From the first latch to cluster feeding – this post shares everything you need to know about getting started on the right foot with your newborn baby when it comes to breastfeeding!
Having a newborn is such an exciting time – though it can bring plenty of questions – especially when it comes to breastfeeding!
Are they eating enough? Are they eating too much? Do I have enough milk?
These are all common questions that most breastfeeding moms will encounter during those first few weeks – and they are totally normal. However, in the midst of just having a baby, it can feel a little overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to turn for help.
However, there are a few things I think you can do to make your breastfeeding journey start out on the right foot.
So if you are about to have a baby – or your baby has just arrived – I hope that these tips will help!
Worried about making sure you’re feeling your newborn enough? I know it can be SO confusing, join me in an online, on demand class you can take from your couch to get prepared in just a few hours – Check out all the options here. You can feel confident in breastfeeding your child in no time!
- Breastfeeding in the first 24 Hours
- Breastfeeding Newborn Latch
- Breastfeeding Newborn Positions
- Skin to Skin
- Newborn Hunger Cues
- How Much Does a Newborn Baby Need?
- Cluster Feeding
- Newborn Breastfeeding Schedule
- Do I Have to Offer Both Breasts at Each Feeding?
- Is my newborn baby eating enough?
- Breastfeeding My Newborn Hurts
- Supplementing a Newborn
- Should I use a nipple shield?
- When should you start pumping?
- Do I Have to Pump?
- Getting Help
- Other Posts You May Enjoy:
Breastfeeding in the first 24 Hours
This could be a whole post in and of itself, but here is a little infographic that might give you an idea of what to expect in the first 24 hours:
Breastfeeding Newborn Latch
A latch may seem like something that would be easy to do, but it is often the source of the problem when a mom or baby is struggling to breastfeeding.
Something that is important to remember is that it is called BREASTfeeding – not nipple feeding. Your baby needs to get a full mouth of the breast, and they shouldn’t just be hanging on to the nipple. A poor latch can cause nipple pain, poor milk transfer, etc.
So how do you get the perfect latch? Well, you want to make sure baby opens their mouth as WIDE as possible. This is one of the best videos out there on how to achieve a deep latch.
Positioning is also really important as well, which I will talk about in the next section.
Breastfeeding Newborn Positions
Correct positioining your baby while breastfeeding can help with latching, help baby feel more secure, and allow you to feel more comfortable as well.
With that said, I would try not to obsess over getting the position EXACTLY how it looks in a picture or video. But having a good idea of the best positions for newborns can be helpful.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Baby should be at nipple level – you don’t want them over and below your nipple. Some moms find that pillows or nursing pillows are helpful for this. If you need a nursing pillow, you can get one for free here with the code TBMAMA1 (just pay shipping).
- Make sure baby is held in tightly – avoid a floppy newborn!
- Having your baby’s neck, spine, and hips in alignment can help a lot
- Don’t push on your baby’s head – try and cradle their neck/head with your thumb and index finger
My favorite positions are newborns are:
- Laid back nursing – or biological nurturing
- The football hold (especially helpful for c-section moms, mothers with larger breasts, and preemies)
Skin to Skin
Skin to skin is SO important! It helps the body know that it should produce milk, it can help regulate baby’s body temperature, and it encourages baby to nurse when he or she wants to.
If possible, do skin to skin with your baby as soon after birth as you can. This obviously won’t always be possible – your baby might be in the NICU, or you may be recovering from a C-section. And that is okay. I would just recommend doing skin to skin when you can, and as frequently as you can.
Labor and Delivery gowns that you can buy actually can be great for skin to skin! I also love infant kimono tops – they are much more conducive to skin to skin over regular onesies (you don’t have to take them all the way off!)
Below is a video of the newborn breast crawl. It’s amazing what a newborn can intuitively do when given the opportunity:
Newborn Hunger Cues
It’s important to not wait until your baby is crying to feed them. There are other subtle hints they will give you to indicate they are hungry. Remember – they are so tiny! It’s hard to communicate. Crying is a late stage hunger cue, and it often results in you needing to calm the baby down before nursing!
A few cues to look for:
- Opening and closing mouth
- Smacking/licking lips
- Sucking on hands
- Trying to nurse
- Getting into nursing position
- Moving head from side to side.
How Much Does a Newborn Baby Need?
The amount a breastfed baby increases daily from the day they are born, as their stomach grows substantially during that day. Once they reach about a month of age, the amount they need does not change until solids are introduced around six months. And then at that point, it slowly decreases until the age of one (breast milk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition until the age of one).
But as a brand new baby, they don’t need a ton. In that first 24 hours, they will likely only be eating 5-7 ml at a time!
