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

Breastfeeding in the First Week: 4 Things You Will Be Glad You Knew including understanding cues, nipple pain, the ravenous second night and support systems

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

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), gettin an 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 to 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 has 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.


Our next recos:

 Breastfeeding for Beginners (weeks 1-6)

New Mom Kits: Breastfeeding Station

Five Biggest Mistakes Women Make When Buying a Nursing Bra

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!

Planning to breastfeed your new baby girl or baby boy? Here are 4 things you will be glad you knew in the first week of breastfeeding including understanding cues, nipple pain, the ravenous second night and support systems

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  • Second night cluster feeding was not normal for me. By day 3 my baby had lost a huge amount of weight and blood tests showed that she had not had enough milk. The midwives had latched her on every hour. Please ensure to get your baby weighed and if there is a hint of a problem get blood tests. Dehydration hypoglycaemia and jaundice can cause brain damage and formula is life saving in these situations. It is far more common that it is made out to be. My baby could be dead without supplemental feeds. Nature = survival of the fittest not survival of everyone.

  • It’s a challenge–I had a c-section because baby just could not get through my pelvis, and my milk was slow to come in. The second night was torture. Our son was crying, I was crying, the nurse was trying to help with latching and waving my boob all over the place…it was difficult. On our doctor’s advice, we ended up supplementing with formula for a few days because he lost too much weight waiting for my milk to come in. Once he started getting formula (in addition to still breastfeeding), he was a totally different baby–more happy and more alert. (And he did NOT have nipple confusion from alternating between boob and bottle in those first few days. Do not let people terrify you into not supplementing because of the fear of nipple confusion.)

    Supplementing with formula at the beginning isn’t necessarily the death knell for breastfeeding. Our son is almost 6 months old and we have been exclusively breastfeeding since about day 7. It hasn’t always been easy (he’s a slow but frequent nurser), but my husband is great support–encouraging me to stick with breastfeeding but also reminding me from the start that we can always supplement or go to formula if it just didn’t work out.
    Mom’s sanity is just as important as the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is torture or non-stop pain or you literally haven’t slept for 3 days, it’s ok to let someone help you by giving your baby formula. Breast may be best, but fed and happy is a close runner up.

  • 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 ), indeed about a third of women don’t quite have enough milk even at day 7-10 ( ).
    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:
    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…

      • It 100% is about a starving baby. What happens to babies who are eff from day one? Moms who never get milk? Babies who are adopted? Are their guts not primed? Do they grow up with meconium in their bellies since the all encompassing liquid gold didn’t flush it out? Your logic is flawed. Babies to from being consistently fed in utero to having to indicate when they’re hungry. And guess what, they get hungry fast. And before you tell me it’s a lack of education, I was one of the many new moms who’s milk didn’t come in until day 7. SEVEN. Had I not supplemented with formula, my son would be dead. So please figure out a way to support moms with feeding in a way that keeps them and baby safe. Pushing a lactivist agenda is not a good way to start.

    • Thank God for this. I’m 30 weeks with my fifth, and the thing I’m most anxious about is not keeping five human beings alive and happy, but breastfeeding for a fifth miserable time. I have had cracked, bleeding nipples for the first 3 solid months of’ And no, there were no tongue ties and yes, I worked with an IBCLC for hours and hours and many dollars and basically I have just about killed myself each time trying to get that baby to 12 months of breastfeeding. I have been seriously considering not breastfeeding at all this time around, because I so fear being plunged back into postpartum depression complicated by frequent mastitis infections and excruciating nipples. The studies you linked to give me so much hope that just maybe it’s the insane ideal of “exclusively” breastfeeding that must give, and not necessarily breastfeeding itself. Anyway, thank you. I’m so grateful to have come across this comment.

  • 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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