By Jack Newman, M.D. & Teresa Pitman, reprinted with permission from The Latch and Other Keys to Breastfeeding Success
Babies are born with the skills and instincts to help them breastfeed, but we often ignore the messages and cues they are sending us. It is much easier for your baby to latch if your baby is calm yet ready to nurse. The entire process becomes far more difficult when the baby is upset, exhausted from crying, overly hungry, or not hungry at all, so it is valuable to tune into your baby’s cues and internal rhythms so that breastfeeding happens when the baby is ready.
Learn to recognize your baby’s early signs of hunger:
- If you are holding the baby skin-to-skin, your baby may move towards the breast on her own. Even without the skin-to-skin component, if you are holding the baby upright against your chest, he will signal his interest in feeding by shifting to one side and moving down your body into position to breastfeed. Some babies will almost throw themselves to the side in an attempt to get into position.
- If your baby is sleeping in a separate bassinet or incubator, he may show his desire to nurse by smacking his lips and sticking his tongue out repeatedly, putting his fists to his mouth, sucking on his fingers or the blanket, and other sometimes subtle behaviors. Watch your baby and get to know his early cues.
- If you are not sure if your baby really wants to breastfeed, try it and see. If your baby really doesn’t want to eat, he won’t.
Waiting until the baby is crying is not helpful, as it makes learning to latch more difficult. On the other hand, by paying attention to your baby’s behaviors, you truly will become the expert in caring for your baby. Watching your baby’s cues will allow you to feed with love and respect, and increase your confidence as well.