This is a great infographic to show how big a baby’s stomach is during the first month – this is the max amount they need per feeding. Though if you aren’t bottle feeding, just feed on demand!
(photo from ThePerfectLatch.com)
From one to six months, baby needs 24-30 ounces of breast milk a day. This does not increase with age or size (see Kelly Mom for more details). Be sure to check out our bottle calculator to determine how much your baby would need in a bottle!
Cluster feeding can be hard to figure out – but it’s super normal in most situations.
It’s important to not limit the time baby spends at the breast (unless instructed by an IBCLC or medical provider – in some cases, it may be necessary). The first six weeks is absolutely crucial to establishing milk supply. By not watching the clock and allowing the baby to nurse whenever he or she wants as a newborn is setting you up for a more successful breastfeeding relationship.
Obviously, if your baby is completely inconsolable, having fewer wet/poopy diapers, etc., you may need to visit with an IBCLC to make sure they are eating enough. But if they are having enough diaper output (more on that further down) and just wanting to nurse quite frequently, it typically isn’t a cause for concern.
This is my favorite article on cluster feeding and whether or not its normal.
Newborn Breastfeeding Schedule
How often to breastfeed a newborn during the day?
I often say the best thing you can do is just to stop looking at the clock. When your baby is a newborn, you really shouldn’t try to get them on some kind of schedule too quickly. It’s so important to allow them to breastfeed on demand to establish your supply.
However, you shouldn’t let them go longer than three hours.
Newborns can be very sleepy, but it’s important that you make sure they are feeding regularly. I think that it’s good to keep eating to at least every three hours, though don’t be surprised if they want to nurse more. After we figured out some of Oliver’s problems, he ended up eating every 1.5 hours until he was almost six months!
The amount your baby wants to nurse can depend on various factors, such as your breast storage capacity!
How often to breastfeed newborn at night?
In general, it’s suggested to not go longer than four hours at night until the baby has regained their birth weight and is clearly gaining an adequate amount of weight.
After they reach that point, you can usually let them sleep a bit longer, so long as the weight gain continues to be good. Always monitor their weight gain, and if you find they are sleeping a lot at night and it’s impacting their weight gain or your milk supply, re-evaluate.
I do want to reiterate that night nursing is normal.
Do I Have to Offer Both Breasts at Each Feeding?
In the beginning, yes, I would offer both breasts.
There are some babies who will end up being able to eat just off of one side, which, as long as they are gaining weight, is 100% fine. However, it’s best to start off with offering each side. Sometimes a baby will want to each from each side multiple times, and that is okay, too.
There are situations where a mother has a large milk supply in the beginning, and their baby thrives off one side. However, as the mother’s supply regulates, the baby actually needs both sides, though they may only ask for one. So, as always, pay attention to your body and your baby and adjust as needed!
Is my newborn baby eating enough?
Unless you are pumping and feeding with a bottle, you won’t know how much your baby is getting from the breast. While you can do weighted feeds to determine the amount they are transferring, most mamas don’t have a scale at home (and really, weighted feeds should be done under the care of an IBCLC anyways).
So – how do you know if your newborn is getting enough? There are two things you should look at:
- How many diapers is baby producing in a 24 hour period? According to Kelly Mom, by day four, baby needs to be producing about six very wet diapers a day and 3-4 poopy diapers. While many breastfeed babies will stop producing so many poopy diapers around six weeks (and may go days without one), they do need to produce that many during the first several weeks.
- Weight gain? Babies should regain their birth weight by about two weeks of age. Then they will gain, on average, about 5-7 ounces per week until they are about four months, and then it starts to decrease slowly at that point. Make sure your physician is using the WHO infant growth charts!
Here is an infographic that I created that might be helpful:
Breastfeeding My Newborn Hurts
It is common to have sore nipples during the first weeks of breastfeeding. Your nipples have likely never had that kind of stimulation before, and it does take time for them to get used to it.
I recommend having something kind of nipple cream – I personally like the Earth Mama Angel Baby brand. However, my very favorite option was coconut oil. It seemed to work so much better than any other kind of nipple cream.
Are you having pain beyond some initial soreness? Then it might be worth looking into. The #1 cause of pain with breastfeeding is due to a poor or insufficient latch. Often, this can be combatted with the deep latching technique I mentioned above.
However, if you are experiencing a lot of pain, I would highly suggest working with an IBCLC. They can evaluate your latch, check for tongue ties, and help give advice on how to help lessen hthe pain.
Supplementing a Newborn
There are definitely situations where a baby will need supplementation as a newborn – but it’s important to make sure the recommendation to do so is founded. Many pediatricians are quick to recommend supplementation when it isn’t actually needed (so make sure you find a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician).
