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What to Expect While Breastfeeding

Mom breastfeeding her newborn while still in the hospital after giving birth.

Every mother’s experience with breastfeeding is different. Whether this is your first baby or you are an experienced mom, each baby is unique. Breastfeeding will be a learning process.

Mom breastfeeding her newborn while still in the hospital after giving birth.

Your baby is learning how to:

  • Latch
  • Suck
  • Swallow

You are learning how to:

  • Position your baby to feed
  • Observe and follow his or her hunger cues
  • Manage your breast milk supply and breast health

Breastfeeding support is available. You can talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor or nurse if you have questions about breastfeeding.

First Days and Weeks

Milk Coming In

At birth, your breasts will make a thick, yellowish substance called colostrum. Colostrum is packed with nutrients and other important substances that help your baby start building up his or her immune system. There will not be a lot of this liquid at first, but the amount will gradually increase over the first couple of days. Most babies will get all the nutrition they need through colostrum during the first few days of life. As you begin breastfeeding, your baby’s sucking will tell your body to start making milk. For most mothers, this thinner, whiter form of milk comes in by about 3 days after birth, but may take longer for first-time moms. You may notice your breasts feeling full, hard, and warm as this happens. Your baby may begin to want to breastfeed more frequently around this time. If you are concerned about your milk coming in, talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor or nurse.

Did You Know?

Pacifiers and your baby.

If you are breastfeeding your baby, you may want to wait to use a pacifier until breastfeeding is well-established. At that time, using a pacifier for naps and at bedtime can help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Leaking

Your breasts may feel full and leak. Over time, the leaking may slow down as your body gets used to breastfeeding. If your breasts leak, you may find it helpful to put disposable or cloth pads in your bra.

Engorgement

Over the first few weeks after birth, your breasts may become larger, firm, warm, and uncomfortable as your body adjusts to making milk. This is called engorgement. As your breasts get used to filling and emptying as you feed your baby, this should improve. Feeding your baby frequently should help to prevent severe engorgement and relieve discomfort.

Sore Nipples

During the first few weeks of breastfeeding, your nipples may be sore or sensitive as they adjust to your baby’s sucking. If you have cracked or damaged nipple skin, or pain that is not improving over the first 1–2 weeks, talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor or nurse.

Pain While Breastfeeding

Although your breasts and nipples may be tender or uncomfortable, once your baby is well-latched, breastfeeding should not be painful. Sometimes pain can happen if you have an improper latch, a milk duct that is clogged with milk (plugged milk duct), a breast infection (mastitis), or other issues. If you have pain while breastfeeding, especially with a fever, talk with your doctor or nurse to figure out why.

As Your Baby Gets Older

Teething/Biting

You can continue to breastfeed once your baby starts to get teeth. Babies use their tongues, not their teeth, to breastfeed. If your baby is latched well and sucking, you should not feel the teeth while your baby is feeding. Once in a while babies might bite the nipple or breast, especially when they are teething. Talk to a lactation consultant for tips on how to teach your baby not to bite.

Refusing to Breastfeed

Sometimes babies will suddenly stop wanting to breastfeed. Many times it is hard to know why this happens. Refusing to breastfeed is usually temporary and your baby will start breastfeeding again within a few days. Some reasons your baby may refuse breastfeeding include teething, illness, stress, a change in environment such as a new childcare situation, or a major change in routine. This usually does not mean your baby is ready to wean.

To help your baby return to breastfeeding:

  • Keep offering your baby the breast or breast milk from a bottle if bottle feeding.
  • Spend extra time cuddling and holding your baby.
  • Offer the breast in quiet spaces and when your baby is sleepy or relaxed.
  • Pump or express milk frequently to keep your breast milk supply up until your baby starts breastfeeding again.

Distracted Breastfeeding

Your baby is starting to notice all the things going on around him or her. This can mean that your baby might get distracted while breastfeeding. Help your baby focus by turning off the TV, dimming the lights, or feeding in a quiet place.

Weaning

Although breastfeeding is recommended until your baby is at least 12 months old, weaning may happen before then. Learn about when and how to wean your baby from breastfeeding.

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