Breastfeeding in the First Week: 4 Things You Will Be Glad You Knew

breastfeeding

If you are expecting a new baby, your preparation list probably includes buying onesies, scanning Pinterest for baby announcement ideas, and educating yourself about labour and delivery. But have you prepared for feeding your baby?

You might be wondering, “What is there to learn? Breastfeeding is natural; just give baby your breast and they nurse, right?” We wish we could say that is always the case. Over the last 20 years, we have certainly seen some struggles getting started with breastfeeding. Some of these problems were quick fixes while others were more challenging. A recent study backs up our observations. It found that 92% of mothers with 3 day old babies had at least 1 breastfeeding problem. See that study here.

While breastfeeding may be “natural” it does take some time to learn. Many women have never been around someone who is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding their own baby will be their very first experience. We want to tell you 4 important things that will make the first week of breastfeeding easier for you.

1) Understanding newborn baby talk

Babies are born with reflexes to help them survive. The sucking reflex and the rooting reflex (searching with the mouth) are important for feeding.  When you see your baby make sucking motions or opening his mouth and turning to suck on whatever is nearby it is like he is talking. He is telling you, “Hey Mom, feed me now!” If he is already crying, he is likely telling you, “I tried to be nice about it but you missed my signals. Now I am going to be more difficult to latch”.

When mothers recognize baby’s early hunger cues, they feed their baby more often. This helps breastfeeding get off to a great start. Frequent feeding signals the mother’s body to make milk.

2) The “Ravenous Second Night”

As Registered Nurses, we visit families in their homes just one or two days after they leave the hospital with their newborn. Time and time again, parents tell us their baby was up all night feeding!

Baby’s second night can be a tricky time. Baby wants to feed often. Mom’s breasts are soft. Many people assume this means they don’t have enough milk; they are very tempted to feed some formula.

This period of frequent eating is NORMAL. Your baby is doing exactly what he/she should be doing. Frequent feedings tell your body to make more milk. Interfering with this natural process by giving formula now can lead to lower milk supply down the road. If your baby has had a couple of wet diapers and a poop in the last 24 hours, wait it out and continue to feed frequently. Soon you will be hearing more swallowing at the breast and will have a more content baby. Hooray!

 3) You do not have to endure nipple pain

We have all heard nipple horror stories. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Nipples tenderness is common in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Nipple cracking or bleeding or pain that makes you curl your toes and bring your shoulders up to your ears is a sign that baby is putting too much pressure on the nipple.

Adjusting your breastfeeding position and getting baby latched deeply (so that your nipple is way back in baby’s mouth) should help. You can learn more about breastfeeding positions and latch here. If these simple tips do not help, please see someone skilled in breastfeeding such as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant before you are ready to quit! If the cause is something more complicated (such as a tongue-tie), getting assessment and early treatment can save breastfeeding.

4) A breastfeeding support team is critical

Having a new baby is one of the biggest changes you will encounter in your lifetime. It is hard to imagine just how dramatically your life will change. You will be learning to breastfeed at the same time as you are recovering from birth and reorganizing your relationship with your partner.

Research shows that a partner’s support is key in ensuring breastfeeding success. If you don’t have a partner, recruit a friend. When you are struggling or have questions in the wee hours of the morning, you will need someone to support you and tell you that you are doing an important job. Try to surround yourself with friends or family who have had positive experiences with breastfeeding. Tell them that you will be relying on them to answer your questions and support you. And, if you can ask these trusted support people to help with some of the household duties, it is a double win!

The first week of breastfeeding is challenging. Knowing these 4 things will help to make it easier. Soon you’ll be well on your way. Your milk will always be ready for baby at just the right temperature, giving you more time to simply cuddle and enjoy your newborn.

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If you would like to learn more before your baby arrives, sign up for their free online 3 lesson video course, Getting Ready to Breastfeed. The more you know, the more confident you will feel when your little one arrives. The less stress in the newborn period the better!

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14 Comments

  • I would add a #5, “Learn how to break the latch”. Seems like common knowledge for someone that has breastfed, but nobody had explained it to me (and I was totally unprepared when it came to breastfeeding!) at the hospital when my first was born and just about tore my nipples off the first night before the nurse noticed what I was doing wrong…Just gently insert your pinky into the corner of the mouth of the baby.

  • Actually, the thing with the ravenous second night is trying to explain away that the baby who is acting like they’re very hungry despite almost constantly suckling is actually not quite getting what they’re after.
    About half of first-time mums don’t have their milk come in at that time yet (see http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/6/1059.short ), indeed about a third of women don’t quite have enough milk even at day 7-10 ( http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/12/756/pdf ).
    Baby’s stomach, contrary to popular lore, can easily take 20-30ml. Baby had mere drops for 36-48 hours now so they’re getting desperate. Imagine just getting a shot glass full to drink every two hours for that long, and having to suck that from a wet cloth – you’d be screaming, too!
    Research shows that preemptively supplementing a little in those early days leads to improved mid- and long-term breastfeeding outcomes:
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/6/1059.short
    Bit of a no-brainer: A fed baby lets mum sleep, doesn’t chew her nipples to shreds, and is calmer and thus better at latching at the next feed. Win-win all around, except for the “exclusive breastfeeding percent” KPI of the hospital, which they’re unfortunately forced to look at, instead of wheter babies stay hungry.
    It’s no coincidence that many cultures around the world use what is called pre-lacteal feeds in the first days, sometimes going as far as to believe that colostrum is bad: People noticed for centuries that babies do better when they are well-fed in their first days. So instead of sticking to an ideal of “breast only”, let’s start honestly listening to baby and actually give them food when they ask for it.

    • Whoa… do you know what colostrum is for? Even animals have colostrum the first 3-4 days. The baby’s gut needs to be rid of meconium and primed and sealed with colostrum. This takes a couple of days. Everything you just stated goes contrary to everything we are trying to teach new breastfeeding mothers! The problem is not a starving baby, the problem is our hospital policies and the lack of educated lactation assistance. Not allowing babies to sleep with their newborns, bathing babies too soon, etc,etc. I could go on forever…

  • I agree with all of these, especially #4. You can try to learn about breastfeeding while you’re pregnant, but it’s so much more relevant once you’ve delivered. If someone can help you in person with the specific problem you’re experiencing, you’re much more likely to have success and meet your breastfeeding goals!

  • I was wondering if you have any tips on breast feeding after having a c-section? I tired to nurse our first child and had so many struggles and ended up going to formula. We are now expecting again and I’m trying to figure out what went wrong the first time and how to fix it. Our first was a c-section as well and I just was never able to get him to latch deeply. Any tips? I feel like I tried everything and meet with multiple laceration consultants without any luck. So hoping this time I will be successful!

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