How to breastfeed your newborn: what to expect in the first week

The first week with your baby is exciting, but can also be quite challenging – especially if you’ve never breastfed before. Read our breastfeeding tips for a successful start to your breastfeeding journey

Breastfeeding support in the first week

It may well be that your life is upside down after the birth- You will get to know your newborn while still recovering from the birth. Your feelings may be all mixed up (especially between the second and fifth day after birth, when there are many women with "milk shot") 1 and "baby blues caught twice) 2 . In addition, there is often the expectation- and the pressure-, get back on their feet quickly and also be a great mom in general. The best thing you can do during this week is to just enjoy the time with your baby and focus on breastfeeding.

When should I start breastfeeding my newborn baby?

It’s best to start latching your baby on in the first hour after birth. By grasping the nipple and sucking rhythmically, it begins to activate the cells in your breast, stimulating milk production. 1 The first hour after birth is not called the "magic hour" for nothing Designates!

„Ideally, your baby will be placed on your chest as soon as he is born so that he can reach your breasts himself. Maybe it will drink, maybe it won’t; but give it the opportunity to do so", Advises Cathy Garbin, an internationally recognized lactation consultant.

„Support his body and let your baby try to find his own way to your breast and grasp the nipple- You can watch videos online of babies crawling up the breast (often called a "breast crawl") denotes). If your baby doesn’t take the nipple into his mouth on his own, health care professionals can help you do that. They usually have a lot of experience helping moms with proper positioning. A self-directed attachment of the baby, with mom in a semi-reclined breastfeeding position, is a good place to start.“

So in this very special first hour, don’t worry about weighing or dressing the baby; at least you can wait until after the first breastfeeding. Enjoy relaxed cuddling and lots of skin contact with your baby. This will cause both of you to have oxytocin- the "happy hormone – which is a key stimulant to the flow of your colostrum. 3

„Once the midwives were sure our son was healthy, they gave us time to get to know each other as a family- just me, my husband and our baby." It was a bit chaotic, emotional and absolutely overwhelming, and our baby sucked twice at the breast in that very special hour we spent together.", Ellie, mother of two, recalls from the U.K.

Did you know that breastfeeding your baby helps you recover from childbirth? Oxytocin also causes your uterus to contract. In the first hours after birth, this helps to expel the placenta naturally, and it reduces blood loss. 4

What if the birth does not go according to plan??

If you delivered by cesarean section or there were other complications, you may still be able to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby and breastfeed in the first few hours.

„If you can’t hold your baby yourself, the best alternative is for him to experience skin-to-skin contact with your partner. This will keep your baby warm and feeling safe and loved until you are ready", says Cathy.

If your baby can’t manage breastfeeding, you should start early by pumping milk frequently until he or she is able to drink from your breast on their own. „Although it’s a good start for both mom and baby to breastfeed right after birth, there’s no drama if it doesn’t work right away.", reassures Cathy. „More importantly, it stimulates your milk production so you can breastfeed later if necessary.“

You can hand express your breasts and use the hospital’s breast pump to stimulate your milk production from the beginning. 5 The valuable colostrum you gain can then be given to your baby. This is especially important if he was born prematurely or is unwell, because your breast milk provides so many wonderful health benefits.

It is by no means impossible to breastfeed if your baby is born prematurely or if there are complications that make it impossible for him or her to feed at your breast at first. „I have known many, many mothers whose babies did not drink directly at the breast at all for the first six weeks because they were born prematurely or there were other difficulties, and they all managed to breastfeed successfully later on", says Cathy.

Is my baby grasping the nipple correctly?

Your baby’s nipple capture is very important for a successful start to breastfeeding, 6 because how he or she captures the nipple determines how well he or she will be able to drink and, accordingly, how he or she will grow and thrive. If it doesn’t capture the nipple properly, it can lead to sore or cracked nipples. You should therefore never be afraid to have a medical professional check how your baby grasps the nipple when breastfeeding, even if you have already been told that everything is fine and there is no obvious problem- Especially if you are still in the birth clinic or birth center.

„Every time I nursed in the hospital, I called a midwife so she could check that my baby was putting the nipple in her mouth correctly.", says Emma, a mother of two from Australia. „A few times I thought I had done everything right, but it hurt and the midwife helped me get my baby back off the breast and latched on properly one more time. It gave me the confidence to do it on my own at home.“

Point your nipple toward your baby’s palate when latching on. As a result, it captures not only the nipple, but also part of the areola. So not only does it suck on your nipple, but it also sucks on some breast tissue, making it easier to drink. 6

„When the baby sucks while breastfeeding, it should feel quite comfortable and like a slight tug, but not painful at the same time", says Cathy. „Your baby’s mouth will be wide open. His lower lip may be turned out and his upper lip gently hugs your breast. You can tell if he is comfortable by his body language. Since he won’t be drinking large amounts of milk at this early stage, you won’t see him gulping much, even though he’s sucking hard and wants the breast frequently.“

How often should a newborn baby be breastfed?

Breastfeeding frequency and duration can vary greatly during the first week. „The first 24 hours happen very differently from baby to baby. Some babies sleep for a long time- a birth makes you tired! – and some drink frequently at the breast", says Cathy. „For many mothers, this unpredictability is very confusing. Since everyone will give you different advice, it’s important to keep in mind that every mom and baby is unique.“

„Colostrum is thicker than mature breast milk and is produced in smaller quantities, but it is full of healthy ingredients. Drinking your colostrum allows your baby to practice swallowing, sucking, and breathing before your milk "shoots in" in larger quantities, Cathy explains.

If your milk comes in between days two and four, your baby will probably drink eight to twelve times in 24 hours (sometimes more frequently)!), also at night. 7 These first breastfeeding feedings can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, or 45 minutes to an hour, as your baby is still developing the muscles and coordination to suckle efficiently.

„In the beginning, babies suck very intensively often more intense than you imagined- and for most new moms, that’s a bit of a shock at first.", tells Cathy. „You barely have time to go to the bathroom, take a shower or grab a bite to eat. For most, it comes as a surprise.“

This is what Camilla, a mother of one from Australia, experienced: "In the first week, Frankie was at my breast every two hours for 30 minutes to an hour, both day and night", she says. „My partner and I were both constantly exhausted!“

Do I need a breastfeeding plan for a newborn baby?

The good news is that this frequent breastfeeding stimulates and builds up your milk production. 7 So the more your baby nurses, the more milk you’ll make. This is why you shouldn’t worry about a breastfeeding schedule for your baby, as it may limit his or her opportunities to breastfeed. Just focus on nursing your baby when he shows signs of hunger, 8 such as:

  • It startles out of sleep
  • It opens its eyes
  • It turns its head when it feels something on its cheek
  • It sticks out its tongue
  • It makes cooing sounds
  • It licks its lips
  • It tries to eat its hand
  • It’s getting cranky
  • It starts to whine
  • It screams

Crying is a late sign of hunger, so always offer your baby the breast when in doubt. It can be harder to breastfeed your baby when he’s already crying, especially at this early stage when you’re both just learning to breastfeed. The older it gets, the faster and less often it will likely drink, and breastfeeding will become easier overall.

Does breastfeeding hurt?

You may have been told that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, but in reality, many moms find it uncomfortable during the first few days. This isn’t surprising, considering your nipples aren’t used to your baby’s heavy and frequent sucking.

„The first few days can be uncomfortable as your body and baby adjust to breastfeeding. If your baby stays at the breast too long and doesn’t grasp the nipple properly, the result is similar to wearing new shoes that haven’t been broken in", says Cathy. „Just like your feet can get sore, so can your nipples. Since prevention is better than cure, you should contact a doctor, midwife or lactation consultant if the pain persists after the first couple of days.“

Mariah, a mother of one from Canada, agrees: "Although my son didn’t seem to have any problems latching on, when I breastfed, my nipples would get sore and everything would hurt. Eventually it turned out that he had a frenulum that was too short, and we received excellent support at our urban lactation clinic to diagnose and fix the problem.“

You may also get temporary cramps that feel like period pains (known as postpartum) after breastfeeding meals for the first few days, especially if it’s not your first baby. This is because the oxytocin released by breastfeeding helps your uterus to contract further, as it begins to shrink back to its original size. 4

When your milk pours in, your breasts will usually feel full and firm and will certainly be bigger than before. In some women, the breasts swell strongly, become hard and sensitive to pain- this is called swelling of the mammary glands. 10 Breastfeeding your baby frequently can help relieve pressure. Our articleon breast swelling contains more self-help tips.

How many wet and dirty diapers will my newborn produce?

What goes in at the top must come out at the bottom! Colostrum has a laxative effect to help your baby have his first bowel movement, the elimination of meconium, known as infantile vomit. It can look a little strange because it’s black and sticky like tar. 11 But don’t worry, his diapers won’t always look like this- A nursing baby’s dirty diapers usually have a harmless, slightly sweet smell.

Here’s how many dirty diapers you can expect and when, and what their contents should look like:

Day one

  • Quantity: one or more
  • Color: greenish black
  • Texture: sticky and tar-like

Day two

  • Number: two or more
  • Color: dark greenish brown
  • Texture: less sticky

Day Three

  • Number: two or more
  • Color: greenish brown to brownish yellow
  • Texture: no longer sticky

Day four to a month

  • Number: two or more
  • Color: yellow (by the evening of day four at the latest, they should be yellow)
  • Texture: grainy, mushy (like English or American mustard with mustard seeds mixed in). Loose and watery.

Your baby’s urine should be a light yellow color. On average, a newborn will urinate once a day- until about day three, then it should produce around three wet diapers a day, and from day five onwards, around five or more wet diapers a day. The diapers should also get progressively heavier the first few days over. 11

Is my baby getting enough breast milk?

Since you only make small amounts of breast milk at first, you may worry that it won’t be enough for your newborn to get full. However, if you are breastfeeding on demand, you should produce exactly as much milk as your baby needs at any given time. If you want to keep track, you can compare your baby’s number of dirty and wet diapers with the number given above. If the number does not roughly match this pattern, ask a health care professional.

"For the first three to four weeks, most babies do nothing but drink at the breast and sleep. If your baby is restless and wants to nurse all the time, you can ask a health care professional for advice," Cathy says.

Your baby may vomit milk-colored fluid after a breastfeeding session, but this is nothing to worry about. However, if his vomit contains anything orange, red, green, brown, or black, or if he vomits gushily, contact a health care professional. The same goes if your baby has an elevated temperature, blood in the stool, a sunken fontanel (the soft spot on his head), or he hasn’t regained his birth weight at two weeks. 11

However, if all of this is not the case and your baby is following his growth curve, he is getting enough milk. You will both soon get used to breastfeeding and develop a more regular breastfeeding rhythm.

To find out what happens next in your breastfeeding journey, check out Breastfeeding in the First Month: What to Expect.

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