Breastfeeding is wonderfully natural and simple yet is complex enough to fill books on the subject. As you look forward to completing pregnancy and welcoming your new little one, here are answers to the most common questions from first-time moms about beginning breastfeeding.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your breastfeeding goals to ensure your whole labor and birth team work together to get you and baby off to a wonderful start.
1. When can I start nursing my newborn?
Experts agree that it’s best for moms and babies to begin nursing as soon after baby’s birth as possible—well within the first hour—if all is well. You can even breastfeed following cesarean by asking to have baby placed on your chest while you’re incisions are being closed. If this isn’t possible, you can begin nursing in the recovery room.
Your baby’s natural instinct to nurse peaks within 30 minutes of birth, and getting right down to nursing gives him the protective effects of colostrum, which will help protect him against infection, and helps him act on his natural desire to suck and swallow. Nursing also gives you a natural oxytocin boost that will help your uterus begin to shrink and help prevent excess bleeding.
If you’ve had medicine or an epidural during labor, this can sometime make baby’s reflexes a little sluggish. But don’t worry; having your baby on your chest, skin-to-skin, will help awaken those natural urges to feed.
2. How long will it take for my milk to come in?
The thicker, yellowish and protein-rich pre-milk called colostrum will flow for the first few days and will give your newborn important immunity against illness and infection. Colostrum helps baby pass meconium—that sticky, black first poop you may have heard of. Colostrum is very rich and your baby only needs a few teaspoons to satisfy his small tummy for the first few days.
It is considered the perfect food for infants and it will be present in your milk for up to 2 weeks as it gradually shifts over to what looks like regular milk. You milk will “come in” between days 3-5, and sometimes it will squirt out so quickly that baby will get a milk shower. If you find your milk initially flows too fast try to first pump a little off so that baby doesn’t have to gulp to keep up with the flow.
3. How often should I nurse my baby?
The latest evidence and experts agree that breastfed babies should eat “on demand.” Babies should eat when they’re hungry, nursing until they lose interest in each feeding. In those first few days, that could mean as often as every 2 hours for as many as 8-12 feedings in the first 24 hours!
Your baby’s need to eat will gradually transition to every 2-3 hours during the day and every 4-5 hours at night, although some babies keep the 2-3 hour schedule for several months. Nursing takes a lot of energy so eat when baby eats, and rest when baby rests. You’re recovering from pregnancy and birth, too, and breastfeeding is one way your body forces you to relax, nurse and sleep when baby sleeps.
Eventually, you will get into a feeding pattern and the time spent nursing will decrease even as the time between feedings increases. As baby grows, these patterns will change, and you may notice that baby increases his nursing right before a growth spurt.
Nursing is tiring but you will never regret the time you spent providing your baby with your milk that was specifically designed for his needs!