This is one of my favorite articles – 8 Crucial Steps to Take After a Recommendation to Supplement.
Some situations where a mother may need to supplement (make sure you are working with an IBCLC):
- Delayed milk coming in (most come in 2-3 days postpartum, though sometimes it may be slower – especially with c-sections)
- Breast augmentation or reduction, or other conditions that may make the breast have less tissue
- Poor weight gain
- Loss of birth weight more than about 7-10% (if the mother had a lot of fluids during labor, the threshold may be higher).
- Defects such as a cleft palate, tongue tie, etc., that make the transfer of milk difficult
If you need to supplement and would like to breastfeed – it is definitely possible! I know it can feel discouraging or sad, but there are many women who had to supplement for a while and went on to breastfeed exclusively.
However, supplementing does not necessarily mean that you have to use formula if you don’t want to. Many mothers are able to produce enough milk for supplementation by pumping or hand expressing. I have a friend whose baby had low blood sugar at birth, and while the nurses pushed formula, she was able to hand express enough colostrum to syringe feed, which helped raise her blood sugar quickly.
You can also use donor milk – many hospitals offer this now, and you can also get it at milk banks or from mom to mom sharing organizations like Human Milk 4 Human Babies.
If you are supplementing a newborn, it’s best to use a medicine syringe, cup, or SNS to offer the supplemented milk. In The Complete Online Breastfeeding Class, I discuss all the different supplementing options in depth – I think it’s so important to know this information before you need it!
Should I use a nipple shield?
People often suggest nipple shields – and most often, it does more harm than good.
A nipple shield should not be the first stop for a breastfeeding mother who is having troubles. While they certainly can be helpful if a baby won’t latch or a mother is in excruciating pain, they are often handed out like candy.
If you are thinking of using a nipple shield, I would highly suggest talking with an IBCLC first to make sure it’s the best choice and so they can show you the best way to use them.
When should you start pumping?
As a lactation consultant, I use to see would say, “For the first month, put the pump away and enjoy your baby.”
I think a lot of women feel like they need to start pumping right away to create a huge stockpile of milk – especially if they are going back to work.
This is not necessary. While, yes, it is nice to have a nice storage of frozen breast milk in the freezer, you don’t need to go overboard.
In some situations, it is necessary to pump. Some moms choose to pump because it’s better for their lifestyle. If you are supplementing, you’ll need to pump every time you give your baby a bottle to help keep up your supply. If your baby is unable to latch or is in the NICU, it’s also necessary.
But if your baby is breastfeeding fine and you don’t need bottles for a while…don’t worry about it. It’s typically recommended to start pumping maybe once a day (even less) about two weeks before you go back to work.
As I’ve already mentioned, the first six weeks are crucial for establishing your milk supply. Breast milk supply is very much based on supply and demand, and if you are a pumping a ton and breastfeeding full time, you are setting yourself up with oversupply. Ask anyone who has had an oversupply – it is not all fun and games.
I know some people think an oversupply sounds amazing, but I promise you – it isn’t. Oversupplies can come with a lot of problems, such as causing reflux for the baby, recurrent clogged ducts, and even mastitis. The idea is to make just enough for your baby and not a whole lot more.
My online class – Demystifying Pumping and Milk Supply – is a MUST-HAVE for any mom who plans to pump – whether it’s just a little bit or exclusively. This is included in The Complete Online Breastfeeding Class, but if you are just interested in understanding pumping and milk supply, this is the class for you (it has a few sections exclusive to the class).
Do I Have to Pump?
Some women wonder if they have to pump in order to have a good milk supply. The answer is no!
If you aren’t going back to work, baby is nursing well, and don’t have a real need to pump…then you totally don’t have to. Pumping is not essential for supply.
Of course, if you choose to pump, that’s another story! But don’t let anyone tell you that pumping is essential.
You should never feel like you are alone. I think that those first few weeks with your baby should be wonderful, but often, life has other plans.
If you want to breastfeed and are struggling – get help. There are many resources out there that want to help you succeed. You can find a qualified IBCLC in your area to help with any issues you might be having. La Leche League meetings are held across the country. I’d love for you to join my breastfeeding support group on Facebook.
And of course, don’t forget to take one of my online breastfeeding classes. Even if your baby has already arrived, having this information in an easily accessible area will make all the difference.
You can also check out my breastfeeding messenger support!
Other Posts You May Enjoy:
- How to Hand Express Breast Milk – and the Amazing Reasons Why All Moms Should Know How to!
- 27 Common Breastfeeding Questions – and Answers!
- 15+ Cool Breastfeeding Products That Make Breastfeeding Easier
Katie Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.