Updated December 4th 2022
Breastfeeding can be completely unexpected. I encourage you to prepare in advance but you may still end up surprised by changes in your body or your baby’s behaviour. You may also come across unexpected challenges.
This is why I put together my top 14 tips for breastfeeding in the first 14 days. These are based on what I teach my clients and what I did personally (or wish I did!).
Don’t worry about schedules or routines in the early weeks. Newborn life is often unpredictable, just when you think you’ve figured them out, they reach a new milestone and change things up. Try to surrender and go with the flow, especially during the first few weeks. If you need a routine to thrive, try keeping some of the same activities daily.
These tips will help set you up for breastfeeding success.
Set up a breastfeeding station
A breastfeeding station can makes things so much easier and help facilitate a lot of these other tips. My recommendation is to have a “breastfeeding station” or a wheelaway cart that you can fill with a water bottle, healthy snacks and anything else you need while feeding your little one(s). It could be filled with wipes, burp cloths, a few diapers, cream and a onesie or two. You could also include breast pads, your pumps/extra flanges and a phone charger. Maybe you have some hair ties or headbands included to keep your hair out of the way. If you’re using a nipple cream add it to this cart.
Setting boundaries for visitors or denying visitors is completely OK and can be very supportive for breastfeeding. This ensures you are always with your baby. This will help facilitate lots of skin to skin contact and help you learn their early hunger cues.
It can also reduce your stress levels. You don’t have to worry about anyone being around the baby or feeling like you need to be doing anything for these people especially if they are in your home.
Skin to skin
Spending time skin to skin means having your baby in a diaper on your bare chest. You can wear a bathrobe and just open it or be completely shirtless. Whatever you choose, you should be undressed from the waist up. Your baby should be in just a diaper. If it’s a little cool you can keep a light blanket over you both, making sure not to cover your baby’s head.
Enjoying time skin-to-skin with your baby releases oxytocin which is the hormone that helps your milk let-down. In addition, this provides comfort and a safe space for your little one. Skin to skin helps regulate your baby’s body temperature and reduces stress in both your baby and you. A lower level of stress helps support milk production. Your baby is biologically wired to want to be close to you.
You can also do skin to skin in a warm bath. This is another great environment to breastfeed your baby. Allow any attempt or opportunity your baby takes to breastfeed during skin to skin.
It’s important to rest after birth. Your body just went through an athletic event and you may have also had major abdominal surgery (a caesarean birth is major surgery). You shouldn’t be trying to do anything besides resting and caring for your baby.
Plan ahead to have friends or family arrange a meal train for you. A general guideline that I love for postpartum is the 5-5-5 rule. Spend 5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed and 5 days near the bed. This means you’re not cleaning, cooking, washing dishes etc. You are literally in bed, feeding your baby and spending time skin to skin with them. You can make trips to the bathroom (of course!) but there shouldn’t be anything on your to do list.
The second set of 5 days is about resting and napping when you can. You can move into a different room or spend some time on the couch but you shouldn’t be trying to go out with your baby. The last 5 days near the bed is still about resting and not doing much. You are still focusing on skin to skin, breastfeeding and rest but maybe now you’re moving around the house a little more. The chores should be left to someone else.
Laid Back Breastfeeding
Make sure you are relaxed and in a comfortable position. I work with parents all the time who are breastfeeding in very uncomfortable positions putting unnecessary tension on their neck, shoulders and back. If you ever feel awkward holding your baby to nurse, switch it up and try a new position. Use as many or as little pillows as you need. Sometimes larger breasts need pillows or rolled towels for support. Do whatever works to make yourself comfortable. I often recommend the laid back position for a comfortable latch.
This position uses gravity to keep your baby on your body and stimulates their natural instincts to breastfeed. It pairs beautifully with skin to skin.
I also cover this position as well as many others inside my self study prenatal breastfeeding course called The Breastfeeding Before Baby Program.
Breastfeeding makes you thirsty! This is due to the hormone oxytocin which is released when your baby begins suckling. Drink to thirst. Keeping a water bottle on your breastfeeding station or a couple around the house will help. Enlist your partners help (or the help of a close friend or family member) to help keep them full for you. Each time you nurse, take a drink. Keeping hydrated is important.
Your hunger increases while breastfeeding. The average amount of calories required for milk production ranges from an extra 450-600 per day! It’s important to eat. It’s not the time to cut calories. Despite what you may have heard, there’s almost no foods that are off limits while breastfeeding. Instead of worrying about what kind of food you’re eating, focus more on replacing any junk with whole foods. Foods that are full of protein, fibre, and fat will help fill you up and keep your blood sugar steady. Whole foods (like veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, meats) are also great sources of vitamins and minerals your body needs for breastfeeding and repair after childbirth.
