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What to Expect When Breastfeeding a Newborn

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Congratulations! You’ve planned and prepared for your new little blessing and the time has finally come – your baby is here! What should you expect when breastfeeding a newborn in the first few days following delivery? Keep the following breastfeeding advice in mind to get breastfeeding off to a good start.

What to Expect When Breastfeeding a Newborn

Following Delivery

Whether your labor and delivery was completely natural, an emergency c-section or something in between, it is important to hold your baby in skin-to-skin contact immediately (or as close as possible) following birth. You can never get the first two hours after birth back. This is a critical time of bonding as hormones flourish helping to regulate a baby’s body temperature and blood glucose levels and a mother’s milk supply. Delay all non-essential checks of baby that cannot be done, while baby is in skin-to-skin with mother until after the first breastfeed. With a cesarean delivery the mother will need help holding baby.

Babies instinctively know what to do. When labor is unmedicated, babies can be placed on their mother’s stomachs and will actually crawl up, find the breast and spontaneously breastfeed on their own. It is called “the breast crawl” and it is quite powerful to watch! However, even if you choose to lay your baby directly on your stomach and breast and help him attach, the important thing is bonding together, skin-to-skin without interruption until after the first breastfeed.

The first 24 hours

During the first 24 hours, continue to hold your baby in skin-to-skin contact as often as possible. This helps to establish a mother’s milk supply and encourage a baby to nurse on demand. You cannot spoil your baby and you cannot nurse your baby too often. Breastfeed whenever your baby wants, and at least 10-12 times in a 24-hour period. Rooming-in with your baby in the hospital will help facilitate frequent nursing.

If your baby is sleepy (which is especially common if there were any pain medications during labor or if your baby is preterm), then it is important to wake your baby to feed him. There should not be longer than one 4-hour stretch of sleep in 24 hours; otherwise your baby should nurse at least every 2-3 hours.

Breastfeeding should never hurt, even in the beginning, so if you are experiencing pain, seek out help. If you are in a hospital setting, ask to see the lactation consultant. If you are in a birthing center or at home, talk with your midwife about what could be causing the pain. The majority of the time the pain is caused because of an issue with positioning and attachment. The earlier you are able to sort out the problem, the less likelihood your nipples will be damaged or your baby will learn a poor latch.

During the first 24 hours, your baby should have at least one dirty diaper and one or more wet diapers. A newborn baby’s stomach is very small. Thick, rich, colostrum is all he needs for the first few days until a mother’s milk comes in.

The First Week

Practices begun in the first 24 hours should continue during the first week. Keep your baby nearby, while he is sleeping so you are aware of when he wakes and his early feeding cues. Spend as much time in skin-to-skin contact as possible. Consider co-sleeping in the same room or even bed sharing. Many moms find it helpful to get a sling or baby wrap, so your baby can be held close, but mother is still able to move about in the house and do a few things.

New babies eat all the time since breast milk was designed to be digested quickly so that babies not only eat often to grow their bodies and brains, but also for the bonding and cuddling that come with each breastfeed. You cannot feed your baby too much or spoil him by holding, slinging or breastfeeding all day long. A mother’s job is to feed her baby – allow everyone else to serve the new mom by cooking, cleaning, taking care of older children, helping to set up her “nursing station,” changing diapers, burping baby or anything else she needs.

Finally, remember to rest when your baby does. New babies have not established a circadian rhythm of sleep yet (this develops around 6-8 weeks), so taking naps during the day will help energize a mom for all the nighttime nursing in those early weeks.

If you have breastfed, what advice would you give to moms as to how to get off to a good start?

KristaGray_HeadshotKrista Gray is an IBCLC, La Leche League Leader, and mother of four breastfed children, including preemie twins. At Nursing Nurture Krista shares research-based information and experience to help moms in their breastfeeding journeys. You can also connect with Krista on Twitter {@nursingnurture} and on Facebook {}.


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