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In the first days following giving birth, you will be faced with a lot of very new experiences. From stuffing an ice pack into your underwear to getting half-naked every time you need to feed your baby, life takes on a new meaning in more ways than one. When everything feels so surreal and life seems to be turned upside-down, it helps to have a little heads-up on what to expect. Here’s the lowdown on those very first minutes, hours and days of breastfeeding:
The golden hour
Depending on your delivery, you probably won’t be feeling very “golden” right afterward. But those first 60 minutes after your baby is born are often referred to as the “golden hour.” During that time, connecting with your baby is super beneficial. We’re talking skin-to-skin contact ASAP to maximize bonding and give you a great start on your breastfeeding journey. If you’d like—and it’s okay with your medical team—put off all those measurements, tests and assessments until after the first feeding. And then just cuddle your baby on your chest during recovery.
You can still experience the golden hour in the case of a C-Section or an emergency situation. Once your baby is stabilized and examined, ask to have him or her placed on your chest for some quality mommy-baby time. Bonus: it’s a good distraction from what’s going on “down there”!
If breastmilk is liquid gold, colostrum is the 24-carat version. In those first days before your milk officially “comes in,” you’ll produce a thicker, very nutrient-rich milk called colostrum that’s more yellow in color. It’s the very best food for a newborn, made exactly for their needs.
Those first drops may seem very little in volume, but a newborn’s stomach is tiny—like the size of a cherry. All that nonstop suckling doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk. It’s actually serving an important purpose: your baby is learning how to eat—latch, suck, swallow, breath—plus getting the benefits of colostrum and stimulating your milk to come in.
Timing of feedings
When you aren’t sure how often or how long to feed your baby, it’s tempting to watch the clock. But feeding every two hours on the dot or for exactly 15 minutes per side doesn’t always line up with a newborn’s needs. Your best bet is feeding on demand.
How do you know your baby is “demanding” to eat? The hangry cues can include everything from making a cute sucking motion to full-on crying. When in doubt assume it’s a cue and offer the breast – an hour old hangry crying peanut makes for a difficult latching attempt. As you get to know your baby, you’ll recognize their need to feed earlier on and be able to avoid the super-fussy stage. Let them eat until they unlatch from your breast and then offer the other side.
It’s a good idea to talk to your pediatrician about whether you’ll need to wake your baby up to feed. Babies are pretty sleepy in their first days (as you’ll be too!) but to make sure your little one is gaining weight properly, you might have to (ugh) stir them from sleep when it’s time to eat.
When your milk comes in
It might happen somewhat gradually or it may hit you all at once, but sometime in the first days after birth, your milk will officially come in. For some moms, it happens while they’re still at the hospital and for others, they’ll already be back at home. The big tip-off is some major engorgement. Your boobs will start to feel fuller, tighter and harder—like two gigantic boulders that have exploded onto your chest. It can be anywhere from sort of uncomfortable to really freaking painful.
To relieve that feeling, keep feeding your baby. If it’s tough to get a good latch because you’re so overly full, pump or hand-express a little milk first. You can place warm compresses on your breasts to stimulate the milk to flow out or cool ones to reduce swelling. Hot showers and gentle massage also help. Your boobs will calm down and regulate—usually within a day or two—and then within the first month, once your milk supply is more established, you might start to feel less full even though you’re still producing plenty of milk.
A good latch
Getting a solid latch is super important so your baby can eat effectively and efficiently—and not tear up your nipples in the process. It can help to hold your breast like a “sandwich” (or as if you were going to squeeze your boob into a mail slot). Then touch your nipple to the baby’s lips, and when baby opens up, pop the entire nipple into his mouth. Make sure baby’s lips are flared out while latched and check their jaw and throat for signs of swallowing. Try different holds, prop baby up with pillows and don’t be shy about asking for an extra hand (literally). You might feel like you’re bumbling and fumbling, but with some time, you’ll be a total pro.
Through it all, lean on your nurses and the hospital staff. Communicate your wants and needs to them, including your hopes for immediately after birth. If you need it, ask for privacy during feeding times, for help with nursing holds or latching the baby, or for supplies like a pump or nipple shield. Many hospitals staff a lactation consultant—though not all are IBCLCs—so take advantage of them as resources during your stay. Those first days are so important for you and your baby. We’re cheering you both on!