If you're in the process of prepping for a hospital birth — particularly if this is your first child — you probably have so many questions you can barely keep them all straight. And if you're planning on breastfeeding, it's likely that at least some of those q's are related to nursing: Like, um, how exactly do you do it? And how do you know when to do it? (Babies are always crying, right?) Do the nurses in the hospital tell you when to breastfeed, at least, so you can at least sort of start to figure this whole thing out before you go home?
Well, the answer to that question depends largely on the hospital where you deliver, though there are some practices that are common in most facilities. In general, yes, the nurses will advise you when your baby is hungry, teach you how to recognize their hunger signs, and guide you through feedings, but the actual specifics of how hands on (or off) they are come down to how your hospital (and the staff on duty) chooses to follow those guidelines. Some may be more hands off than others, so it's a good idea to be clear with the staff as soon as possible how comfortable and experienced you are with nursing, or not.
The basic rule of thumb to follow on feeding, as Registered Nurse and Certified Lactation Consultant Cathleen Walker tells Romper, is as follows:
"Newborns who are breastfeeding should be offered the breast on demand. That means, whenever they show signs of hunger (we teach this in the hospital), the mother should put them to the breast," Walker continues.
So what does that look like, timing wise? "Ideally a breastfed baby should nurse every two to three hours. It is common to have cluster feeding periods where the baby will eat every one and-a-half hours for a couple of feedings in a row on days two and three of life," explains Walker. If it has been more than three hours since the last feeding, you should try to nurse him or her, she says, even if you have to wake a sleeping baby. And don't be afraid to ask the nurses for help.
All of that makes sense (or, it sounds overwhelming right now, but it will make sense). But will you be able to remember all of that immediately after enduring who knows how many hours or labor and losing who knows how many hours of sleep? You can always alert the nursing staff if you don't think you're up to the task.
For some mothers, there is the option of sending your baby to the nursery during the night as opposed to having the in the recovery ward with you. Delivery is exhausting, and it's not uncommon to take advantage of this resource while recovering. In this case, "the staff will bring the baby out to the mother's room when hunger is apparent or every three hours," explains Walker.
So, in other words, you don't have to worry about the nurses just leaving you to your own devices and expecting you to expertly respond to your newborn's cues — but depending on the level of support and involvement you're looking for, you might want to look into what your hospital's policies are like before you deliver.
"Some hospitals are much more likely to push 'rest at night and we will give the baby a bottle,'" Certified Postpartum Doula and Lactation Counselor Rebecca Tucci tells Romper.
Like Walker, Tucci has observed that many hospitals like to stick to a timetable. "I've found a lot of times in the hospital there is a big push for scheduling (i.e., every two hours and 20 mins on a side)," she says.
"Current recommendations are to watch the baby, not the clock, for signs of hunger and satiety, barring any weight gain or medical issues. I don't think a lot of nurses reassure new moms that it is normal for baby to not eat much in the first 24 hours and that the colostrum they are producing is enough to satisfy their baby; many of my clients have been advised to pump and/or supplement because they 'aren't producing enough milk,' which often leads down the slippery slope and panic of 'my body isn't producing enough milk.'"
Chances are these answers have left you with even more questions, but hopefully you can rest easy knowing that the nurses in the hospital where you deliver your baby aren't going to let you forget that your little one needs to eat. (And that's a good thing, because you'll likely be experiencing a degree of brain fog you've never experienced before.) Let them know your expectations beforehand (if you don't want your baby to be offered formula while you're sleeping, for example), and, as ridiculous as it might sound, try to use your time in the hospital to get as much rest as possible — you're gonna need it!
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