Breast Feeding - the First Few Days

For many new moms it may come as a surprise that breastfeeding can actually be quite a challenge initially!

The baby is sleepy, won’t latch on, sucks for a minute and then stops, or sucks too long causing pain. Furthermore, despite the best intentions of the nurses, new moms often get conflicting advice. What follows are a few breastfeeding tips based on my own experience: (this advice applies mainly to the first few days when initiating nursing)

Most important - The breast is NOT a pacifier

Do not let the baby suck too long. 5-10 minutes per nipple should be enough. Many new moms think the baby will stop sucking when he/she is satisfied. Not true. Sucking is an instinct and babies LOVE to suck. Sucking is not HUNGER. Sucking too long may damage the nipple, causing cuts, bruising, pain, bleeding and increased risk of breast infection. After breast-feeding is well established, longer times on the breast are fine as long as the nipple is not being harmed. 

Sucking is not Hunger

There are early hunger cues such as rooting, sticking out the tongue and fussing. The baby may feed well if these signs are present. If these signs are not noticed, then the baby may begin to cry and be difficult to console other than by feeding. Ideally, the baby goes to the breast when the hunger signs are strong but crying has not yet begun. Crying which can be easily relieved by hugging, holding, playing, diaper-changing, etc. suggests that hunger is not the issue, and perhaps it is not yet time to nurse.

Additional Advice

When babies are hungry, they will latch on readily and suck vigorously. Strong sucking will also help stimulate more milk production for next time. It is better to feed a real hungry baby every 2-4 hours than a barely hungry baby every hour.

During the first few days, there may be very little milk. There is colostrum, which is healthy for the baby, but only a small amount is produced. Moms need to decide if they will allow the baby to bed fed any formula in the first few days. There are pros and cons to this. If no formula is given, the baby will not starve, but will likely lose some weight before leaving the hospital. One of the reasons babies sleep so much the first day or two is Mother Nature’s way of minimizing their hunger and need for food while breast milk production is minimal.

If you nurse both breasts at one feeding, remember which side was second. Start on that side next time. This way the same breast is not fed from first each time, which over time can cause that breast to become larger than the other one. 

When the baby comes off the breast, the areola is very wet. Let it air dry a few minutes before covering up. Then lanolin (or a few drops of breast milk) can be used to moisturize the areola. 

If you are having problems nursing, we can recommend the services of a lactation specialist. Electric breast pumps are also available for rental. We recommend the Medela brand.