newborn baby breastfeeding
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

What to expect in the first few days of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can take time to get used to and the first few days can be challenging as you and your baby get to grips with regular feeds.

Some women take to breastfeeding really quickly, while others will find it takes longer to get the hang of it. The most important thing is to remember to ask for help and support if you need it – don’t struggle on alone or ignore any pain or discomfort.

How to get the best start at breastfeeding

Find out what you can about breastfeeding before your baby is born. Watching online videos, reading books or articles and attending antenatal classes which cover breastfeeding will help you learn the basics and may help you avoid common problems or misconceptions which can interfere with feeding. 

Our online infant feeding antenatal class looks at both breastfeeding and formula feeding to help expectant parents make an informed choice. It is also a good idea to find out what breastfeeding support is available in your area before your baby is born.

The first few days after giving birth are exhausting and can feel overwhelming so knowing what help is out there in advance will make your life easier. Having a helpline number to hand or knowing where a local breastfeeding drop-in session is will reassure you that there is support if you need it. Your midwife should be able to give you details of what is available in your local area.

What to do when your baby is born

Establishing breastfeeding should ideally start as soon as your baby is born. Having lots of skin-to-skin contact with your newborn is important for bonding and helping your little one regulate their breathing and their body temperature.

And skin-to-skin cuddles are also a great way of encouraging your body to produce milk. It is the ideal opportunity to breastfeed your baby for the first time.

Aim to breastfeed your baby in the first hour after birth if you can. This first hour of your little one’s life is often called the ‘golden hour’ as feeding your baby in this period increases your chance of breastfeeding successfully.

Your baby will usually be alert in the first hour after birth and you will have a midwife there to offer support with the first feed. If you wait longer than an hour to give the first feed, you may find your newborn becomes quite sleepy and reluctant to feed. 

Of course, there are sometimes reasons that it isn’t possible to breastfeed in the first hour, usually if either you or your baby needs some extra medical attention. If this happens, don’t worry, you can still get breastfeeding off to a good start. Make sure the team caring for you know that you want to breastfeed as soon as you can and ask for support in getting feeding established.

What should my milk be like in the first few days?

When you first start breastfeeding, you will produce colostrum. This is your baby’s first milk and it will probably look different to what you are expecting. Colostrum is a golden yellow colour and is thick and sticky.

Your breasts will only produce small amounts of colostrum but this is nothing to worry about. Colostrum is extremely nutrient-dense and packed with everything your newborn needs so they will only need tiny quantities during their first few days of life.

When it comes to feeding, your newborn will follow the principle of little and often. Your baby will want to feed very frequently and you may even find yourself breastfeeding every hour.

Don’t worry, things will calm down and your baby will start feeding for longer and less frequently as they get older. After a few days, your colostrum will start to be replaced by more mature milk, which will be lighter in colour and more liquid.

You will start to produce more milk and your breasts may start to feel fuller and they may even feel quite hard. This is often referred to as your milk ‘coming in’ and you may experience this when your baby is between two and four days old. 

The more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you will produce so while you might feel like you don’t have enough milk at first, keep feeding and your supply will soon catch up. The first few days of breastfeeding are intense and you might feel like you are feeding your baby around the clock but things will settle down and you will fall into a natural routine as your newborn gets older.

Is there anything I should avoid in the first few days of breastfeeding?

Your baby is still learning how to breastfeed so avoid giving them a dummy or a bottle during these early days of breastfeeding. Giving them something with an artificial teat can cause nipple confusion and may make your baby more reluctant to breastfeed.

Wait until breastfeeding is well established before offering a dummy if you decide you want to use one. If you need to express your milk and give it to your baby, ask your midwife or a breastfeeding support worker for advice but in the first few days, it is usually recommended to feed your newborn using a cup rather than a bottle.

In the early days of breastfeeding, your breasts may leak so you can end up with wet patches on your clothing. This will often happen if you haven’t fed your baby in a while and your little one starts crying. Be prepared and pop some breast pads in your nursing bra so you don’t get caught out.

What does breastfeeding feel like?

Breastfeeding is a sensation which can take a bit of getting used to. Your baby’s suck may be quite strong and it can feel a little uncomfortable but it should not be painful.

If you experience pain or your nipples are sore or misshapen after a feed, this is usually a sign that there is an issue with your baby’s latch or position. Ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist to observe a breastfeed so they check your little one’s latch and your technique.

If something doesn’t feel right, ask for support. Don’t be tempted to continue with a feed if it doesn’t feel like your baby is latched on properly as this can make your nipples very sore, which will make future feeds much more painful and unpleasant.

In the first few days of breastfeeding, it is normal to take a few attempts to get your baby feeding well. Taking time to get it right now will make things easier for you later.

If you don’t think your baby is latched on properly, gently place your little finger (make sure it is clean) into the side of their mouth to break the latch so you can take them off the breast and try again.

When breastfeeding, you may experience a tingling sensation in your breasts. For some women, this can be a little like pins and needles and it may be quite a strong sensation.

This is your let-down reflex and it happens when your milk starts to flow during a feed. Not all women will be able to feel this so don’t be concerned if you never experience this sensation.

If you can feel your let-down, this is something you will experience near the start of a feed and it will pass quite quickly. You will notice the pattern of your baby’s sucks and swallows changes and your little one will start to take deeper rhythmic swallows.

Occasionally, your baby may struggle to cope with the flow of milk and may cough or splutter. If this happens, speak to your midwife, health visitor or someone who can support you with breastfeeding as there are positions and techniques you can try which will help combat this issue.

How often does my baby need to breastfeed?

In the first few days of your baby’s life, their stomach is extremely small so they will need to breastfeed very frequently. Look at each day as a 24-hour cycle and make sure you are feeding your newborn at least eight to 12 times. Feeding more often than this is normal too at this stage and is not a sign that you aren’t producing enough milk or that your milk isn’t satisfying them.

If your baby is very sleepy after birth, you may need to wake them for feeds. Don’t try to follow a feeding timetable – unless you have been advised to do so for medical reasons – offer your baby a feed whenever they are showing signs of being hungry.

You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby so follow their cues and encourage them to feed as much as they want while you are building your milk supply and perfecting your technique. The more you feed, the more confident you will be with your technique so while it may feel tricky at first, remember it will get easier soon.

How can I tell if my newborn is hungry?

Don’t wait until your baby is screaming before you try to breastfeed as this will be stressful and frustrating for both of you. If your newborn is turning their head to the side and opening their mouth – an instinctive reflex known as rooting – they are hungry and ready to feed.

Hungry babies may also seem restless, suck their fists or fingers and they may make murmuring noises. At this early stage, if you’re not sure what your baby wants and they seem unsettled, it is usually a good idea to offer a breastfeed.

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