Picture this…you’ve just given birth. Whether you gave birth naturally, with the help of an epidural, or via c-section, you're feeling completely exhausted, and now you have a whole other human to care for. It can be daunting, especially in those first few days when your body is still healing (physically and emotionally), to add on responsibilities like being your baby's sole provider of nutrition.
Many mums feel overwhelmed and unsure of themselves as they get to know their new baby. While you may assume that breastfeeding just comes naturally, the truth is that it takes some time for you to get the hang of it (both you and your newborn baby).
Being prepared, setting proper expectations, and having a solid support system will help your breastfeeding journey start on the right foot so you can give your baby the best nutrition through their first year and beyond.
We want you to have a positive, fulfilling breastfeeding experience, which is why we've put together a guide to help you through those harrowing first few days with your baby. It's a time of uncertainty and so many questions. But with the right help and the right resources, we hope you establish a beautiful breastfeeding bond with your precious baby.
Even if you can’t begin breastfeeding immediately after birth, that doesn’t mean that you cannot breastfeed your little one when you’re able to be together again. You’ll just need to do a few things differently to stimulate milk production, which we’ll get into later.
As always, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of professionals. Certified lactation consultants are highly trained and can help you with any difficulties you might be having. Whether it’s
challenges with latching, milk supply, or other common breastfeeding problems, a lactation consultant can help you work through these WITH your baby to learn and grow together.
You can also tap into your midwife, family, friends or local groups (like your local La Leche League) for advice and support starting in pregnancy and extending throughout your breastfeeding journey.
Starting with your child's birth, here's what you can expect when you begin to breastfeed during those sleepless and sometimes stressful first few days with your newborn.
Immediately After Birth
Your nurse or midwife will place the baby on your bare chest for some skin-to-skin contact right after your baby is born. This is very important because skin-to-skin contact helps calm and relax both mother and baby; it regulates the baby's heart rate and stimulates an interest in feeding. Skin-to-skin contact is also very important in the weeks and months following birth, as it continues to be a source of calm for your baby and helps strengthen your bond.
Your baby will become very relaxed at this time and might start finding their way to your breast. Right now, they are just getting to know this big world around them, so it’s common for them to nuzzle or smell around the breast. It’s important not to rush your baby but let them find and latch on their own terms.
By having the baby immediately placed on the mother's chest and given the opportunity to latch and suckle, the baby initiates milk production. It's also an excellent time for you to learn positioning and how to keep your baby comfortable while they're feeding.
Getting a good latch is the key to breastfeeding successfully (and painlessly)! Here are a few tips for establishing a proper latch from the beginning (courtesy of an established R.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C.:
· Position your baby so he is lying on his side, his belly flush against yours.
· Prop up the baby with a pillow and hold him up to your breast; don't lean over toward him.
· Using your free hand, place your thumb and fingers around your areola (the dark area surrounding the nipple).
· Tilt your baby's head back slightly and gently touch him with your nipple just above his upper lip.
· When his mouth is open wide, scoop your breast into his mouth. Place his lower jaw on first, well behind the nipple.
· Tilt his head forward, placing his upper jaw deeply on the breast. Make sure he takes the entire nipple and at least 1½ inches of the areola in his mouth.
Right after a baby is born, they are understandably tired, which means they might be somewhat lazy at the breast. They may feed often, sometimes even every hour. Follow their lead and let them feed as often as they want, so they get that coveted colostrum, also known as liquid gold.
Your First Milk: Colostrum
Believe it or not, your mature breast milk is not what comes out of your breast immediately after your baby is born. The first few days before your milk comes in, your body produces what's known as colostrum.
This milk is thick and yellow and comes packed with protein, antibodies, vitamins, and minerals. It's so concentrated that it's often referred to as "liquid gold," and your baby only needs a tiny amount (about a teaspoon) at each feeding. A baby’s stomach is incredibly tiny and fills up very quickly. At birth, it has the size of a cherry and on day 2 the size of a walnut.
Your newborn might be tired at first and not swallow much but let them tell you when they are hungry. Common hunger cues at this stage are rooting (moving jaw and mouth or head in search of breasts), turning their head, lip-smacking, and bringing their fist to their mouth. It's common for babies to want to nurse every 1.5 to 2 hours, so put them to your breast as early and often as you can.
Expect your baby to lose weight in the first few days after birth while they’re getting the lower-calorie colostrum. Babies can lose up to 10% of their birth weight without concern. If they lose more than that, it might indicate that they aren’t feeding properly, and your doctors will help you find a solution (after ruling out latching issues, tongue-ties, or other potential causes). When your more mature milk comes in is when your baby will really start to pack on the pounds.
