The first few days and hours after you have your first baby are a whirlwind. You're elated, exhausted, scared, and confused. There's tons of information swirling around you, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. I was concerned with how often to nurse the first few days after birth, among many other concerns about breastfeeding (like will he latch? Is he getting anything when he does finally latch?). It all seemed so daunting.
"The first day with your new baby try to put her to breast 12 or more times," registered nurse and lactation expert Helen Anderson tells Romper in an email interview. "Your body is making colostrum, not mature milk, and the small amounts of this clear, yellow fluid acts as your baby's first immunization." Anderson continues, "As the first day rolls into the second continue to nurse your baby on demand, or when they show hunger cues like sucking on their fist or clothing. It might seem like you are breastfeeding all the time — you are! Establishing your milk supply takes time and commitment so limit visitors if you feel hesitant about breastfeeding with an audience."
On that first day, it's important to try to get your baby to latch so they can get that colostrum your producing. "Colostrum is full of antibodies and even a laxative to help your baby poop out the meconium (the black tarry stuff) that can cause jaundice," Anderson explains. But if your baby isn't latching right away (more on that later), Anderson suggests expressing the colostrum with your hands into a small container to syringe feed your baby. "To hand-express colostrum, hold the container under your nipple and make a 'C' with your hand around your breast. Using gentle pressure, move your hand down your breast and toward your nipple to move the fluid down your breast and out of your nipple," Anderson says.
If your baby isn't latching right away (like mine never latched), Anderson says "Your lactation consultant will watch how you latch your baby first then address any problems. The most common problem lactation consultants see is the shallow latch, not enough breast tissue is in your baby's mouth. Your lactation consultant will show you how to wait for your baby to open their mouth wide, then put their mouth on the breast firmly so they won't move off or slide away from the correct position."
When should your milk come in and it changes from colostrum to "mature milk"? Every woman and pregnancy are different, says Anderson. "Your milk takes longer to come in with your first pregnancy than your second — the method of delivery can also have a big impact on how long your wait for your milk. If you go into labor naturally without induction, your milk making hormones are ready to start production and your milk will come in around day 2 or 3 for a first pregnancy. With a scheduled c-section without going into labor, your hormones haven't gotten the message to your cells to make milk, so it might take 4 or 5 days to come in."
Breastfeeding can be challenging, so just try your best and try not to stress. As long as you're trying to nurse about 12 times on the first day, to try to get your baby to latch and so they get that liquid gold colostrum, you're doing fine, mama. Then it's all about trying to feed on demand, when the baby puts their fist in their mouth or sucking on their clothing. You got this, and if you don't that's OK, too.