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Breastfeeding: The Early Weeks

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Here’s the second breastfeeding article in my series. Like I said last time – I am not a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant. I am, however, a mother who has successfully (and sometimes painfully) breastfed her baby for ten months now. Hopefully, my knowledge and experiences can help you or someone you know!

Babies have a natural instinct to nurse, as soon as they’re born. It’s best to nurse your baby as soon as you can after delivery. If you have a C-section, then ask that the baby be brought to you as soon as possible to nurse. Breastfeeding quickly helps the baby learn how to latch.

Don’t be afraid if it looks like the baby isn’t getting much. Your milk doesn’t “come in” until at least the 3rd or 4th day. Before this, your baby gets colostrum when you nurse. There’s not much of it, but it’s very dense in calories. This is all the baby needs until your milk comes in. Your baby will lose weight in the first few days. It is totally normal to lose 7% of their body weight in the beginning.

When the baby is born, its tummy is the size of a small marble. By the third day, it’s the size of a shooter marble. By the seventh day, it’s the size of a ping pong ball. This means that what you’re making is all the baby needs. It doesn’t take much to fill up a tiny marble!


So many women get scared in the beginning that the baby is going to starve, and so they start feeding the baby formula. This is SO counterproductive! Your breastmilk supply operates on a supply and demand system. When you nurse, you tell your body that your baby needs milk. You have to express milk to make milk. This is why it’s really important to nurse very frequently in the beginning. When you supplement with formula instead of offering the breast to the baby, your body doesn’t know it needs to make milk.

Before I get angry comments, I want to add that breastfeeding is a very personal experience. It’s different for everyone. If your little one has lost more than 7% of their body weight, started out very small, you have supply issues, or you’re on certain medications, your doctor may have you supplement. It happens, and is not your fault. I would, however, suggest extra pumping to make sure that your body knows it needs to make more milk!

Your milk will “come in” normally 72 hours after birth – but it can be longer. My daughter was born at 5:30 in the evening on a Wednesday. By Saturday evening, Charlotte appeared to be really frustrated that I wasn’t producing more. We hung in there, and my milk came in very early the next morning. This process is really painful, and your boobs actually feel like there are rocks in them. If I hadn’t been warned, I would have thought something was seriously wrong. The best way to get through it is to nurse frequently. While you breastfeed, have your husband/partner/whoever is willing gently rub on the hard spots. You’ll feel the hard spots go away as the baby eats. Immediately after nursing, ice packs can help. The painful period lasts about 24 hours. If you’re too engorged and the baby can’t get a good latch, pump for a minute to soften the breast a bit to make it easier for the baby to latch on.  After your milk comes in, babies normally gain about 6 ounces a week.

It’s normal to have just a few wet and dirty diapers early on. The first few days, baby’s poop will be very black and sticky from ingesting the amniotic fluid. After your milk comes in, it’s normal to have 3-5 poopy diapers and 5-6 wet diapers per day.  Here’s a table that you can use if you would like to track your baby’s nursing sessions, diapers, and weight. There’s an extra column to track any fevers that your little one has as well. Charlotte had some difficulty with this in the beginning, so it was something that I wanted to keep track of to determine if there was a pattern.

Latching and Positioning

Sit up straight, with a pillow behind your back. Rest the baby on a pillow in front of you. Hold the baby against you, tummy to tummy. Don’t lay the baby on her back and turn her head – that makes it hard for them to swallow. Hold the baby with one arm, and your breast with the other hand. Touch your nipple to the baby’s cheek or lower lip. When she opens wide, pull the baby into you.  Don’t push the back of her head or move yourself to her. It sounds funny, but the lactation consultant at the hospital says it helps to squish your breast like it’s a sandwich, with your fingers under it and your thumb on top. Pressing gently on the baby’s chin with the same hand prior to latching and throughout the feeding can help get them to open wide.  The baby’s lips should be flared outward, and her tongue should be protruding just on top of the lower lip. If the latch doesn’t feel right, stick a finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth to break the suction before pulling them off. If you feel like the latch isn’t right, most hospitals also have lactation consultants. Many public health departments have them on staff as well. There are also latching videos online, and they were really helpful to me.

