Apr 26, 2024
April 26, 2024

New parents' guide to the first week of breastfeeding

Newborn babies are notorious for being a hungry bunch. Their tummies are tiny and can only hold so much milk at one time, so they eat very often to get the nutrition they need. Breast fed babies tend to eat more often since formula may be more filling for newborns than breast milk. But breast milk also has its advantages. If you decide to breastfeed, the learning curve can be steep. But with the right preparation, information, and support, you can set yourself and your baby up for your best chance of success.
Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Written by
Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Content Writer
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC
Medically reviewed by
Nicole Silber, RD, CSP, CLC

Breastfeeding Tips: Before Baby Arrives

Deciding Whether to Breastfeed

Most formulas are designed to mimic breast milk, but none are a perfect match. For many reasons, you might find it necessary or preferable to give your baby formula, but if you can breastfeed, it’s an excellent way to get your child the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding until your baby is about 6 months old.

But every family is different, and it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. Some moms find that it's only feasible to do a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding. Exclusively breastfed and partially breastfed infants can reap benefits of breast milk.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

During pregnancy is a great time to decide how you’ll want to feed your baby once they’re born. Deciding whether to breastfeed is a big decision, and there are several benefits to consider:

  1. Nutritional value of breastmilk - Breast milk is about 88% water. (This is why it's incredibly important to stay well-hydrated if you breastfeed!) The other 12% consists mostly of carbohydrates, followed by fat, and lastly protein, and also includes many of the vitamins babies need. These percentages can vary depending on your diet. Over time, the makeup of your breast milk will shift based on what your baby needs at that time.
  2. Immune support through breastfeeding - In addition to being an excellent source of nutrition, breast milk also contains lots of proteins that help support and build babies’ immune systems. Some of these proteins include infection-fighting antibodies that can get passed along from you to your baby through breast milk.
  3. Bonding with your baby - Over time, as you overcome the learning curve, your baby learns how to latch, and breastfeeding starts to feel like less of a chore, nursing time can be a precious bonding experience for you and your little one.

Being honest, breastfeeding can be challenging in the first week and even longer for some moms, as both you and your baby get used to this new activity. And breastfeeding problems do happen, even though breastmilk is the ideal milk source for babies.

It can be hard to find time for breastfeeding. Your breasts may feel tender or sore. Your baby may not be able to latch well, or it may be painful for you. Some moms have problems with their milk supply — in one or both breasts — which can add more stress to an already challenging time. And other lifestyle factors may make it harder to breastfeed or pump when you’re away from your child. 

Most breastfeeding problems can be solved with information or support from a lactation consultant.

How to prepare for breastfeeding

If and once you decide to breastfeed, it’s never too early to start or keep learning more about lactation and identify breastfeeding support. If you have an opportunity to speak with a lactation consultant before your baby is born, take advantage. They may be able to share some helpful resources and tips about what to expect before your little one arrives.

Breastfeeding Tips: The Day Your Baby is Born

When do I start breastfeeding?

If you’ve decided to breastfeed, you may get your first chance shortly after your baby is born. In some cases, when the baby may need extra support after birth, you may not be able to breastfeed until later.

You may notice your newborn making a motion with their heads, known as rooting. A newborn’s rooting reflex kicks in when the corner of their mouth is touched or stimulated. This cues the baby to start searching for a nipple — whether breast or bottle — and is a sign that they may be ready to latch and nurse.

How do I start breastfeeding and help my baby latch?

In a medical facility like a hospital or birthing center, a nurse and/or lactation consultant should be present to offer breastfeeding support during the baby's first feed. They may give you some advice, demonstrate how to help your baby latch, and even help facilitate the first latch for you. If you notice any problems with your baby’s ability to latch or their sucking attempts, let your lactation consultant know. 

Will I make breast milk right away?

In the first days after birth, you aren't producing mature milk yet. Instead, you're making something called colostrum. Colostrum is the first step toward making breast milk. While colostrum doesn’t have much fat at all, it has lots of protein, including many that help support your baby’s brand new immune system.

Breastfeeding Tips: First Week of Breastfeeding

When does my breast milk come in?

