Starting to breastfeed in the first few days

In the first few days, you and your baby will be getting to know each other. It may take time for both of you to get the hang of breastfeeding, so don’t worry if you’re finding it a bit tricky.

It’s good to find out as much as you can about breastfeeding before the birth. Knowing what to expect should help you feel as confident as possible when the baby arrives.

Having skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after the birth will help to keep your body warm, calm your baby, and help with the first breastfeed. All babies are different; sometimes a sleepy baby will take a little longer to show an interest in feeding. Your baby should feed within the first hour to get feeding off to the best start.

Your first milk – colostrum, is very concentrated, so your baby will only need a small amount at each feed (approximately a teaspoonful). Your baby may want to feed quite frequently, as their tummy is very small. When your milk comes in after a few days, baby will feed for a little longer. The more you breastfeed the more milk you will make.

The best way to gain confidence and find out more about breastfeeding is to meet mums that are doing it.

Useful links

DH leaflet ‘off to the Best start’

When will I be able to breastfeed?

Every pregnant woman makes milk for her baby, which is ready and available at birth. This milk is called colostrum and is sometimes a yellow colour. It’s very concentrated, so your baby will only need a small amount at each feed (approximately a teaspoonful).

Attachment tips

  1. Hold your baby close to you with their nose level with the nipple.
  2. Wait until your baby opens their mouth really wide with the tongue down. You can encourage them to do this by gently stroking their top lip.
  3. Bring your baby on to your breast.
  4. Your baby will tilt their head back and come to your breast chin first. They should take a large mouthful of breast. Your nipple should go towards the roof of their mouth.

You could also try laid back breastfeeding – this is a more instinctive position for mum and baby. It is similar to the skin to skin position after your baby is born.

1. Relax back in a comfortable semi reclined position, so every part of your body is supported.

2. Lie you baby on top of your body, with their head near your breast, so that gravity works with you and your baby, instead of against you.

It often works well this way in the early days when you are both learning what breastfeeding is all about.

How do I know my baby is feeding correctly?

Breastfeeding can sometimes take a while to get used to, it can take time and practice to get the hang of it. There are lots of different positions for mothers to breastfeed, just find what feels comfortable for you. It is all about getting a good attachment.

How do I know if my baby is well attached?

  • Your baby’s chin will be touching the breast
  • Your baby’s mouth will be wide open
  • You might not be able to see the areola (the darker area around the nipple) at all, or there will be more showing above the baby’s top lip
  • You might be able to see that the baby’s lower lip is curled back, although if your baby’s well positioned you might not be able to see
  • Your baby’s cheeks will be round and full and shouldn’t look sucked in or dimpled at all
  • You won’t hear any smacking or clicking sounds

How often will my baby breastfeed?

All babies are different, and it may depend on the type of birth you’ve had. Your baby should feed within the first hour after birth to get off to a good start. Babies then sometimes have a sleep and will start to give you signs that they’re ready for the next feed. These signs include:

    • Starting to move about as they wake up
    • Moving their head around
    • Finding something to suck, usually their fingers

Your baby may want to feed quite frequently, perhaps every hour, but they will begin to have longer feeds less often when your milk comes in, in a few days. The more you breastfeed the more milk you’ll produce. The time between feeds will vary, and you and your baby will settle into a pattern, which may change from time to time.

Building up your milk supply

Around two to four days after birth you may notice that your breasts become fuller and warmer. This is often referred to as your milk “coming in”. Your milk will vary according to your baby’s needs. It will look thin compared with colostrum, but gets creamier as the feed goes on.

Each time your baby feeds, your body knows to make the next feed. The amount of milk you make will increase or decrease depending on how often your baby feeds. In the early days, “topping up” with infant formula can decrease your milk supply.

Feed your baby as often as they want. Let your baby decide when they’ve had enough. It’s not necessary to time the feeds. In the beginning, it can seem that you’re doing nothing but feeding, but gradually, you and your baby will get into a pattern of feeding, and the amount of milk you produce will settle.

It’s important to breastfeed at night because this is when you produce more hormones (prolactin) to build up your milk supply. At night, your baby will be safest sleeping in a cot in the same room as you.

The let-down reflex

Your baby’s sucking causes milk stored in your breasts to be squeezed down ducts towards your nipples. This is called the let-down reflex.

Some women get a tingling feeling, which can be quite strong. Others feel nothing at all. You’ll see your baby respond, and their quick sucks will change to deep rhythmic swallows as the milk begins to flow. Babies often pause after the initial quick sucks while they wait for more milk to be delivered.

If your baby seems to fall asleep before the deep swallowing stage check they’re effectively attached.

Sometimes you’ll notice your milk flowing in response to your baby crying or when you have a warm bath or shower.

How to know that your baby is getting enough milk

  • Your baby will appear content and satisfied after most feeds
  • They should be healthy and gaining weight after the first two weeks
  • Your breasts and nipples should not be sore
  • After the first few days, your baby should have at least six wet nappies a day
  • After the first few days they should also pass at least two yellow stools every day

Leaking breast milk

Sometimes, breast milk may leak unexpectedly from your nipples. Press your hand gently but firmly on your nipple when this happens. This usually helps very quickly. Wearing breast pads will stop your clothes becoming wet with breast milk.

Expressing milk

After a time, many women want to supplement their breast milk or enable partners to feed their babies. This can be done by hand expression or using a breast pump to bottle breast milk. For more information on how to do this safely and hygienically visit The Breastfeeding Network

Bottle feeding

In some cases, it may be necessary to bottle feed your baby. This should be done following the Start4Life guidelines which will help you to feed your baby safely and hygienically. Click here to find out more information about bottlefeeding.

Moving on to solid foods

Introducing your baby to solid foods, often called weaning on to foods, should start when your baby is around six months old.

It is a really important step in your baby’s development and can be great fun to explore new flavours and textures together.

To begin with, how much your baby takes is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating.

They will still be getting most of their nutrition from breastmilk or infant formula. Babies don’t need three meals a day to start with, so you can start by offering foods at a time that suits you both.

Gradually you’ll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats until they can eventually eat the same as the rest of the family, in smaller portions.

Research shows that babies need nothing but breastmilk or infant formula for the first six months of life. This gives a baby’s digestive system time to develop so that they cope fully with solid foods. This includes solid foods made into purées and cereals mixed with milk.

To find out more about introducing solid foods, visit The Caroline Walker Trust.

Breastfeeding and returning to work

Yes you can return to work and breastfeed, but there are a few steps to take. Click here for more information.