Getting Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start

The baby is finally here. Whether born vaginally or by c-section the first 24 hours is so very important, especially with respect to breastfeeding.

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The First Hour

Having the baby at the breast within the first hour after birth is ideal. Newborn nursing as soon as possible will help reduce the likelihood of them needing artificial supplementation.

Another fantastic step to insure great breastfeeding results is to put your baby skin to skin (also known as Kangaroo care). Skin-to-skin contact helps to regulate breathing, heart rate, blood sugars, and temperature. Amazing.

Skin to skin is when the baby is placed on the mom’s skin with no clothing on, just a diaper. Mom removes her shirt and bra and has the baby directly on her skin. Perhaps you place a blanket over you both.

We tend to over-analyze this 1st feeding. If an alert newborn is placed skin to skin on mommy’s chest they will often self-latch. Yes, they will often latch with minimal or no intervention from us.

All this being said, one of the biggest obstacles to breastfeeding in the early days is visitors. Respectfully ask them to wait until after the feeding to visit or feed while they are present. Do not put off a hungry baby so Aunt Suzie can shoot 500 iPhone photos.

Hours 4 to 24

The first feed or perhaps the first 2 feeds for most newborns go rather well. Babies are alert and ready to feed at the breast. Then it happens, they go into a sleepy phase for the 4-24 hour period. I call it the lull after the storm.

There is not a lot we can do about this sleepy time. Some babies are easily aroused with some stimulation (or better yet skin-to-skin contact) but many prefer just to sleep.

My personal opinion is to let them sleep as long as they do not have a medical reason or pediatrician councils otherwise.

But, I do understand the rationale behind the protocols in hospitals to have babies fed every 2-3 hours. Ultimately, you have to do what you feel is best for your baby.

It is very important to learn what baby feeding cues are so you will know when your baby is telling you that they are ready to nurse. Feeding cues can be licking, rapid eye movement, sucking hands, and rooting.

Crying is a very late indicator and when babies progress to crying cues they often are angry and are harder to latch on.

Again, ask visitors to step out or go ahead and nurse with them there but do not neglect those early signs of hunger.

Special Considerations for Breastfeeding

What if you do not have the option to put the baby to breast?

Fear not, establishing a good milk supply can be accomplished by hand expressing or using a breast pump to empty and stimulate the breasts.

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In this situation it is ideal to express every 2-3 hours during the day and at least once during the night (8+ expressions per day) If using a breast pump, a good double electric breast pump is ideal.

In summary, breastfeeding a newborn in the first 24 hours can be a challenge, especially when the mommy is recovering from birth. However, you can ensure better success by doing two things:

  • Offer the breast every 2-3 hours (or even better: on cue) or empty with a hospital-grade pump every 3 hours.
  • Ask for help from an IBCLC (international board-certified lactation consultant) or other trained breastfeeding professional. Early intervention is pivotal to success.

Hang in there, you can do it!

 Photo credit: PHakimoto. DepositPhotos

About Liz Pevytoe, RN, IBCLC: Liz has been a registered nurse since 1995 and an IBCLC since 2003, she has a private practice in the DFW Texas area and operates She is married to a firefighter paramedic and is the proud momma to two daughters Emma and Abigail, Petunia the Pomchi, 2 chickens, 2 ducks and 2 pygmy goats. She homeschools her daughters and owns BigTex Worms (a worm composting farm). In her spare time (LOL) she loves to bake and garden.