Breast milk might actually be the eighth wonder of the world. It’s unbelievable how awesome and powerful breast milk is.
But while breastfeeding is one of the most amazing things we can do for our babies, it doesn’t always come naturally or easily at first. I tell you that not to worry you, but in the hopes that if you do have some challenges along the way, you know that it’s not your fault! Breastfeeding can be tricky.
The good news is that there are ways to increase your chances of breastfeeding success, even within the first day of your baby’s life.
To help breastfeeding get off to a good start, here are 9 tips for those first 24 hours of your baby’s life
1. Breastfeed within your baby’s first hour of life
Brand-new babies spend their first hour of life incredibly alert, and are often ready to start eating within about 20 to 45 minutes of being born. Doing so can help get breastfeeding off to a good start.
During this time, the baby will receive your colostrum (the earliest breastmilk), which is affectionately nicknamed “liquid gold” because of how many wonderful benefits it has for your baby.
Bonus: Every time your baby latches, the hormone oxytocin is released in your body. Oxytocin helps you fall in love with your baby, and it also helps your uterus stop bleeding and start to contract back down to its pre-pregnancy size. So doing this early on in your baby’s life is beneficial for both of you. Well played, mother nature. Well played.
2. Start skin-to-skin early on
Skin-to-skin (when you hold your naked baby against your bare chest) is not only intoxicatingly delicious, it’s scientifically proven to help with increase your chances of breastfeeding success. It also helps regulate baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing patterns and even blood sugar level.
Ask for your baby to be placed on your chest immediately after birth when possible, and keep making time for skin-to-skin snuggles throughout their babyhood.
3. Let everyone on your team know how important breastfeeding is to you
Having support from your significant other, family, friends and birthing team can be tremendously helpful in your breastfeeding journey.
So go ahead and let them know how much you want to breastfeed, and also give them ideas about how to help you: cooking or cleaning for you, facilitating lots of rest and baby snuggling, and just generally being your cheerleader are all really awesome ways to show they’re on board. (For more ideas, here are 14 ways to really help a new mom.)
In The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama, Sharen Medrano, IBCLC, shares a reminder that it’s okay to advocate for yourself. “Hopefully, your experience will be wonderful, but some women do end up feeling intimidated or without the energy to advocate for what they want. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and tell your providers what matters to you.”
4. Meet with a lactation consultant
Lactation consultants and counselors are incredibly knowledgeable and can help you overcome many breastfeeding challenges.
Don’t feel like you have to wait for a problem to call one. Go ahead and ask a lactation consultant to stop by (many hospitals and birth centers have them on staff) and ask, “Does this all look okay?” They may be able to share some pointers and make a few adjustments that will help enormously as you move forward.
5. Room-in with your baby
Many hospitals are encouraging new parents to room share (keep their babies in their postpartum rooms) after birth as a way to increase your chances of breastfeeding success.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing for the baby’s first six to 12 months of life.
One of the many reasons for this is to promote breastfeeding. When your little bundle is right next to you, you’ll be able to respond to their hunger cues faster, and breastfeeding might be easier.
6. Ignore the clock
This is a big one. We know life is little hectic when a baby arrives, and many moms find themselves craving a predictable schedule.
But research shows that nursing a newborn on demand (whenever they are hungry), as opposed to on a schedule, greatly increases your odds for successful breastfeeding.
Basically, babies are super smart (especially yours) and are good at letting us know when they need something. Breast milk is digested very quickly and their tummies are tiny (the size of a marble at birth), so they need to eat a lot in the beginning. And the more you breastfeed, the more milk your body will make.
The time will come soon when you can have a schedule in place.
For now: nurse, nurse, nurse (added perk: cuddle, cuddle, cuddle).
7. Avoid bottles for the first few days, if possible
Medrano shares that “Babies are very smart and learn quickly that it’s much easier to get milk from a bottle than a breast, which can lead to something called nipple confusion. Nipple confusion can lead to babies rejecting the breast and preferring the bottle.”
She continues, “By waiting to add bottles for a bit, they’ll learn to latch first. It’s interesting to note that we have long counseled women that pacifiers can also create nipple confusion, and they may! Studies have found, though, that nipple confusion may be more of an issue with bottles than it is with pacifiers.”
But sometimes formula or pumped milk are needed, and that’s perfectly okay. Medrano says, “If the baby does need to be fed pumped milk or formula, know that there are other ways to feed a baby besides a bottle! Medicine cups, shot glasses, syringes and even spoons can be used to give milk to a baby. Just put the spoon (for example) right up to the baby’s lips, offer slowly, and they’ll start to eat. This will lead to a better transition to the breast when you move to nursing. Be sure to feed them slowly, though, giving small amounts at a time and allowing them to swallow completely before offering the next sip.”
8. Take good care of yourself
You’ve done a great job taking care of yourself during your pregnancy. But just because the baby is now earth side doesn’t mean your body’s hard work is done—you are still growing a person with your breast milk!
Moms who exclusively breastfeed burn an extra 500 calories a day on average, which is equivalent to walking five miles a day.
It’s vital to continue to treat your body like the amazing life-giving wonder that it is. Eat well (with lots of healthy snacks), stay hydrated, rest and be gentle to yourself.
Need some ideas? Here are 11 surprising + delicious breastfeeding snacks.
9. Commit to breastfeeding, but give yourself grace
We said it, but it’s worth repeating: Breastfeeding can be a little tricky in the beginning. It’s like two people learning how to dance when neither person has ever danced before. But with practice (and support), most of the challenges can be overcome.
The other part, though, is to be gentle with yourself. Sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t work out. This doesn’t make you “less than” in any way, shape or form. It is okay (great, actually) to take care of yourself—even if that means cutting breastfeeding out of the picture.
A version of this story was published June 24, 2021. It has been updated.