When Your Milk Comes In: Transitional to Mature Milk
About 2-4 days after you give birth, you'll notice that your breasts become fuller, and you may even feel a bit engorged. This is when your more mature milk typically comes in. This milk is white in appearance and higher in calories than colostrum.
Over the next few weeks, your milk will continue to mature into the high-protein foremilk and the high-fat and high-calorie hindmilk that will promote your baby’s growth. For now, you’ll need to continue nursing your baby often to help build your milk supply.
The recommended approach is to feed your baby when hungry, otherwise known as on-demand feeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your baby be fed at least two to three hours on-demand or about eight to twelve times per day.
When and how long those feedings are, should be dictated by your baby. It might sound nice to have a predictable schedule, but the research shows that there are greater benefits to feeding your baby frequently and on demand.
During these first few days, you’ll feel your breasts becoming engorged. If you experience engorgement, you can relieve any discomfort by applying cold cabbage leaves to your breasts or expressing some milk. You can minimize engorgement by feeding often, ensuring your baby has a good latch and letting your baby empty the first breast before offering the other side.
Aside from engorgement, you may experience leaking as your milk comes in. Breast pads or expressing a little breast milk are great ways to help keep your clothes dry until your supply regulates (typically around 6-12 weeks).
You can expect many doctor appointments in those first few days to check your baby’s weight and ensure that they are continuing to regain any weight they might have lost after birth.
Between those appointments, you might question your supply and wonder if your baby is hungry. Especially if you have a colicky baby, it can be hard to know if they are fussy because they’re hungry or for other reasons. Rest assured, there are many ways to tell if your baby is getting enough of your breast milk.
Is Your Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk?
One of the most common questions we hear from new breastfeeding mothers is, “How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?” After all, you can't measure the ounces coming from your breast, and each baby transfers milk differently (some might be power suckers that finish feeding in 10 minutes while others are lazy eaters that nurse for 30+ minutes).
That’s why it’s important to recognize your baby’s hunger cues and feed them for as long and as often as they want. It might feel like those first few days are just spent feeding your baby, but remember that you'll start to establish a more predictable schedule over time. For now, keep putting your baby at the breast very frequently. If you’re feeding on demand, you should be producing the amount of milk your baby needs.
Keep in mind that you can't overfeed a breastfed baby. They are very good at regulating their intake, and they'll eat exactly what they need and fall asleep or pull away when they’re finished.
Your baby’s diapers will tell you all you need to know about whether they’re getting enough to eat. If they're gaining weight and producing adequate wet and dirty diapers, you can trust that they are getting enough breast milk. The rule of thumb is that your baby should have one wet and one dirty diaper for each day of life (for example, on day one, your baby should have one wet and one dirty diaper, then two of each on day two, etc.).
Once your milk comes in, your baby should produce 5-6+ wet diapers and 3-4+ stools each day. If your baby is producing fewer wet or dirty diapers than indicated here, or their urine is dark-coloured, contact your doctor immediately.
What If You Can’t Breastfeed Right Away?
If you or your baby needs specific medical care, you may not be able to be with them right after birth for skin-to-skin contact and to initiate the baby's first feeding. By no means does that signify the end of your breastfeeding hopes. You CAN still breastfeed successfully even if your baby can’t be with you right away or needs to spend some time in the NICU.
You can express breast milk until your baby can be with you to feed. Your nurses, doctors, midwife, or lactation consultant can help you through this to show you how to express colostrum and whether you’ll need to start collecting breast milk to feed your baby from a bottle.
Typically, if you need to express your milk in the first few days, it won’t impede your baby’s ability to latch once you can be together again. Be patient and flexible while building up your milk supply from hand expressing or pumping. You can learn more about how to express breast milk here.
Even if you have a c-section, you still should be able to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby after delivery. Be clear with your doctors that you want to do this, and they will work with you if it is medically possible.
Here at The Teatle, we support and encourage breastfeeding mothers because we know that breast milk offers the best start to a baby's life! From the nutritional to the emotional benefits for both mum and baby, we can’t deny the power of breast milk.
Those first few days can be a mixture of happiness, worry, fear, and so many questions. We hope this guide helps you through the start of your breastfeeding adventure with your sweet little bundle of joy. For additional advice and resources about breastfeeding, check out our blog for science-backed information that you can use whether you're just starting or you're an experienced breastfeeding mum.
Remember that breastfeeding might not always be easy, but it is always worth it. You’ve got this, Mama!