Why are the first weeks of breastfeeding so intense?
The first few weeks of breastfeeding can feel quite overwhelming. It’s a learning time for both you and your baby, each of you getting a feel for each other.
Your baby is slowly discovering how to breastfeed and find comfort outside the security of your womb. You are learning how to communicate with your baby and offer comfort and nourishment.
Be patient with yourself and your baby; it will get easier, particularly once your milk supply becomes established. Having questions is normal. Trust your instincts, but also try to prepare yourself by understanding what to expect in the first few weeks. Below we’ve compiled some breastfeeding basics and tips from Day 1 to Week 6.
What to Expect
- Your milk production grows from about 1 ounce (30 mL) to about 30 ounces (900 mL) between Days 1 and 40.
- Most mothers start to make noticeably more milk starting around Day 3 or 4.
- Your baby should be back to birth weight by 2 weeks. You can then expect baby to gain about 7 ounces (210 g) per week or 2 lbs (900 g) per month.
- Most babies feed 8-12 times per day, but not at set times. They may bunch feedings close together for part of the day (cluster feed).
- Your baby may want to feed again soon after breastfeeding. This is normal in the beginning.
- By Day 3-5, baby’s black stools (meconium) turn first green, then yellow. You can then expect 3 or more yellow stools every day.
- Also, expect 5-6 or more wet diapers a day by Day 5.
- If your breasts feel very full, breastfeed more or express milk. This will make you feel better, not worse.
- Most babies sleep for one 4-5 hour stretch each day. This may not happen at night, unfortunately.
- A baby’s stomach stretches from the size of a shooter marble on Day 1 to a chicken egg by Day 10.
- Babies may take one breast at a feeding, or they may need to feed on both breasts. Let your baby decide.
- Drained breasts make milk faster. Full breasts make milk slower.
- Breastfeed only if possible. Avoid pacifiers and any other liquids
General Breastfeeding Tips
- Breastfeed whenever your baby wants to. You’ll know it’s time when your baby’s head turns from side to side with an open mouth. Or when she puts her hand to her mouth.
- Ideally, don’t wait until your baby fusses or cries. When upset, it’s harder to feed well.
- Use a position that feels good for you and your baby.
- Learn to sleep while you breastfeed. Practice during the day.
- If breastfeeding hurts, get help. A small change in how your baby takes the breast may be all you need to feel better.
- Find a mother’s group near you and spend time with other breastfeeding mothers. We are stronger together!
You Know You Have Plenty of Milk When
- Baby is gaining weight well on breast milk alone.
- 0-4 months: 7 ounces (210 g) a week or 2 lbs. (900g) a month
When to Seek Help
- If breastfeeding hurts.
- If your baby loses more than 10% of birth weight or after Day 4, gains weight too slowly.
Even when breastfeeding is going well, you may experience some of the following:
- Your baby has fussy times – Most babies do.
- She wants to feed again soon after breastfeeding -Most babies do.
- She wants to feed more often – This adjusts your milk production
- Your breasts no longer feel full – Usually at about 3-4 weeks
- She wants to feed less often or for a shorter time – Babies get faster with practice
- Frequent night feedings – Babies need to do this to get enough milk
- She will take a bottle after breastfeeding – Babies like to suck, this might not be related to milk supply
- You can’t express much milk – This skill takes practice
One thing that we can not stress enough is, be patient with yourself. Breastfeeding is natural but it’s also a skill, and like all skills there is a learning curve involved. You are not expected to know it all and there is no shame in asking for help and reaching out. Seek out the support you need.
Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, Lactation Consultant, Ameda Breastfeeding Products
Coauthor of Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers