The First Days of Breastfeeding

By Kristin Miller

Get ready for a great big adventure! Having a baby is just the beginning. If you have chosen to breastfeed, that adventure will add an enriching experience to raising your baby. Believe it or not, your baby will begin the breastfeeding process shortly after being born, continuing the bond of mom as the food provider. Here is what you can expect in the first days of breastfeeding.

What are my options? It is good to know what you as a mom would prefer to do with breastfeeding. You could choose exclusively breastfeeding, a combination of formula and breastfeeding, or strictly formula. In this article, we will discuss situations where the mom is exclusively breastfeeding, but information discussed will be useful to moms who also choose to do formula and breastfeeding or strictly formula. Exclusively breastfeeding means that your child will only be taking in nourishment from you. This is an important decision to make your medical team aware of if you give birth in a hospital to avoid any confusion.

The Initial Feed

What you can expect right after a vaginal birth. There will be a bit of chaos, pain, excitement and joy following your birth. There will be a lot going on: a baby screaming, possibly the gender will finally be revealed to you, and tears of joy between you and your partner. Babies are usually placed on the mom’s skin after birth to regulate temperature, calm them and create the bond between mom and the baby that has been inside for so many months. After the baby is taken to be cleaned, weighed, and tested, mom will receive her bundle back for the initial feed. This is a beautiful moment to be shared between mom and baby, the moment when they connect in the outside world in a very real way. Incredibly, babies have an instinct to eat. Some may need more assistance than others, but if they are hungry, they will learn quickly. Breastfeeding USA suggests a series of steps to follow for babies learning to latch:

  • Aim for a calm beginning.
  • Use skin to skin to reconnect with your freshly cleaned newborn. Give your baby kisses and speak reassuringly.
  • Follow baby’s lead.
  • Look for cues from your baby that they are ready to eat.
  • These cues usually include rooting, or bobbing their head around your chest, or energetically moving around. This shows that your baby is hungry!
  • Support the baby while latching. Support your baby as you guide them to your chest, allowing the baby’s face to brush against your breast. This will be a guide as your baby finds its way to latching on.

What you can expect right after a C-Section. The experience with a C-section is a bit different. You will also experience a bit of chaos, pain, excitement and joy following your birth. However, after meeting your bundle of joy, there is still work to be done on you. You will remain on the operating table for your medical team to complete the procedure, around thirty minutes or so. You will then be led into recovery, where you will get to enjoy the initial feed.

Possible Latching Scenarios

A good latch is the goal for all moms. Although it seems fairly easy: put the baby up to your breast, baby opens mouth, baby eats, it’s not always that simple. If you are one of those whose baby seems to pick up breastfeeding right away, congratulations! Although having a good latch means “breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt”, the first few days of feeding may leave you sore. Your breasts, possibly already tender from pregnancy and hormones, are now changing to become the life source for your baby. The initial latch in a feed, even a good latch, may take your breath away with a pinching feeling. This will only go away with time as your breasts get used to breastfeeding.

A good latch. According to AmericanPregnancy.org, These are the signs that indicate that your baby has a good latch:

  • Your baby’s tongue is seen when the bottom lip is pulled down.
  • Your baby’s ears wiggle
  • There is circular movement of your baby’s jaw rather than rapid chin movement.
  • The baby’s cheeks are rounded
  • You do not hear clicking or smacking noises, like they are giving you kisses.
  • You can hear your baby swallowing or gulping.
  • The baby’s chin is touching your breast.
  • When your baby comes off the breast, your nipple is not flattened or misshaped.
  • Any discomfort ends quickly after the baby initially latches on.
  • Your baby ends the feeding with signs of satiety/satisfaction. It is often joked that babies look “milk drunk”, relaxed and satisfied.

A bad latch. If your baby has a bad latch, always unlatch and attempt to latch again properly. To unlatch a baby, put your finger in the corner of their mouth and remove their mouth from your breast. Using your finger breaks the suction and saves your breasts from further trauma. According to WhatToExpect.com, these are the signs that indicate your baby has a bad latch:

  • You feel nipple pain while breastfeeding. This doesn’t mean the initial pain when your baby latches due to sensitivity; this is pain due to the baby possibly chewing instead of sucking. I have heard from countless new moms that they let painful breastfeeding go on for too long, creating cracked nipples and soreness that could have been avoided with proper latching.
  • You hear clicking or loud sucking noises.
  • Your baby grabs on to any part of the breast to eat, missing your nipple.

Post Birth Help

There are different kinds of help a breastfeeding mom can receive after having a baby. Do not be afraid to ask for help, it is what you are paying for! Although you may feel confident about your breastfeeding abilities, or don’t want to bother the hospital staff, getting assistance in the beginning of breastfeeding is priceless. Here are the people who can be of assistance to you as you begin your breastfeeding journey.

