Breastfeeding: Getting Started

The first weeks of breastfeeding are a new experience for both you and your baby. Get off to a good start by learning what to expect when breastfeeding.

Your breastfeeding routine will adapt to your baby's needs as he grows and develops. Here are common breastfeeding milestones and breastfeeding tips for new moms.

Preparing to Breastfeed Your Baby

The decision to breastfeed should be made during pregnancy, so you can prepare for this new experience. We have all the tools and education you need to breastfeed successfully. Be prepared by enrolling in our breastfeeding classes.

We are excited to help you when your baby arrives. While you are in the hospital, your nurse will be happy to answer your questions and assist you with feedings. We also encourage you to watch breastfeeding programs on our hospital's closed-circuit television system.

Breastfeeding your baby is a priority over visitors and other non-emergency events such as daily weights, baths and photographs. If supplemental formula feedings are needed, they will be specifically ordered by your doctor or given at your request.

Remember to use soap and water on your breasts and nipples during your daily bath and wash your hands before nursing. It is not necessary to clean your breasts before nursing the baby.

Early Breastfeeding

After much anticipation, your baby is finally here! The first weeks of breastfeeding are a learning period for both you and your baby. Do not expect to work as a coordinated team immediately. Although breastfeeding is natural, it doesn't always feel that way at first. Be patient with yourself and your baby, and ask our staff for help right away.

It is important to remember that babies do not eat on a schedule, and breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. The more often you breastfeed, the more breast milk you make. If you supplement with formula, your baby may feel too full to nurse frequently. Long-term success with breastfeeding greatly depends on what is done the first few weeks after you deliver.

Video: Breastfeeding Latch-On

Day 1

  • Most full-term, healthy babies are ready and eager to begin breastfeeding within the first half hour to two hours after birth.
  • When babies are hungry, they nuzzle against your breast, make sucking motions, or put their hands to their mouths. Crying usually is a late sign of hunger.
  • Research shows skin-to-skin care for your baby promotes bonding. It also helps stabilize your baby's body temperature. Breastfeeding shortly after delivery is the perfect time for the first feeding to occur, as your baby is usually alert and interested in sucking then. We encourage you to provide your baby with skin-to-skin care as much as possible during your hospital stay. Dad can do this, too!
  • Many babies become sleepy or drowsy for two to 20 hours after the initial feeding. However, a baby should breastfeed several times the first day.

Days 2 to 4

  • A newborn needs very little breast milk for the first three to four days of life. Your baby will get colostrum from your breasts to meet this need. Colostrum is the thick, golden "pre-milk" that offers many benefits for your baby's immune system.
  • On average, you can expect your milk to "come in" by the third day after delivery, and your volume will increase dramatically.
  • Once your milk is in, your baby may become more relaxed, drift off to sleep after feedings and act more satisfied after feedings.
  • Weight loss in your baby of up to 7 percent from birth weight is normal. Your baby should regain his birth weight by 10 to 14 days of life.

Days 5 to 28

  • Your baby will become more skilled at breastfeeding as the first month progresses.
  • Expect to feed your baby about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.
  • Usually, a baby will breastfeed for a shorter period at the second breast, and sometimes may not want to feed on the second breast at all.
  • Offer the second breast first at the next feeding. Allow your baby to choose when to detach from the breast, as self-detachment will increase the amount of higher fat/higher calorie milk (hindmilk) your baby receives.

Beyond the First Month

  • Your baby will probably go through several two- to four-day growth spurts. During this time, he will seem to want to breastfeed around the clock.
  • Babies commonly experience growth spurts between 2 to 3 weeks, 4 to 6 weeks, and again at about 3 months. It is important to allow your baby to breastfeed more frequently because breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis.

Physical Side Effects

You may feel uterine (menstrual-like) cramping when breastfeeding, especially if this is not your first baby. This is a good sign that the baby's sucking has triggered your milk to let-down. It also means your uterus is contracting, which helps minimize bleeding. These symptoms are caused by the hormone oxytocin, which is released when your baby nurses and helps your uterus return to its normal size quickly.

Relaxation techniques, such as slow breathing, can help you cope with these contractions. A nurse can give you medication for the discomfort before feeding, if needed. Some mothers briefly feel a tingling, "pins and needles," or a flushing of warmth or coolness through the breasts with milk let-down, while others notice nothing different.

Because your baby is still learning, you may experience nipple tenderness when he latches on or during a feeding. Usually it is mild and disappears by the end of the first week. If tenderness persists, develops into pain or nipple cracking occurs, call our Lactation Warmline at 225-924-8239 to speak with a lactation consultant.

Baby weight gain also picks up within 24 hours of this increase in milk production, so your baby begins to gain at least half an ounce (15 grams) a day.


Within 12 to 24 hours, you will be changing more wet diapers. The number of dirty diapers also increases, and the stools should be changing in color and consistency. From the dark, tarry meconium, stools progress to being softer and a brown color before becoming a loose, seedy mustard yellow color.

Breast Changes

You may notice that your breasts feel fuller, heavier or warmer when your milk comes in. Some mothers find their breasts become uncomfortably engorged due to increased milk volume and tissue swelling. Breasts will feel hard and tight; the areola and nipple may seem stretched and flat, making it difficult for a baby to latch-on. The most important thing to do when your milk first comes in is to move the milk out of your breasts by feeding your baby frequently.

Baby's Hunger Cues

A baby's instinct is to find and latch on to the breast. Common hunger signs from your baby may include:

  • Sucking movements of the mouth and tongue
  • Rapid eye movement under the eyelids
  • Hand-to-mouth movements
  • Rooting around the breast area
  • Fidgeting or squirming
  • Small sounds

If your baby has difficulty latching on:

  • Soften the nipple and areola by expressing some milk and then let baby latch on.
  • Breastfeed or express milk by hand or breast pump frequently (every one to two hours). Your breasts may feel noticeably softer after breastfeeding or pumping.
  • Apply cold packs or sandwich bags filled with ice or frozen vegetables to the breasts for 20 to 30 minutes after a feeding or pumping session. The application of cold packs has been shown to relieve the swelling that may interfere with milk flow. Some women do report improved milk flow if they also apply warm compresses to the breasts for a few minutes immediately before breastfeeding or milk expression, but there are no studies that support this as effective. Using heat for more than a few minutes could increase the amount of swelling.