxes the breast and screams. Alternatively, her baby might not show hunger cues at all. If her baby does latch on, “nose to nipple” often means that the nipple is bent over in her baby’s mouth, causing the mother pain and preventing optimal milk flow. Baby struggles to stay on, bobs off a lot, and gets pressure blisters on their lips. When her baby comes off the mother’s nipple is flattened. The mother will typically spend the entire feed holding the breast towards her baby’s mouth, so that it does not ping back to where it naturally wants to hang! She will often have very sore shoulders from bringing her nipples to her little one and hunching forward.
If “nose to nipple” it is working for you then brilliant, ignore me. But if nose to nipple is hurting you please take that as a sign that it is not right in your case and adjust things until they are better. Laid back breastfeeding almost always helps.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like some help to feed comfortably. It makes my day.