What to expect when breastfeeding your baby

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
February 9, 2024
what to expect when breastfeeding

There are many things to decide when you have a baby, including what to feed him or her. Many babies thrive on formula, but it can be costly for many parents.

The most natural way to feed a baby is by nursing them, but it still requires learning how to do it correctly. If you’re having a baby, this information can help answer some questions regarding breastfeeding for first-time moms.

What is in breast milk?

A mother’s breast milk comes in stages after she has given birth.


After delivering a baby, the first stage of breast milk is colostrum, which is a thin, clear or yellowish liquid. It is the same substance that may leak from breasts during pregnancy.

It is essential that your infant receives the colostrum because it contains proteins, vitamins, and minerals that can keep your baby healthy. Colostrum also contains antibodies and immunoglobulins that protect newborns from bacteria and viruses.

This substance stimulates a baby’s first bowel movement and reduces the risk of jaundice. Although your body only produces a small amount of colostrum, it should be significant to protect your baby’s health. After a few days, the next stage of breast milk comes in, which is transitional milk.

Transitional milk

Transitional milk is a creamier substance than colostrum and comes in before mature milk is produced. It contains fewer immunoglobulins and proteins than colostrum, but more lactose, fat, and calories to help babies put on weight and grow.

Since your body will produce more transitional milk than colostrum, your breasts may become fuller and firmer. They may be uncomfortable during this stage, and you may feel strange sensations throughout your body as your baby nurses. However, it's important to rest and relax while nursing to keep the milk flowing.

Mature milk

After about two weeks, a new mother will begin expressing mature milk. It comes in the same amount as transitional milk, but it’s thinner, more watery, and it may have a bluish tint to it. After it has come in, then it may turn creamier.

The mother's breasts may become smaller and softer during this stage, which is normal. The changes in the milk help provide the baby with the nutrients it needs to grow, develop, and be healthy.

Helping a baby latch

Sometimes babies have problems latching onto their mothers’ breasts and nursing. Fortunately, mothers can resolve this problem by knowing what to expect before their child is born.

Take a prenatal class

Before giving birth, it may help to take a class to learn about successful breastfeeding. Most hospitals and birthing centers offer these classes, so check with yours to find out if they have a class you can attend.

The instructor teaches mothers-to-be about how to get their babies to latch onto their breasts by showing instructional videos or with dolls. Using a doll can help get women comfortable with nursing their babies.

Find a relaxed position

It is important to be at ease when you nurse to allow the milk to flow freely. Many doctors recommend that new mothers recline while nursing, which will be about a 45-degree angle. The position is not only the most comfortable for mom but for baby as well. It allows them to lift and turn their head and use their hands.

You could use a nursing cover if you ever have to nurse in public to feel more comfortable.

Start as soon as possible

A baby has an innate instinct to breastfeed, so you should start breastfeeding your baby as soon as you can after their birth. Their inclination to nurse will kick in, and it will help to produce an adequate supply of milk. The skin to skin contact they receive while nursing, plus your smell and touch, can help your baby start to look for your breast to begin feeding.

Make baby comfortable

Before you breastfeed your baby, make sure they are appropriately close to a nipple. Hold them how you’re comfortable, but one suggestion is to lay them against your bare chest and stomach with just a diaper on. This position allows for their chin and cheeks to be touching your breasts. You may also find using a nursing pillow to be comfortable for you and your baby.

They may also be able to smell the colostrum, especially if you express a little of it by rubbing a finger across the nipple. Ideally, the baby’s bottom lip will be near the areola, where the mammary glands are, so they latch onto the nipple as they taste the colostrum.

The baby’s mouth should be covering most of the areola, from the bottom up, and not just the nipple. If the baby has a smaller mouth, make it easier for him or her to latch on by placing your fingers in a “U” shape while they are parallel to the baby’s lips. Then, gently squeeze your breast to make it smaller, so the areola fits in their mouth.

Signs of good latching

You should be able to recognize when your newborn has a good latch and when they are having problems latching onto your breast. When he or she has a good latch, you will feel a slight tugging sensation when the baby is getting milk.

To ensure the baby is swallowing, look at their temple and lower jaw. They should be moving in rhythm, and you may hear a small sigh as they feed, which is the result of exhaling after they swallow.

During the first stage, they won’t need to swallow that often because the volume of colostrum isn’t high. The baby’s lips should be flanged over the nipple and areola, like a fish’s mouth or an open flower. If the mouth is tucked under, then you may end up with sore nipples.

Be aware of problems

As you learn about breastfeeding, you should know the signs that something is not right when your baby is nursing. While you may feel some tenderness in your breasts at first, they shouldn’t be painful.

You shouldn’t feel like your nipple is being bitten or pinched during feedings. Also, look at the nipple after the baby detaches. An indication that something is wrong will be cracked skin around the nipple or areola, a compressed nipple, or bleeding.

If you spot these problems, consult with either your pediatrician or a lactation specialist. The baby may have a tight jaw, or the nipples could be flat or inverted. Fortunately, these are problems that a lactation specialist can help you correct.

How often should you breastfeed?

While many parents try to put their babies on a feeding schedule, some professionals recommend allowing the baby to tell you when they are hungry. There are several signs that your baby will show that they are hungry.

During the first few weeks, parents may be tired, especially a mom breastfeeding baby because newborns will nurse every 1.5 to three hours. During their first month, they may nurse between eight to 12 times per day. When they get a bit older, four to eight weeks old, they will nurse seven to nine times a day.

Growth spurts

You will be able to tell when your baby is experiencing a growth spurt because he or she will want to eat more often or take in more milk. Most babies have growth spurts at around seven to 14 days old, three to six weeks of age, at about four months old, and then another at six months old.

Don’t be too concerned if your baby loses weight before they start gaining it because most newborns lose about seven percent of their body weight during their first few days of life. Afterward, they will gain about six ounces per week. It is a good idea to take them in for a weight check after their first week or at the beginning of their second week.

If there is some concern that your baby isn’t nursing enough, you need not worry if your newborn has between four to six wet diapers every 24 hours. At about six weeks old, the number of wet diapers may drop to four to five a day, but the amount of urine will increase from about three tablespoons to between four to six tablespoons.

A newborn may have three to four stools per day, but some may defecate whenever they nurse. Their stools should be soft to runny or seedy to curdy at times, with a yellowish color. They should be about the size of a US quarter or slightly bigger.

At about four to six weeks old, the frequency of stools will slow, and some babies may not pass one for seven to 10 days. However, it is a normal occurrence, and as long as your baby is gaining weight, they will be fine.

While you can try to learn all about breastfeeding before your baby arrives, you need to experience breastfeeding your child to understand how to do it successfully to provide the nutrients your child needs to grow and be healthy. Fortunately, nowadays there are a vast number of breastfeeding supplies to make the experience comfortable and successful for both mom and baby.

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