Breastfeeding: The First Three Days

The first days of your newborn's life can be a roller-coaster for both of you. From the exhilaration of birth to feelings of overwhelming pride and love, you'll run the gamut of emotions—and breastfeeding patterns.

Although there's no "normal" behavior for a baby during the first few days, here are some common scenarios:

Day 1

This can be an unpredictable day. From your prenatal classes, books or friends, you might be expecting your baby to eat every 2 to 3 hours on the dot. And while this pattern might develop in later weeks, it doesn't apply yet.

Read, Breastfeeding: The First Few Hours, but the main thing to remember on the first day is that your baby might not eat at regular or predictable times. As long as you feed her whenever she lets you know she's hungry and you don't let her go too long without nursing, you and she will be fine. Learn more about how to identify early feeding cues.

Day 2

What a difference a day makes! On Day 2, your baby wakes up to the world and roots more frequently. On this day, you might feel she's on your breast non-stop, but that's normal. As long as you're not in pain, keep up with these frequent feedings, because they give your baby much-needed colostrum and help speed your transition into mature milk. The sooner your mature milk comes in, the better your hungry baby will breastfeed, and you just might get a longer stretch of sleep.

Now, to night-time. The second night is often a "nurse all night" scenario. It might seem like each time you finish breastfeeding and are dropping off to sleep, your baby begins to root or cry. Some first-time moms panic, because the second 24 hours can be drastically different from the first. But remember that you're beginning to feel the effects of the past 24 hours, the excitement of birth, the non-stop feeding throughout the day and very little sleep, which at the best of times can be difficult. Add a crying baby to the mix, and it can be overwhelming. Just remember that this is normal and, more importantly, temporary. Hang in there—you're doing the right thing.

If your baby has nursed all night, she'll often go into a deeper, more prolonged sleep closer to the morning. If you're home that's great, because you can sleep too. But if you're in the hospital, it's usually the time nurses and pediatricians visit your room to check your and your baby's vital signs. You might feel frustrated at this point, but don't despair. This is also a temporary situation that will improve over the next few days when you get to take your newborn home.

Tip: Although you'll get to know your baby's schedule better than anyone else, in the early days, if friends and family are dropping by, try to schedule them later in the day so you can sleep when your baby is most likely to sleep.

Day 3

Your baby's frequent breastfeeding might continue throughout the third day and into the night too. This is around the time that your mature milk comes in, and the feedings might suddenly get more distinct and separate because your baby is getting a higher volume of milk. In other words, you'll get a break between feedings and can get some sleep after the past 24 hours of frequent nursing.

Your milk supply can come in quickly, causing engorgement or dripping breasts, or it can come in more slowly, where your breasts feel a bit heavier over several hours or a day or two. How your baby changes her breastfeeding habits at this point depends on how your milk supply comes in. For example, if your supply comes in fast, your baby will breastfeed differently than she did during the previous 24 hours. But if your supply comes in more slowly, your baby might continue to nurse frequently until your supply has fully come in, which will take a few more days.

The first three days of your baby's life happen in a state of flux; the first 24 hours can be completely different from the second, and so on. Just remember that this phase is really short. Your baby will start to breastfeed at regular intervals, your breasts will return to a manageable size, your baby will start to sort out night and day and, most importantly, you'll start sleeping again.

Tips for success

  • During the first three days (the colostrum phase), don't limit the frequency or length of breastfeeding sessions.
  • Limit the separation of you and your baby. Babies who are kept close to their mothers come to the breast more often, helping your milk come in faster and you to learn your baby's feeding cues.
  • Don't expect a regular breastfeeding pattern during the first few days. Just breastfeed as often as you can and follow your baby's feeding cues.

Source: 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.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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