About 280 days of pregnancy, another day or two of labor and delivery, and your one-of-a-kind baby is finally here. It’s been quite the ride, and it’s amazing to think you’re really just at the beginning of it all. Here’s what to expect from the first three days of your breastfeeding journey.
If possible, try to start breastfeeding within 30 minutes of giving birth. Your baby likely won’t consume very much in the first few feedings, nor will he nurse very long (you aren’t the only one wiped out by the birth!) This first milk is called colostrum and it’s very different from mature breast milk—it’s thick, usually yellowish and contains higher amounts of protein and antibodies. It’s nutritionally perfect for a brand new baby who is only consuming small amounts.
Chances are your baby is quite a bit more alert at this point—and hungry! Offer him your breast eight to 12 times (or even more) over 24 hours to make sure he has lots of chances to take in colostrum and its healthful proteins and antibodies. It may feel like he’s constantly on your breast at a time when you desperately need sleep, but remember this is a temporary nurse-a-thon. If your baby has nursed all night, he’ll go into a deeper sleep closer to morning. Don’t expect a regular breastfeeding pattern in the first few days, and don’t limit the frequency or length.
Frequent nursing may continue into the third day and night too, and this will help your mature milk come in. This mature milk is thinner, whiter, and much higher in volume. The change from colostrum to mature milk increases blood flow to your breasts. If the milk comes in rapidly your breasts may drip milk and become full, tight and painful—that’s the engorgement your friends told you about. It’s uncomfortable, but only lasts a day or two as your body settles into breastfeeding. Draining your breasts through nursing or a combination of nursing and pumping helps, and you can also apply warm washcloths to your breasts before nursing and cool ones afterwards.
If your supply comes in more slowly, you won’t see the dramatic fullness of engorgement, but rather some increased breast heaviness over several hours or a day. Because your milk is increasing gradually, you will likely continue nursing frequently (every two or three hours, or more often) for a few more days.
Many women find that a soft, stretchy, breathable nursing bra helps provide much- needed support during the early days. A bra also keeps nursing pads in place to absorb breast milk leaks. Our award-winning, lactation consultant-recommended Original Nursing Bra is a customer favorite—it’s so comfortable you can wear it 24/7, and comfort is definitely a priority in those hectic first days when you and your baby are figuring out breastfeeding together.
Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council. Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001. Bravado also draws on resources from our parent company Medela, a leader in breast milk and breastfeeding research and information.