Demystifying the First Week of Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know

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So, you’ve given birth – congratulations!   You’ve also begun your breastfeeding journey. If this is your first baby, both you and your baby are beginners in this process, and there are a few things you might want to know about your first week of breastfeeding. You might be surprised at how much can happen in just one week!

If you’ve had a vaginal birth, you will be home before you know it.

Most mothers and babies leave the hospital two days after a vaginal birth. What a whirlwind your hospital stay will be. There will be visitors, photographs, physician visits, birth certificate work, breastfeeding and more!   Before you know it, your nurse will be waving good-bye to you at the door. You will probably be wondering how you are going to manage on your own.   At this point, your mature milk has not quite come in, and moms often wonder how they will be able to tell if their baby is getting enough milk.   Rest assured that your healthcare providers have full confidence in your ability to feed and care for your baby. If you and your baby are healthy, and breastfeeding has gotten off to a good start in the hospital, you too, can be confident about feedings. Be sure your baby breastfeeds at least eight times in 24 hours, and has at least 2-3 wet diapers and 1-2 bowel movements in 24 hours as well. The bowel movements that were black and sticky in the first few days, will change to a yellow watery consistency by the end of the first week, and the wet diapers will increase to about 6 per day. Good output from your baby is a sign that he is getting enough milk.   Even with great breastfeeding, you can expect that your baby will lose weight for the first four nights, and then start to gain. Your pediatrician will want to see your baby within three days of being discharged from the hospital. This first appointment with your baby’s doctor will also help to reassure you that things are going well.

If you’ve had a cesarean birth, you will probably be in the hospital for four days.

By the time you are being discharged, your mature milk will have come in, and your baby may already be gaining weight. Even so, your pediatrician will still want to see your baby within 3 days of discharge. Aside from giving birth, you are also healing from surgery. You’ll need to plan for plenty of rest in this first week.   I like to tell all moms at discharge – whether they have had vaginal or cesarean births – “Go home, get back into your pajamas, and go to bed!” Your job this week is to rest and feed your baby – that’s all.

Your Milk Will Change

As you may know, your first milk is called colostrum. You can expect that this rich, antibody-packed milk will begin to change over to mature milk sometime between day two and day four. This change is sometimes referred to as the time when your milk “comes-in.”   Your breasts will become quite full, and then after feeding the baby, your breasts will soften. This is another reassuring sign for you, that things are going well.   When your mature milk comes in, you may find that feedings shorten a bit.   So while your baby might have been feeding for 30-45 minutes at a time, now your baby may feed for 10-20 minutes.   This is just a result of your baby getting a bigger volume of milk in a shorter time, so don’t be alarmed. You may also notice that your milk sometimes begins to flow even when the baby is not feeding. This is commonly referred to as “leaking,” and is a temporary problem. Wearing breast pads, either washable or disposable, can help you to avoid the unexpected wet shirt!   Just be sure to change your breast pads frequently. If your breasts become overly full – a condition known as “engorgement,” you may find that your baby has some trouble latching. If this happens, be sure to connect with a lactation consultant who can guide you through this and help you to avoid further problems.

Be Prepared for Sore Nipples

By now you’ve probably heard all kinds of not-too-pleasant stories about nipple soreness. So what should you expect? I’ll share with you what I have learned from working with breastfeeding women for over 30 years. Nipple soreness is common in the first week.   Yes, some women do breastfeed comfortably from day one. But in my experience, most mothers feel some discomfort in the early days particularly with latch. This discomfort should be bearable, and should subside as the feeding continues. Early latch-on discomfort should be gone by the end of your second week.   At that point, breastfeeding will be completely comfortable, even with the latch. If you have pain that feels unbearable, persists beyond the first minute or so, and causes any nipple damage, you definitely need to seek out the help of a lactation consultant. Don’t procrastinate in contacting someone for help – the earlier you address a problem, the easier it is to correct.

Dreaming about Sleep….

Chances are, that despite the fact that you won’t be sleeping for any big chunks of time, you may be feeling pretty good by the end of this first week. I caution you though, don’t over-do it! Resist the urge to entertain, clean your house, or go shopping.   And for heaven’s sake don’t take on any big responsibilities – like planning to be in a wedding or buying a house or moving!   Plan nothing for this week, and for the next several weeks if possible.   Remember, even though you’re no longer pregnant – you’re still growing a baby, and this takes a good amount of energy. So sit back, breastfeed, rest, and enjoy this time with your baby.

If this is not your first baby

Although this may not be your first time around – it is your first time with this baby, and each baby is different. Be prepared for some surprises with this new little one. One thing you have on your side, is experience.   Experience goes a long way when it comes to breastfeeding. You won’t have those same fears you may have had the first time around.   Most moms who have breastfed a previous child have a lot of confidence in their ability to breastfeed again.   The new skill you will have to learn now, is how to care for two children (or more) instead of just one. This can feel a bit overwhelming at times. Mothers of more than one child really need to take advantage of any help that is offered. I’m often asked by mothers with a new baby and a toddler or two at home, whether or not they should start pumping, so that someone else can help with the feedings. I strongly urge you to avoid this. Your new baby needs you just like your first one did.   Early pumping tends to complicate breastfeeding, making things harder, not easier – and often leads to early weaning. Keep it simple for now – breastfeed directly and save the pumping for later.

You can do it!

So you’ve made it – you’ve survived your first week with baby! Let’s look back at what you’ve accomplished. You’ve given birth, you’ve started breastfeeding, your mature milk is in, and you’ve taken your baby to his first doctor’s appointment. Good for you! You are well on your way to successful breastfeeding. If things haven’t gone quite as planned, and you’ve struggled this first week, don’t worry.   You still have plenty of time to get back on track.   Be sure that you connect with a lactation consultant to guide you through any complications you might be facing. She can help you develop a breastfeeding plan and help you to reach your breastfeeding goals. Best wishes to you and your baby as you move forward from week one.


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1 Comment
  1. Profile photo of Jacqueline Kincer
    Jacqueline Kincer 2 years ago

    Great article! However, not all mothers birth in a hospital setting and I feel that some writing could be added to include other birth settings. Thank you!

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