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Getting Started with Breastfeeding

Babies and mothers need to practice feeding. These breastfeeding tips can get you off to a great start.

This information is part of Virtua’s Breastfeeding resources collection. Please see our Breastfeeding Support Resources page to view the entire series.

Breastfeeding is a process that takes time to master. Babies and mothers need to practice. Remember that you make milk in response to your baby sucking at the breast. The more milk your baby removes from your breasts, the more milk you will make.

After you have your baby, these steps can help you get off to a great start:

  • Breastfeed as soon as possible after birth.
  • Ask a nurse or lactation consultant for help if needed.
  • Try not to give your baby other food or formula unless it is medically necessary.
  • Keep your baby with you in your hospital room day and night so that you can breastfeed often.
  • Rooming in with your baby helps you to learn your baby’s feeding cues.

Understanding the stages of human milk production

In the first few days after you give birth, your breast milk changes in consistency and color. See what you can expect:

Colostrum (days 1-2): Colostrum is your initial milk. It’s thick, sticky, and clear to creamy yellow in color. While small in volume, colostrum is rich in protein, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and antibodies. The rich composition helps satisfy your baby in the first few days after delivery. This initial milk gradually converts to mature milk.

Transitional Milk (days 2-5): Breastfeeding stimulates your breasts, which increases your milk production. Transitional milk may look light yellow, containing plenty of fat, water-soluble vitamins, and calories.

Mature Milk (day 6+): As mature milk comes in and increases in production, your breasts become fuller and heavier. Mature milk is a lighter color and higher in volume, consisting of foremilk and hindmilk:

  • Foremilk: This milk flows at the start of a feeding. It’s watery, high in protein and lactose (milk sugar), and low in fat. It quenches your baby's thirst.
  • Hindmilk: As you continue to feed, the milk that flows as your breast empties is called hindmilk. It’s richer in fat, high in calories, and satisfies your baby's hunger.

How to know that your baby is getting enough milk

Some babies lose a small amount of weight in the first days after birth. The pediatrician will check your baby’s weight at your first visit after you leave the hospital. Make sure to visit your baby's doctor for checkups within three to five days after birth and then again when your baby is 2-3 weeks old.

You’ll know your baby’s getting enough milk if they’re content and gaining weight steadily in the week after birth. From birth to three months, typical weight gain is 2/3 to 1 ounce each day.

Bowel movements: It’s common for the frequency of your baby's bowel movements to change when they’re between 4-6 weeks old. At that time, your baby may go three or more days without a bowel movement.

As your baby gets older, their digestive system gets more efficient, so there’s less waste or automatic bowel movements after feeding. If your baby’s stools appear soft and loose, they’re not constipated. If you’re concerned about constipation, contact your pediatrician.

Growth spurts: Your baby will probably have breastfeeding “frequency days” caused by growth spurts. These growth spurts usually occur around 2-3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months of age.

It may seem like your baby constantly eats, feeding more frequently for a few days until your milk production responds to the additional stimulation. This boost in feedings increases the volume and composition of your milk to meet your baby's needs. Avoid supplementing during this time as your body adjusts.

Your baby will show other signs that they’re getting enough milk, including:

  • Frequently passing clear or pale yellow urine that’s not deep yellow or orange
  • Having frequent bowel movements
  • Switching between short sleeping periods and wakeful, alert periods
  • Being satisfied and content after feedings

In addition, you may notice that your breasts feel softer after you feed your baby.

Ask your pediatrician to check your baby’s weight if they fall asleep at the breast during most feedings or if you’re worried they’re not eating enough. Also, see a lactation consultant to ensure the baby is latching on well.

Waking your baby for feedings

Babies are often very sleepy during the first few days after birth. You may need to wake your baby for feedings during that time. If you see that your baby is starting to stir, it’s probably a good time to pick them up.

Get to know your baby’s sleep states

  • Quiet sleep: This is a deep sleep state—when only very intense stimuli will arouse your baby. The average time length of this sleep cycle is 50-80 minutes.
  • Active sleep: Active sleep usually precedes waking. Your baby may make brief fussy or crying noises but may not be ready to breastfeed yet.
  • Quiet alert: Quietly alert babies are attentive to their environment. Infants are in this state during the first few hours after birth before going into a long sleep period. This state is the optimal time to begin breastfeeding.
  • Active alert: In this state, your baby’s activity level varies, and they may become fussy or increasingly sensitive to stimuli.

Here are some tips for when it’s time to wake your baby:

  • Cuddle your baby skin-to-skin to begin to wake them. 
  • Dim the lights and unwrap your baby's blanket, undressing them down to a diaper, if needed.
  • Change your baby's diaper.
  • Massage your baby’s spine and feet with gentle, firm pressure.
  • Lightly stroke or tap your baby's lips with your finger or your baby’s hand to stimulate the rooting reflex.
  • Express a small amount of breastmilk and rub it onto your baby's lips.
  • Wipe the baby's forehead with a cool cloth.

Managing your nutrition needs while breastfeeding

You don’t need to be on a special diet while breastfeeding. You can consume the same number of calories as you did before pregnancy. You don’t have to avoid any foods. However, you may find that some foods make your baby gassy or bother their stomach. You can try limiting or avoiding those foods to see if your baby feels better.

Here are additional nutrition tips:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration (passing dark yellow urine is a sign of dehydration). A common suggestion is to drink a glass of water or other unsweetened beverage every time you breastfeed. Avoid or limit beverages like soda or fruit drinks that contain added sugars.
  • Limit your consumption of coffee or caffeinated beverages to two to three cups a day. It won’t harm your baby, but too much caffeine may make them fussy or affect their sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean protein and dairy, and whole grains. In addition to eating healthy food, your doctor may recommend taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement.