The first few weeks of breastfeeding are crucial in establishing the breastfeeding relationship. Your baby needs to learn to suck, and you need to build your milk supply. Those first important days give your baby immunity and you hormones that help your uterus contract and help you feel more nurturing toward your baby. Breastfeeding helps you both as you get to know one another.
Skin to Skin
Place your baby naked against your bare chest as soon as possible after birth. Be sure that you give your baby a chance to breastfeed before sleeping because those first few hours help you both do what your bodies are made to do. If the baby is just very sleepy, wake him within a couple of hours to initiate breastfeeding.
The first few days after your baby is born you will produce colostrum rather than milk. Colostrum is thicker, less fatty, and more nutrient dense than milk will be. The volume of colostrum is quite low, which gives your baby a chance to learn how to feed before the gush of breastmilk arrives. Colostrum also gives your baby antibodies and other immune factors.
Milk Coming In
You will notice a difference when your breasts become firmer and heavier after a few days. This is your milk coming in. It is important to feed your baby every 2-3 hours, or as often as your baby asks to be fed, to stimulate your supply.
How does your baby ask to be fed? You will see your baby rooting—turning toward your breast with mouth open. If you pet your baby’s cheek with your finger, you may notice that she turns toward your finger. Your baby might just be restless or pull hand to mouth. After a short time together, you will begin to recognize your baby’s own cues for hunger.
One Breast at a Time
Let your baby finish feeding at one breast before you offer the second. Don’t watch the clock. Your baby’s cues can tell you whether he is still hungry after finishing the first breast. Whichever side you started on this feeding, start on the other side next feeding.
Don’t expect too many wet or dirty diapers at first. Until your milk is fully in, your baby may only have one dirty diaper and one wet diaper a day, increasing each day until you are changing a dozen wet diapers a day. Some babies have dirty diapers with every feeding, while others might go a day or even several days between dirty diapers. Don’t worry that something is wrong if your baby is not in distress. Just learn your baby’s rhythms.
Babies suck not just to eat but to soothe. Some mothers use pacifiers or dummies to help satisfy that need, though a pacifier isn’t necessary if the mother is willing and able to nurse even when a baby seeks comfort.
One of the most common questions we get at bynature.ca about breastfeeding is about why pacifiers are trouble in the first few weeks. The problems come if a very young baby uses a pacifier before learning how to suck at the breast, causing nipple confusion; if a pacifier is used when the baby is hungry, leaving the baby hungry and not gaining weight when she should be; or if a baby sucking at a pacifier means less stimulation for the mother to establish milk supply, leaving the mother without enough milk to satisfy the baby’s hunger.
Of course, using a pacifier is always up to each family, but your breastfeeding relationship will be stronger if you wait 6-8 weeks to start.
In the first hours, days, and weeks after your baby is born, focusing on breastfeeding is the most important thing you can do for your baby and for yourself.
- Colostrum from La Leche League