What to expect when you start breastfeeding
Knowing what the first few days and weeks might look and feel like can help set you up for success as you get used to breastfeeding your baby.
- Your placenta being birthed prompts the release of the hormone prolactin. This stimulates your breasts to make milk
- Skin-to-skin time with your baby, and allowing them to feed when they want to (rather than trying to create a schedule) will encourage your milk to come in. This usually happens 3-4 days after birth
- Your baby will probably feed around 8-12 times in 24 hours, although some babies will want to feed more often.
Getting the hang of it can take time
For some women, breastfeeding feels like the most natural thing in the world. For others it’s more of a struggle. This is completely normal, after all, it’s a skill that both you and your baby learn together.
The first milk you make is called colostrum and this is the milk with which you’ll feed your baby for the first few days.
- It’s thick and golden in colour
- Even if you’re not sure you want to breastfeed, you might consider giving your baby colostrum because it’s full of vitamins and antibodies. It’s particularly good for babies who are premature
- It’s highly concentrated, so only small amounts of colostrum are needed in one feed
- Because it’s so nutrient-rich, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘liquid gold’.
Milk ‘coming in’
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby and having them close to you will encourage your milk to come in (usually around 3-4 days after birth).
If you had a difficult birth, complications, or a caesarean section, it may take a little longer for your milk to change from colostrum to more mature milk. When it does, you will most likely notice that:
- Your breasts become fuller and firmer. If this makes it feel as though it’s more difficult for your baby to latch onto the breast, try expressing a little milk before the feed so that your breast is less full and squashier
- Your milk is now more liquid-like and produced in larger volumes
- You experience the ‘let-down’ reflex, which is where your baby’s suckling at the breast stimulates the hormone oxytocin. This feels like a tingling sensation, and prompts the body to release milk from the nipple.
How often should my baby feed?
Your baby will want to breastfeed around 8-12 times in 24 hours.
Bear in mind that breast milk is digested more quickly than formula milk, so some babies will want to feed more often than this.
Your baby may go through periods of ‘cluster feeding’ – where they have many short feeds over a period of a few hours.
This is completely normal behaviour and stimulates your breasts to make more milk. Being led by your baby will help ensure you produce enough milk to satisfy their appetite.
Regular wet nappies are a good indication that your baby is getting enough milk.
Taking care of you
Taking care of your own needs is very important when you’re breastfeeding.
- Make it a priority to eat well, keep yourself hydrated and get as much rest as possible
- Accept all offers of help from your partner, family and friends – people want to support you, so let them!
- Many women get incredibly thirsty when they’re breastfeeding. Keep a big glass of water within arm’s reach when feeding your baby so you don’t have to keep getting up and down.
Common early-days issues
It’s common to feel some level of discomfort when you first start breastfeeding.
If you have pain that does not ease, cracked nipples or nipples that look misshapen after a feed, then a change of feeding position and asking for help with your baby’s latch may help. Talk to your midwife or Peppy baby practitioner.
There can also more medical barriers to breastfeeding, such as:
- Thrush (a fungal infection – you’ll see white patches around your nipple and in your baby’s mouth
- Blocked milk ducts (these can feel lumpy, but they can be cleared through massaging the affected area and having your baby feed from the blocked breast)
- Mastitis (hot-to-touch, inflamed breasts and feeling flu-like symptoms that worsen quickly).
If you suspect you have any of the above, you should contact your GP.
For all breastfeeding-related issues and to help support you with effective breastfeeding, Peppy currently offers video consultations with a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Deciding not to breastfeed or stopping breastfeeding
If you decide not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding, breastmilk production will stop over time. The ‘supply and demand’ process dwindles.
It’s normal to notice some milk leaking and your breasts may become engorged while your milk supply settles and then reduces.
Tips that may help you feel more comfortable include:
- Holding wrapped ice packs against your breasts to help relieve engorgement
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medication such as ibuprofen
- Applying fridge-cold cabbage leaves to your breast or wearing in your bra
- Wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra
- Avoiding stimulating your nipples.
Bear in mind you might feel very emotional when you stop breastfeeding, especially if you’ve stopped before you wanted or hoped to. Make sure you look after yourself, resting when you can and reach out for support from others close to you if you are struggling.
5 breastfeeding positions to try…
There’s no right or wrong position when it comes to breastfeeding – just what works for you and your baby. However, some positions are more common than others.
- Some mums may have a favoured position for one side, and something different for the other.
- Prioritise supporting your baby’s head and neck,
- And remember, no two boobs are the same!
Positions that work for lots of mums include:
Laid back – You lean back into your bed, chair or sofa, and make your torso into a slope. Your baby is placed on your chest, gently supported by your arm, and will find their own way to the breast.
Cradle hold – Use your arm and hand to support your baby and offer them the breast from that same side, with your baby’s head resting on your arm
Cross cradle hold – Use your arm and hand to support your baby and latch them to the opposite breast. Your baby lies across your body with lots of tummy to tummy contact.
Rugby hold – Your baby is positioned around your side, and comes to the breast from underneath your armpit
Side lying – You and your baby lie on your sides facing each other in bed, and your baby latches and feeds. This is a great position for the early days if your mobility is limited, and for nap and night times too.
Koala hold – You sit upright and drop your leg down in front of you. Your baby ‘straddles’ your leg and is tucked right into your body for stability. Your baby latches from underneath the breast. Once your baby is latched, you may find it more comfortable to lie back for the rest of the feed.
Every body and breasts are different. The shape of your boobs may mean some positions work better than others when it comes to helping your baby latch, or you could use breast shaping (using your hand to shape your breast) to mould your breast into a shape that better allows your baby to feed.
This is why working with a lactation consultant can be so helpful: they are feeding specialists and have loads of tricks up their sleeves if latching on is proving tricky for your baby.
You can chat to a Peppy baby practitioner to talk through any of this if you’re still unsure. Or, book a one-to-one video call so they can help you face-to-face.