Breastfeeding in the early weeks

Many new mums are concerned about having enough milk for their baby. The good news is that you can use information about how breastfeeding and milk production work to help make everything go more smoothly in the early weeks.

The first two weeks are vital for building a good supply. So let’s look at what we know…

The first feed

There is a lot going on after you have just given birth! One of the most important things that happens amidst all the excitement is your newborn baby is moving herself towards the breast looking for their first feed. When placed skin to skin on your chest, your baby will use their innate reflexes to crawl to the breast and open their mouth in search of the nipple. Research shows it is important to breastfeed in the hour after birth when baby is alert and ready. Removal of colostrum from the breast will signal your body to begin making milk.

This fascinating collection of newborns making their way to their mother’s breast shows nature working at her best!

Watch the video here

If you or your baby are unwell, if you have to be separated or your baby is unable to feed, colostrum can by removed by hand expression – preferably within the first hour of birth. Your Midwife is there to help.

The first day

Babies typically feed 6 – 12 times per 24 hours in the early days after birth. They take small volumes of colostrum eg 5 – 20 mL at each feed (ref 1, 2) that is rich in protein and immune protection properties. We now know that the number of breastfeeds your baby has on the first day has a big effect on building your milk supply.

Did you know that if your baby has 7-11 breastfeeds on day one, you will make much more milk on day three and day five than if she has 6 or less breastfeeds (ref 3).

Frequent breastfeeding will help your baby to quickly regain the weight they normally lose in the first couple of days. So don’t worry if your baby feeds every hour or two; they are getting your milk supply off to a great start!

The first weeks

It’s helpful to continue to feed often in the early days. Your breasts will fill with mature milk on around day 3 or 4 after birth, and your baby may seem a little more satisfied with the larger volumes. The frequent feeds will help stop your breasts becoming too overfull. Research shows that mums of babies who breastfeed 10 or more times per 24hrs in the first two weeks make more milk (av 725 mL/24 h) at two weeks than those who only feed 7 times in 24hours (502 mL/24 h) (ref 4).

What you can do

Skin to skin – newborn reflexes and finding the breast

Discuss with your Midwife and Obstetrician how to ensure there is the opportunity for you and baby to have skin to skin contact immediately after birth. This allows time for baby to recover and begin to look for her first feed. Skin to skin is usually possible after a caesarean birth as long as both mum and baby are stable. Baby can be monitored by staff and kept warm by covering them with blankets. Many tasks such as weighing and measuring baby can be done once you are both back on the postnatal ward.

Frequent feeding in the early days

Keep baby close and offer a breastfeed whenever they look interested. Young babies signal that they want to feed by stretching and moving their head, mouthing, and bringing their hands to their face. If you are unsure, just offer the breast and see what happens! 

Some feeds will be short and some will be longer. If your baby is too sleepy to feed, or having difficulty staying attached at the breast, ask your Midwife to help you express your milk. Regular removal of milk from the breast is needed to stimulate your milk supply.

Baby will get better at feeding as they grow bigger and stronger. Don’t be discouraged by the early days – it takes time for baby and mum to learn to breastfeed. It’s ok to ask for help. Baby led attachment can help your baby latch deeply to the breast and remove your milk well.

Ask for and accept offers of help

You will have your hands full just breastfeeding and sleeping when baby sleeps in the days following your birth. Mothers need lots of help from their partner, friends and family so they can keep up with their babe’s round-the-clock needs. Before baby comes, work out who can help and get as prepared as you can. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child!

By Dr Marnie Rowan – GP Lactation Consultant and Sharon Perrella Lactation Consultant

First published: August 2019


References

1. Saint L, Smith M & Hartmann PE. 1984. The yield and nutrient content of colostrum and milk of women from giving birth to 1 month post-partum. Br J Nutr, 52(1), 87-95.

2. Pang WW & Hartmann PE. 2007. Initiation of human lactation: secretory differentiation and secretory activation. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia, 12, 122-221.

3. Yamauchi Y & Yamanouchi I. 1990. Breast-feeding frequency during the first 24 hours after birth in full-term neonates. Paediatrics, 86, 171-175.

4. De Carvalho M, Robertson s, Friedman A & Klaus, M. 1983. Effect of frequent breast-feeding on early milk production and infant weight gain. Paediatrics, 72, 307-311.

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