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Breastfeeding a Newborn – Getting Started

Monday, February 15, 2021

New parents tell us the most stressful part of having a new baby is the “unknowns”. Learning some of the basics about breastfeeding a newborn BEFORE baby arrives can help to ease this stress. In this post we’ll explain what to expect in the first week of breastfeeding and how to give yourself the best chance for breastfeeding success.

Before baby is born

A great start to breastfeeding begins during pregnancy. In our free email series: Getting Ready to Breastfeed, we explore some important steps you can take to avoid pain and frustration as both you and your baby are learning. Sign up here. By learning about breastfeeding before baby arrives, you are well on your way to meeting your breastfeeding goals.

Breastfeeding a newborn: the first 24 hours

As soon as your baby is born, snuggle your baby in close skin to skin contact for at least an hour. Transitioning from the womb to the outside world is a big adjustment; skin to skin will help your baby with this transition.This quiet time will also help you to recover from the delivery.

For the first hour after birth, most babies are in a quiet alert state. Snuggling your baby skin to skin, close to your breast, gives baby the opportunity to latch for the very first time. Once your baby begins to feed, try to limit distractions. This is a special time for both you and your baby. Most procedures, such as bathing or weighing, can wait. If skin to skin is not possible right after birth, start it as soon as you are able.

Your first milk is called colostrum. Is very important for your newborn’s health and has been referred to as “baby’s first immunization.” Learn more about the benefits of colostrum in this post.

If your baby does not latch in the first hour after birth, begin hand expressing your colostrum. Feed any drops you collect to your baby on a spoon. Recent research has shown that beginning hand expression within the first hour after birth dramatically increases your milk supply in the coming weeks. Read more about what to do when baby won’t latch in this post.  

After the first quiet alert stage, your newborn will enter a state of deep sleep and will be difficult to wake to feed. This may be a better time for mom and baby to get some rest. When baby wakes from this deep sleep, try breastfeeding again.

Keep your baby in your room rather than in the nursery. When your baby is nearby, you will notice early cues that your baby is hungry. These signs include:

  • stirring and stretching
  • searching with an open mouth (“rooting”)
  • bringing hands to mouth
  • making sucking motions

Crying is a late sign of hunger. It is difficult for your baby to learn to breastfeed when he is upset. If your baby is crying, try holding him close, talking quietly, or rocking gently before offering your breast.

24-48 hours after birth (Day 1-2)

You will begin to hear an occasional swallow of milk as your baby feeds. A swallow sounds like a soft “cah” sound. Continue to snuggle your baby skin to skin between feeds as much as possible.

Your nipples may feel “tender” as you get used to breastfeeding but they should not feel “sore”. If you find you are curling your toes, holding your breath or bringing your shoulders up to your ears as you feed, please ask for help! Often a simple adjustment of baby’s position or latch can make it much more comfortable.

Expect your baby to have at least one wet and one dirty diaper a day during this stage. Baby’s first stools, meconium, are black and sticky. (You can see photos of newborn stool here.)

48-72 hours after birth (Day 2-3)

Breastfeeding a newborn in the first week. Are you ready?

On the second day of your baby’s life, the feeding pattern will change dramatically. Suddenly, your baby will want to be at the breast very frequently, sometimes rooting or chewing on their hands after feeds. This constant feeding makes women wonder if they have enough milk! Frequent feeding at this stage is normal. It signals your body to make more milk. This post describes how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.

Get as much help as possible with your household responsibilities. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps. Freeing yourself from company and other tasks allows you to focus on breastfeeding and your own recovery from birth.

Toward the end of this period, your milk will begin to change from the golden colostrum to a whiter, more watery milk. Your breasts will begin to feel heavier and you will hear more frequent swallows. Your baby will be more content and relaxed after feeding.

You will notice your baby’s stools turning from meconium to the “transitional” stage, brown or green and less sticky. Sometimes newborns will have a pinky orangy tinge, called ‘brick dust’ mixed in with their urine. It is normal at this stage but the urine should become colorless and free of brick dust in the next 1-2 days.

Day 3-5

Your breasts may now feel overly full and tender. This is normal and temporary. Your breasts will adjust to the amount your baby needs over the next few days.

If your breasts are uncomfortable, try applying warm compresses and doing a few minutes of massage before feeds to help the milk to flow. Cold compresses (such as an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel or a frozen bag of popcorn) after feeds can help to ease swelling.

Continue to feed often, every time your baby seems interested. This will help you to develop an excellent long term milk supply. Remember, it is not unusual for a newborn to feed 10 or 12 times or more in 24 hours.

You will begin to hear louder and more frequent swallows. After breastfeeding on the first side, burp your baby and offer the second breast. Sometimes your baby may not be interested in feeding on the second side. Their tummy can hold only a limited amount of milk. One side may be enough.

If your baby wants to eat an hour later, it does not mean that she did not get enough the first time. A full tummy of milk can be digested in 90 minutes or less!

Baby’s stools will change in color again, becoming a mustard yellow with white curds. This type of stool is very loose, causing parents to worry their baby has diarrhea. (If you missed it before, you can see photos of newborn stool here.)

Day 6 and on

If your breasts are heavier, feeds are comfortable, and your baby is gaining weight, you are off to a great start! Breastfeeding will become much easier in the following weeks as you and your baby have more practice.

You have worked hard to get to this stage and are probably a bit sleep deprived. If at all possible, try to sleep when your baby sleeps. If you find it difficult to sleep during the day, try to do something relaxing, such as reading or listening to music. Choose your company wisely; someone that will cook or clean for you will be more helpful than someone you need to entertain!

If you are struggling with breastfeeding, seek help as soon as possible from a healthcare professional or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Surround yourself with other breastfeeding mothers.

Want to learn more about breastfeeding a newborn?

If you’d like to learn more, join our Simply Breastfeeding from Day One online class. We’ll explain in more detail the things you need to know to make the first weeks of breastfeeding much easier and much less stressful. Register for Simply Breastfeeding from Day One here.

Breastfeeding a newborn in the first week. Are you ready?

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As Registered Nurses and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, we’ve helped over 30,000 new families settle in with their newborn.

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References: ‘Breastfeeding a Newborn’

  1. Bonyata, K., “Average Weight Gain for Breastfed Babies.” KellyMom.com. 11 Apr. 2016. https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/weight-gain/
  2. Bonyata, K., “Breastfeeding your newborn — what to expect in the early weeks.” KellyMom.com. 01 Mar. 2016. https://kellymom.com/hot-topics/newborn-nursing/
  3. Bonyata, K., “When will my milk come in?” KellyMom.com. 15 Mar. 2016. https://kellymom.com/ages/newborn/when-will-my-milk-come-in/
  4. Holmes, A. et al. “ABM Clinical Protocol #5: Peripartum Breastfeeding Management for the Healthy Mother and Infant at Term, Revision 2013.” Breastfeeding Medicine 8.6 (2013): 469-73. Bfmed.org.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868283/
  5. Kent, JC., et al. “Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day”. 2016 Pediatrics, 117(3), e387‐e395.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16510619
  6. La Leche League Canada “Establishing Your Milk Supply.” lllc.ca. 2014. https://supportingbreastfeeding.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/establishing-your-milk-supply/
  7. La Leche League Canada “Weight Gain and Knowing Baby Is Getting Enough Milk.” lllc.ca. https://www.lllc.ca/category/faq-categories/weight-gain-and-knowing-baby-getting-enough-milk
  8. Newman, J., MD, FRCPC, and Kernerman, E., IBCLC. “Breastfeeding – Starting Out Right”, 201

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