When positioning baby, always try to place her on her side. It’s very difficult for your little one to swallow if she’s flat on her back, with her head turned sideways. (Try it! It’s hard to do!) Varying positions helps to ensure that you don’t get clogged ducts. There are tons of positions that you can use to nurse, but these three are my favorites:
1. Cradle hold – Rest the baby’s head and neck in the crook of your arm, with your hand under his bottom. Use your free hand to support your breast.
2. Football hold – Lay the baby on a pillow next to you, so that her body is under your arm and along your rib cage. Use your arm to support the baby’s body, and your hand to support her neck and head. Again, use your free hand to support your breast.
3. Side Lying – I didn’t really get this down until Charlotte was a couple of months old. Lay on your side, with the baby next to you. Use one hand to support your breast, and use the other arm to support the baby and pull him close to you.

Common Questions

How Often?
At first, nurse at least 8-12 times per day, or every 1-3 hours. Because breastmilk is digested more easily than formula, breastfed babies need to eat more often. The time is counted from the start of one feeding to the start of another. So, if you start at 5 and nurse for a ½ hour, nursing at 7 would mean you went 2 hours between feedings.  Nurse at the early hunger signs (rooting, hands in mouth), rather than waiting until they’re crying.

How Long?
The baby will let you know when they’re finished when they stop nursing. My daughter nurses 10-30 minutes. At first, she nursed for an hour at a time, and for a while nursed every 2 hours. Yep – We were nursing 12 hours a day. I was frealkin’ exhausted. It was frustrating, but necessary to get my supply up. So, settle in with you baby, a book, remote control, and a big glass of water.

Both Sides?
When they fall asleep or let go, switch sides. Offer both sides at a feeding. If they only nurse on one side, just start with the other side next time. If they’re eating on both sides, always start with the side you ended on.  This helps the baby to get plenty of hindmilk, or the fatty milk that comes at the end of a feeding. A feeding starts off with thinner foremilk, and ends with hindmilk.

Do You Wake the Baby?
Wake the baby every 3 hours (minimum) to nurse until they regain their birth weight (at about 2 weeks).  If they fall asleep while nursing, try to wake them up. Undressing them, changing their diapers, tickling their feet, rubbing their cheeks/ears/neck, and blowing gently on them can help.

Can I Exercise?
It’s totally safe, after your doc okays it at about 6 weeks. You can take walks before that though. Make sure to drink plenty of water! Your body will let you know if you’re doing too much. I walked a few miles a week after Charlotte was born. I cramped and bled like crazy afterwards – So my body definitely let me know I was overdoing it!

Tips & Tricks 

♦ Drink lots of water, and eat when you’re hungry.  You should be drinking 120 ounces (yes, a gallon) of water each day.  When I was on maternity leave, I would just make sure that I drank at least ½ of my 30 ounce hospital cup at each feeding.  (15 ounces * 8 feedings = 120!)

♦ Spend a lot of time holding the baby, skin to skin.  It helps to keep the baby warm, to get breastfeeding started, helps your supply, reduces pain in the infant, and soothes them. After you get home, it’s also nice for the daddy to have skin to skin contact. When Charlotte was fussy, my husband would dress her in a diaper and lay her on his chest. It was very sweet, and seemed to calm her down.

♦ Many doctors will let you nurse your baby while he’s getting his shots. This helps to reduce pain and sooth him, so the shots aren’t as awful. I wish I would have done this with my daughter. I didn’t realize that this was an option until Charlotte’s nine month check up. She had eight teeth at that time, so I decided that wouldn’t work for us at this stage of the game. (I like my nipples attached to my body!)

♦ Avoid putting body lotion on your nips. If you’re sore, you can use nipple cream or nipple butter. The best cure is to rub breastmilk on your nipples and let them air dry. That stuff’s magic!

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3 responses »

  1. Wow! 8 teeth at 9 months. We have one and it’s tough going! Welcome to the #bfbloghop!

    • It’s rough! She rarely bites, because we nipped that early on. She does scrape sometimes though. Youch!!
      And thank you! I’m excited to be involved!

  2. Pingback: Breastfeeding: Troubleshooting « sooobig

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