Breastfeeding Timeline: What You And Your Baby Can Expect
By Emily Berger | August 12, 2019
Breastfeeding is just as much of an art as it is a science.
Although the concept seems simple and straightforward - put baby on your breast and let him or her eat - ask any mom and you’ll find that it’s not always such an easy process.
Besides all of the potential worries such as latching problems, tongue and/or lip ties, and supply issues, many new moms also find themselves wondering:
- How long should baby eat?
- How much should baby eat?
- Is baby getting enough nutrients?
Although each mother and baby’s breastfeeding relationship is unique, there are some general guidelines that can help you on your journey. We have some tips and timelines for you to help take some of the unknown out of breastfeeding.
First 8 to 24 hours
Immediately following birth, your breasts will produce colostrum. This is a clear yellow liquid packed with nutrients like protein, antibodies, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. Don’t worry if you feel like you aren’t producing enough - most women only produce about 3 to 4 teaspoons of colostrum daily. After all, at birth, your baby’s stomach is only about the size of a cherry.
During the first few days of life, feeding your baby is more about quality than quantity. Generally, a baby will be very alert the first 1 to 3 hours after birth and then goes into a deep 4 or 5 hour sleep as a way to recover from the birthing process. So don’t worry if the first 24 hours of your baby’s life seem erratic and it’s hard to establish an eating pattern.
Just watch for feeding cues such as rooting, fussiness and baby putting her hand to her mouth. Try to respond by offering the breast. Newborn babies are often sleepy and may take from 20 to 45 minutes per nursing session. So settle in and get comfortable, because a lot of your time will be spent nursing. Because their stomachs are so small, they will also eat very frequently, sometimes as often as every hour.
Days 2 and 3
A few days after birth, you will still be producing colostrum, but in larger quantities. Now, rather than 3 or 4 teaspoons a day, you will be producing about 2 to 3 teaspoons per feeding. At this point, nursing sessions are still very frequent and can last up to 40 minutes or longer.
Your newborn may take several weeks to develop a good latch and efficient nursing skills. Therefore, you may have to help him with the process. To help establish a firm latch, squeeze your breast before inserting your nipple into baby’s mouth. This will compress your breast tissue enough for him to be able to latch onto the entire nipple. Also be sure to offer both breasts at every feeding, so if baby seems sleepy or disinterested on one side, offer the other.
Days 3 through 5
Hurray - your milk will finally come in! Trust us, you’ll know when it happens. Your breasts will suddenly feel full and possibly even engorged. Even though you are now producing breast milk, your milk will continue to have colostrum in it for two more weeks. This is important to keep in mind because if you start pumping, you’ll notice the yellow tint of the colostrum in your pumped milk.
At this point, your baby should not go longer than three hours without nursing. Begin each nursing session by offering the fuller breast first. If baby releases the nipple or falls asleep, burp him and switch sides. Always offer both breasts at each feeding. You will likely find that your baby is very sleepy the first few days of his life, especially when he’s supposed to be eating. If you find your little one falling asleep at the breast often, try undressing him and offering skin to skin contact as a way to wake him up.
After the first few weeks, your body will begin to regulate the amount of milk you produce based on the needs of your baby. The engorgement should subside and your breasts should feel softer after a nursing session. If engorgement is still an issue for you, try pumping after nursing sessions to help drain your breasts.
One of the most important things to remember is never to go more than three hours between feedings until your baby has regained his or her birthweight. After this milestone has been reached, it is generally ok to go 5 to 6 hours between feedings, especially at night, as long as your doctor approves. As your baby gets older, she becomes a nursing pro and is very efficient at removing milk from your breasts. Nursing sessions will become shorter as baby ages.
Keep in mind that your milk changes as you nurse your baby. When your little one first latches, she is getting the fore-milk, which is full of lactose. This helps quench her thirst. As she continues to nurse, she begins to get the hind-milk, which is higher in fat and helps her feel full. Try not to switch breasts until baby has been on long enough to get a sufficient amount of hind-milk to help her feel fuller, longer.
Your breast milk is a supply and demand system. The more your baby nurses, the more you'll produce. Therefore, it's very important to nurse and/or pump frequently to keep your supply up. Trust your baby's feeding cues too. In the beginning, she will eat more frequently not because you aren't producing enough but because her stomach is tiny.
By the age of 2 to 3 weeks, her stomach is only as big as a kiwi. By six months to a year, her stomach is about the size of a grapefruit. As she grows, your body’s production will change to meet your child’s needs.
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About the Author
As a Medical Documentation Specialist at 1 Natural Way, Emily Berger works with doctors' offices on moms' behalf to get prescriptions for breast pumps, pump supplies and other insurance-covered products. A few years ago, as she prepared to welcome her second child, Emily joined online communities of moms to discuss the joys and challenges of breastfeeding. Grateful for the information and support she received, she decided to pay it forward in posts. In her spare time, Emily enjoys baking and spending time with her family.