Feed on demand
Your baby is experiencing hunger for the very first time. They had 24/7 access to nutrition via the umbilical cord in utero. It’s normal for them to want to feed every 1-3 hours. Often, it’s on the lower end of that.
Newborns eat frequently and the best thing you can do for your milk supply and breastfeeding is to feed them on demand. This is known as responsive feeding and essentially, is feeding your infant whenever they cue they are hungry.
These early hungry cues include your baby starting to open their mouth and smacking their lips. Your baby will begin rooting and turning their head. They will begin to increase their movement (arms and hands moving) and start to become more vocal to eventual crying if they are very hungry. Crying is a late sign of hunger. It’s actually a distress signal and it can make for a very frustrating and difficult time trying to latch them. You baby will need to be calmed first before trying to latch them.
No swaddle or scratch mitts while breastfeeding
Newborns need their hands to breastfeed. Their hands help them get organized and find the nipple. They also help by kneading the breast to assist with a let-down. When a newborn’s hands are covered at the breast, it can make latching and feeding more difficult.
The same goes for when a newborn is swaddled at the breast. To get a deep, comfortable latch, your baby needs to be very close to your body. In fact, they should be touching your body. A swaddle prevents them from being able to be optimally positioned for a good latch and effective milk removal. You can’t do skin to skin if your baby is swaddled.
The swaddle and scratch mittens should be removed at every feeding.
Learn how to hand express
Hand expression is a valuable skill for all lactating parents to have. It is not cost prohibitive because all you need is your hands! It’s been shown that hand expression increases breastfeeding rates when compared to pumping at 2 months postpartum.
Hand expression is useful in the first 24 hours after birth as it can help assist with the transition from colostrum to copious milk production and assist with colostrum collection. Hand expression is a valuable collection method even for someone with a pump because colostrum can get stuck in the tubing of a pump due to the small volume that is produced and it’s thick consistency.
To learn more about hand expression and how to perform this technique, click here. I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to the subject.
Have your pump flanges properly sized
Incorrectly fitting flanges can cause damage, make pumping hurt and negatively affect milk supply.
The flanges, also called breast shields, are the piece of the pump that actually goes on to your body. Your nipple should sit centered in the flange prior to starting the pump. It’s also important the pump flange is appropriately sized. Flanges are available in a variety of sizes. The difference between them being the diameter. Every body is different. The flanges that came with your pump may not be the ones that fit you. It’s best to measure the diameter of your nipple, add 1-2mm and purchase the flange size according to that new number or an insert to size down your flange. Your nipple should not rub on the sides of the flange. If your areola is pulled into the flange or you see an air gap between the flange and your breast, the flange is too large.
For more information about your breast pump and the parts click here.
Use expressed milk to heal your nipples
Your own milk can be used to treat sore or damaged nipples. It’s a natural remedy to promote healing. I’ve seen it happen very quickly.
You can hand express a few drops right onto your nipple and allow it to air dry.
If you have deep cracks or open wounds, this method is not sufficient enough to heal them. It would also indicate something about the latch isn’t quite right. Connect with a lactation professional in this situation. Click on ‘book now’ under my services tab.
Prepare for safe sleep
Even if you’re not planning to co-sleep, prepare for safe sleep. It’s easy to fall asleep on the couch or in a chair with your baby and these are dangerous sleep environments.
It’s biologically normal for your baby to want to be held. It’s normal if they cry when you set them down. You are their safe space. They want to be close to you. Setting up a safe sleep space will help facilitate this as well as allow you both to safely get some sleep.
This means no pillows or blankets on the bed. No gaps around the bed that your baby could fall into. Your baby also cannot be swaddled.
Read more about preparing for safe sleep here.
Call a lactation consultant
It’s a good idea not to wait until you’re facing a challenge to call a lactation consultant. Many challenges and obstacles can be prevented when you’re informed about what to expect and you are supported in your decisions.
- Set up a breastfeeding station
- No visitors right away
- Skin to skin
- Laid back breastfeeding
- Feed on demand
- No swaddle or scratch mitts
- Learn to hand express
- Have your pump flanges sized correctly
- Use expressed milk to heal your nipples (unless they have open wounds)
- Prepare for safe sleep
- Call a lactation consultant
Join My Community!
Connect with other moms inside my free Facebook Support Group called Breastfeeding Mavens. It’s a great community of parents supporting each other. You’ll also receive support from me as well as early access to workshops on all things breastfeeding!