Lactation Consultants. You should become best friends with the lactation consultant. Every hospital has one, so request seeing one as soon as possible. Make sure you see the lactation consultant who has IBCLC (International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners) after their name. This ensures that this individual has been medically trained, performed 500 supervised clinical hours, and passed an exam. I was fortunate that my son latched on immediately and never struggled, but I made sure that the lactation consultant came to see us in the beginning and end of our hospital stay. She confirmed that my son was doing a great job, but offered advice on alternate positions to make breastfeeding more comfortable for me. Please see the Lactation Consultant section or reference Second9Months for more information.

Nurses. Nurses are often trained in lactation skills. Find out what your hospital’s policy is regarding nurses certifications. My own hospital required all nurses to take a lactation course, ensuring that each one of them was able to offer me assistance when needed. Nurses can also help with adjusting your bed, getting you extra pillows, and ensuring you have privacy when needed. Although they are extremely helpful, remember that a lactation consultant has received extensive training in this specialized area and is best equipped to assist in the challenges of learning to breastfeed.

Doctors, midwives, and doulas. Although these people are trained to assist with birthing, and may be familiar with breastfeeding practices, they are not trained experts in this field. Seek out a lactation consultant with any breastfeeding questions.

For information, see the section “Lactation Consultants”.

Colostrum and Milk

Colostrum is the “first milk” you produce for your baby. It is yellowish color, not the typical white milk you imagined. That’s because you are feeding your baby colostrum, special milk that is low in fat but high in carbohydrates, proteins, and antibodies that your baby needs. Colostrum helps your baby enter the real world, providing it with protective nutrients as they transition to eating.

Once your milk comes in, you’ll know it! Generally colostrum switches over to milk anywhere from two to five days after giving birth. Your breasts will noticeably increase in size, possibly leak, and feel extremely heavy. Your baby will be eating often and your body is ready with plenty of milk. Once you get your milk in, your baby may want to eat more often.

Worried your milk has not arrived? I was worried on my fourth night in the hospital that my milk wasn’t in yet. My son was 6 pounds 5 ounces at birth, and the doctors were discussing supplementing with formula if my milk didn’t arrive soon. My nurse offered to help me by giving me a breast pump in between feeds to stimulate production. Using a breast pump is also beneficial if you are experiencing latching issues by telling y our breasts that someone needs nourishment! Even if your baby has to supplement formula for a bit, continue to use the pump. It prepares your body to produce enough milk to meet the demands of feeding a newborn.

Breast Care Products

Treat your breasts with extreme care. In the first few days of breastfeeding they are working harder than ever and need to be cared for! Early care will help keep you breastfeeding as comfortable as possible. Here are a few must have products while breastfeeding:

  • Lanolin by Lansinoh. If you get one product for breastfeeding, this is the one to get! This ointment helps soothe dry, cracked or sensitive nipples. It is safe to leave on your breasts, no need to clean off before feeding. My philosophy was to stay ahead of any potential issues, so I put Lanolin on after every feed in the initial weeks. Although I experienced mild soreness and cracking, I’m convinced it would have been worse if I didn’t continually apply this product .
  • Breast pads. You will probably experience some leaking, especially in the early days. Using breast pads create a cushion between your breast and your bra. There are reusable and disposable pads available.
  • Nursing bras. These undergarments not only help make breastfeeding easier, it helps support your ever expanding chest. A great addition to your nursing bra collection would be a sleep bra. These bras help you stay comfortable with minimal support so you can enjoy the sleep in between feeds.
  • Cooling/Heated compresses. A great way to comfort sore breasts or nipples is through cooling or heating pads. Cold compresses can help relieve engorgement, swelling, or pain. Heated compresses can help relieve mastitis or plugged ducts. You can provide your own from home, either a bag of frozen vegetables or a heated towel will do the trick. Lansinoh also makes a fantastic product that can be used as a cold or heated compress called the Thera Pearl 3 in 1 Breast Therapy.

Breastfeeding Nutrition

You may be ravenous in the first few days of breastfeeding. If you had a hospital birth, it doesn’t help that the hospital food may not be what you want! Communicate with your spouse, family and friends to ensure you have food that you will enjoy and eat. Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy and calories, so food is fuel for you! Eating snacks in between meals will help you keep up your strength. Here are a few easy snack choices to have on hand at the hospital and at home for the first few days of breastfeeding:

  • Trail mix
  • Whole Grain Cereal
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables and hummus
  • Fruit Popsicles
  • Yogurt

Hydration is also extremely important as you begin breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can dehydrate you quickly. As a new mom, it is easy to forget to eat, but it is even easier to forget to drink! A great method to ensure you’re drinking is to have a refillable water bottle with you at all times. Drink while nursing and aim to finish the bottle each time you nurse. Hydration while breastfeeding will probably mean that you have to drink even if you are not thirsty. Here are a few alternate options for hydration if you are not a water drinker!

  • Sparkling water
  • Sports drinks – Do not replace all your water with this, as it is high in sugar.
  • Coconut water
  • Juice (not from concentrate)
  • Coffee and Tea – Try alternating caffeinated and decaf options

For more information, see the section “The Breastfeeding Diet”.

The Power of Stress and Rest

There are many factors that can affect your milk supply in the early days of breastfeeding. One factor you can control is your stress level. Another factor you can control is the amount of rest you are getting. These two factors are ultimately interrelated. Here are a few reasons you may be stressed or lacking rest, and how to combat them in the early days of breastfeeding.

What to do when it hurts. There are multiple reasons you could be in pain right after giving birth, whether from a vaginal birth or C-section. You could also be in pain from the early stages of breastfeeding. All these types of pain can cause you to stress, ultimately affecting your recovery, milk supply, and breastfeeding. If you are in a hospital, ask the medical team for advice on controlling your pain, whether it is cold or warm compresses, pain medication, or assistance with breastfeeding from a lactation consultant. By lowering your pain level, you will allow your body to continue recovery and function as it should without adding the stress of dealing with pain. After my C-section I tried to take half of the dose of the prescribed pain medication at first. That was not a smart decision for me, as I could not last the amount of time before I was able to take the next dose due to the level of pain I was in. Discuss with your medical team all alternatives and choose one that you are most comfortable with to alleviate your pain. Your goal is to be as comfortable as possible so you can breastfeed to the best of your ability. For more information, see the section “Breastfeeding Pain”.

Sleep when the baby sleeps. You have probably heard this multiple times, and you have probably even said it to other moms! It’s easy to say it, harder to do it. When in the initial stages of recovery and breastfeeding, your rest is just as essential as your nutrition. Your baby also sleeps a lot at this point, albeit it is not consistent. Try to get in some quality naps while the baby rests. If you’re in the hospital, take advantage of the nursery and send your baby to be cared for there for a while. I did this at night and it was a great decision for me. My son was monitored by nurses while I slept, and when he was hungry they brought him to me. When I tried having him in the room with me at night, he made so many “sleepy” noises that woke me up, I couldn’t fully rest. When you’re home, it can be awkward when people say “Go rest! I’ll hold the baby!” However, this is a gift that should be taken advantage of. In the early stages you may get an hour, give or take, of downtime between feedings. If your baby is resting or someone is willing to take over their care for a bit, take the time to refill your energy tank. Your breastfeeding self will thank you.

Low stress feeding. Generally, breastfeeding moms fall into two categories: those who care and those who don’t care about breastfeeding in front of others. I thought I was going to be the type that cared, but when there’s a crying hungry baby, I ended up throwing “modesty” to the wind! I had a friend (and fellow mom) visiting me in the hospital who opted to leave the hospital room when I had to feed my son. She said she wanted to give me privacy, which was priceless as I was two days into breastfeeding! However, some visitors may not understand the frequency of feeding, and how important it is to get in a groove in the beginning. If you are stressed by breastfeeding in front of others, your baby knows it, feels it, and will react negatively to that stress. Not only will your baby react to the stress, your milk supply will follow suit as well. Being stressed while trying to breastfeed can lower your milk supply or hinder your let down (when your milk is released into your milk ducts). Here are a few solutions if you find yourself stressed about breastfeeding in front of others.

  • You can use a cover. Whether it is a blanket or a “hood”, you can cover yourself in order to feel more comfortable. Aden and Anaias blankets are fantastic to use while breastfeeding. A nursing cover, such as Udder Covers, provides even more coverage. However, in the beginning days of breastfeeding, your newborn may not take well to having a cloth on top of them while they are still learning to latch and feed. Remember that your baby’s comfort and stress level is just as important as your own.
  • You can leave the room. Do not worry if people will find you rude. If you feel more comfortable nursing in a separate location, then do it. Excuse yourself and go about your nursing business.
  • Ask for privacy. This may be your only option if you are receiving endless visitors in the hospital. Ask your significant other to take the lead if you give them “the look”. They can then address your guests and say “Thank you so much for coming, it was so nice to see you! I think we need to work on feeding this baby now.”

For more information, see the section “Going Outside: Tips for Breastfeeding in Public”

Above all, enjoy the journey. These are precious moments that you will never get back. Your baby will never be five days old again. Despite the lack of sleep, the soreness, and the immense reality of being a parent, cherishing the bonding moments will be forever ingrained in your memory. Once you get past the first few days, your body adjusts to its new job. You get used to your new breast size, figure out which position works best for you, and start to feel more and more comfortable in your role as a breastfeeding mom. When it gets a bit overwhelming in the first few days remember this: you are capable of much more than you think. Your beautiful baby is proof of that.