Colostrum is the nutrient-rich milk called “pre-milk," which your baby will receive for the first few days after birth. This thick, yellowish milk contains powerful immune boosting properties. Colostrum is produced in tiny amounts, and it is packed with everything your baby needs during those first few days. On day one, a newborn baby only requires about 2 -10ml of colostrum per feeding! No wonder it is referred to as "liquid gold." By day three, on average, mothers are producing between 15 - 30ml of milk.
It is best to breastfeed as early as possible after birth and as often as possible during those first few days to encourage the onset of mature milk. A baby is usually quite alert immediately after a natural birth, which makes the first hour following birth the best time to initiate breastfeeding.
You can expect some baby-blues just as your mature milk starts to come in, this is normal and due to all the hormone fluctuations in your system. During this time you might feel unusually weepy and particularly emotional; this should only last for a day or two. If you are still feeling this way two weeks in, its best to talk to your lactation consultant. It would be a good idea to continue to take your prenatal vitamins for a few months after giving birth. Know that breastfeeding will help to prevent postpartum depression.
What Is a Let-Down?
A let-down is also known as the milk-ejection reflex. It is essentially when the milk is ejected from the breast. It is perfectly okay if you never feel a let-down, but most mothers will experience a tingling feeling in their breasts and nipples when the breast milk starts to flow.
A let down usually occurs a few seconds or minutes after your baby has started nursing, although you may have more than one let-down during a feeding session. It can also happen when a mother hears her baby cry (or any baby for that matter) or sees her baby. A let-down occurs due to the hormone Oxytocin, AKA the “love hormone." Oxytocin causes the muscles in the breast to contact, which squeezes the milk out. Some mothers also experience uterine cramping while nursing, this is nothing to be concerned about and is just your body’s way of getting your uterus back to its original size. Learn more about how breastfeeding shrinks your uterus.
How Will I Know That My Baby Is Hungry?
It is best to breastfeed your baby before they start crying. Here are the signs of hunger to look out for.
I'm Worried About My Baby's Latch!
If your baby is not latched on well, and milk transfer is insufficient, it could result in a low milk supply as well as very sore, broken nipples. It’s a vicious cycle because the more painful your nipples are, the less time you are likely to keep your baby at the breast. Less time at the breast equals less milk. It is imperative that your baby has the best latch possible.
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Receiving Enough Milk?
Keep an eye out for any signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, a sunken fontanel (soft spot on top of the skull) and a decrease in wet diapers. Breastfed babies do sometimes lose some weight after birth, but should regain their birth weight by day 10.
It is essential that you and your baby are comfortable while nursing, please try different breastfeeding positions until you find something that works for the two of you.
It is recommended to avoid the use of artificial nipples and pacifiers until your breast milk is well established. Giving your baby a bottle or pacifier reduces the amount of time spent at the breast and could, therefore, diminish milk supply and cause nipple preference (when your baby prefers the bottle over the breast).
If your baby is struggling to latch, you can use breast massage, and hand expression, to remove extra colostrum during the first few days. To avoid nipple confusion, it is best to finger feed or syringe feed the colostrum to your baby. Just place a few drops of milk on your finger and have your baby suck on it. Pumping can be done too, but hand expression is generally more gentle on tender nipples. Expression should not replace the time your baby spends at the breast but should be done after or in-between feedings. The extra stimulation should cause your mature milk to come in faster.
Get help! Talk to your lactation consultant. She can asses the situation and advise accordingly.
Have your hormone levels checked, namely: thyroid, testosterone, and prolactin levels.
Don't become too discouraged. A challenging start does not necessarily mean that you will always struggle with breastfeeding. It might take a few weeks to build a full supply, but it is possible for most.
Please contact your local la leche league or lactation consultant if you have any concerns. They can assess the situation and advise accordingly. Be sure to contact them if:
You are experiencing pain while nursing.
Your baby is not staying awake at the breast to nurse.
Your baby seems to still be hungry after feedings.