Per the American Pregnancy Association, breast milk coming in is a gradual, 3-phase process starting with colostrum, then transitional milk, then mature breast milk. 

We’ve already discussed colostrum, which you’ll likely produce in the 2-5 days after birth. Around day 5, you will start to make transitional milk, which is basically mature breast milk mixed with colostrum. It may take up to 2 weeks for you to make mature breast milk only.

How do I know if my baby is hungry?

Babies have many ways to show they're hungry, and many of them don’t involve crying. Crying is actually a late sign of hunger. Look out for early hunger cues like:

  • Rooting
  • Moving their fists to their mouth
  • Sucking on their hands
  • Opening and closing their mouth

How often should I feed my newborn?

There’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to breastfeed your newborn every 3 hours, unless of course your pediatrician or lactation consultant recommends a very specific schedule. Because newborns’ stomachs are so tiny, most need to eat every 1-3 hours during the first week. Be sure to look out for your little one’s hunger cues.

I've heard about cluster feeding. What is it?

There are times when your baby will want to nurse more often — even as often as every 30 minutes! This may be concerning, and frankly draining, but is developmentally normal. During these times your newborn is cluster feeding to pack as many nutrients in their bodies as they can. Oftentimes if a baby is cluster feeding it means they’re growing through some type of growth spurt and need more milk and nutrients to power it.

How long should I nurse my baby?

Here’s a general rule of thumb to follow, especially if you find yourself asking questions like: “Is a 10 minute feed long enough for a newborn?” According to experts, breastfed babies should be allowed to nurse as long as they want to. Usually, babies will unlatch when they are full.

Newborns are still learning how to nurse, so in the first weeks, they will likely nurse longer, anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes. As the weeks go on and your baby becomes a pro, nursing sessions will likely shorten.

What is the let down reflex and how does it help?

It may take a few minutes of sucking for your baby to trigger your let down reflex (milk ejection reflex). The let down reflex can feel like a tingling sensation around your breast and through your nipple as milk comes down and signals that your body is releasing more milk.

Some moms have a very intense let down feeling which can cause discomfort in the breast and can cause more milk to flow to the baby than they can manage at once. Choking, gagging, and pulling away early are all signs that your let down reflex may be too fast for your baby.

Summer Health’s lactation consultants are always just a text away if you have concerns about your baby and breastfeeding.

How to know if baby is getting enough milk? Should I count wet diapers?

It’s hard to say whether 2 oz, 3 oz, or some other amount is “enough” for a newborn since each baby is different. Plus, if a breastfed baby nurses directly rather than drinking from a bottle, it will be hard to know how much milk they’re getting anyway.

In the first several weeks of breastfeeding, most pediatricians will recommend counting your baby’s wet diapers and poop-y diapers to make sure they are getting enough breastmilk.   

During the first 5 days, you want to check for one wet diaper for each day if life. So on Day 1, your baby may make one wet diaper. On day 2, two wet diapers, and so forth. By day 6, babies should make 6-8 diapers a day for some time. 

Commonly Asked Questions about Early Breastfeeding and Breastfed Babies

Should I wake my newborn to feed?

During the first week, your newborn will lose some of their birth weight and should regain it pretty quickly. Because their weight is changing a lot in the early weeks, it's important to make sure they are eating consistently. So even if your newborn sleeps longer than 3 hours at a time at night, you'll likely want to wake your baby to feed them.

The specific answer, though, will depend on your baby, their age, and their weight. Your pediatrician will let you know when you can stop waking your newborn to feed them.

Can you overfeed a newborn?

It's very difficult for you to overfeed a breastfed baby. But oversupply (too much milk) and overactive let down (milk flowing too quickly) are certainly possible. If your baby is gulping, choking, or gagging often during feeds, these may be issues you can address. 


Pediatrics. Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.

Clinical and experimental pediatrics. Components of human breast milk: from macronutrient to microbiome and microRNA.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding Benefits Both Baby and Mom.

American Pregnancy Association. Breastfeeding Overview.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Baby’s Hunger Cues.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much and How Often to Breastfeed.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cluster Feeding and Growth Spurts. 

Megan N. Freeland, PharmD
Content Writer
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