In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (the first week of August), we’re bringing you a week of posts all about – you guessed it – breastfeeding!  From the basics of nursing to identifying common issues and where to get support when needed, this week we’ve got you covered.

Today let’s start with the basics.

Timeline of a breastfed baby

While some moms are fortunate enough to experience their milk coming in prior to delivery (/end sarcasm), rest assured that just because you can’t see/feel/express any milk that doesn’t mean your body won’t produce it when the time comes.

Day 1:  Most hospitals encourage skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as possible, regardless of whether the baby was born vaginally or via Cesarian section.  That skin-to-skin contact helps to stimulate milk production – and who doesn’t want to snuggle the baby you’ve been waiting so long to meet?!  Those first feedings won’t feel like much – you probably won’t believe your baby is even getting anything.  But in the early days, it’s all about quality not quantity – a newborn’s tiny stomach can only hold so much – and the colostrum you produce (aka, “Liquid Gold”) contains all of the nutrition and antibodies your baby will need to thrive.

As you nurse in the beginning too, that glorious hormone oxytocin will begin to flow, helping your uterus to shrink and regain its original, much smaller shape.  You’ll feel menstrual-like cramps at this time – and of course, experience post-partum bleeding – but nursing should help stymie the flow of excessive blood.

Your baby will probably need to be woken in order to nurse, particularly in the first 24 hours following delivery.  Babies should eat every three hours, and the duration of nursing will last anywhere from 10 – 45 minutes.

Now is a great time to get to know the Lactation Consultants available at the hospital. Have them check your latch to make sure it’s correct – nursing without the correct latch will be extremely difficult overtime (and very, very painful!). Don’t feel silly or weird asking whatever random questions you have – they’re there to help!

Days 2 – 4:  Typically your baby will cluster feed about 48 hours after delivery. What’s cluster feeding?  That’s when they want to nurse all.of.the.time. You will literally feel like you’re doing nothing but nursing a crying baby all day and night. BUT all of that work serves a purpose. The constant nursing and suckling sends a message to your body that there’s a baby that needs milk ASAP, and your milk production kicks into high gear.

The result of all of that milk production? What I lovingly refer to as “Gigantic Porn Star Boobs.” Your breasts will likely become very, very full with milk and quite possibly very sore and tender because of it. It’s normal. We’ve all been there. And over time your production levels will even out and you’ll regain your old cup size before you know it (good news for some, not so good news for others).

**FYI:  A lot of people hear if nursing hurts they must be doing it wrong. In these early days nursing will be uncomfortable – it takes some time for your nipples to adjust and adapt to nursing – so don’t assume you’re doing it “wrong.” Check your latch with a lactation consultant to be sure, otherwise just hang in there mama.  It will get easier!**

The First Few Months

Your milk production tends to remain high in the beginning, and your baby will likely nurse at random times throughout the day and night. Experts encourage “nursing on demand,” meaning whenever the baby expresses an interest in feeding – this way your milk production stays up (and the baby stops crying. A win for everyone!) As you adapt and adjust to nursing you might begin to physically notice your milk coming in. You may experience “let down” when your baby latches on too; it feels different to everyone, but has commonly been described as pin pricks or a tingling sensation.

To avoid clogged ducts be sure to encourage your baby to nurse until your breast is drained (feels soft to the touch). Alternate breasts at each feeding and experiment with different nursing holds and positions to see what you like best; some people love the side lay, others prefer the football hold or standard cradle.

Four to Six Months Old

By now your baby should have some sort of feeding schedule down – probably five to six times during the day and hopefully only once at night (if not…sorry mama. We feel your pain!)  You will likely still feel full and you may still leak, but everything should be settling down a bit. Your nipples should no longer hurt and hopefully you’ll have hit your groove and feel more comfortable and confident with your milk production and supply levels.

A common snag at this age is distractibility. Some babies have a very hard time focusing on nursing around this age because they’re so distracted by everything else: noise, lights, movement, etc. To get around this, try nursing in a dark, quiet room. While many experts advise against nursing a baby to sleep, sometimes that’s your only option when your baby won’t focus otherwise – nursing a tired baby is a lot easier than wrestling a distracted one!

Six Months Old and Beyond

As your baby continues to grow in her first year, your supply levels will likely even themselves out completely now and there’s a very good chance you’ll no longer leak or feel overly full (unless you go very long stretches between feedings). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends solid foods not be introduced until six months or later; once solids enter the picture your breasts will likely not feel nearly as full as they used to. Don’t worry if that happens! As long as your baby keeps nursing and producing wet diapers like usual, your milk supply is fine.

Teething and the introduction of solids are more bumps along the way that sound more terrifying than they really are. Teething babies may be turned off of nursing due to pain; try teething tablets or Tylenol if need be, and offer the breast often to keep supply up. Odds are extremely high that you’ll get nibbled on once or twice (or more); it hurts. It does. But it’s no reason to stop! The most popular solution is to take the baby off the nipple as soon as possible; it might take a few tries to get the message to sink through, but eventually hunger will win out and they’ll learn that your nipple isn’t a teething toy.

As for solids, there are a few different approaches you can take. Research and see what works best with you and your baby. Some people advise nursing first then offering solids a little while after, while others will do the reverse. It’s up to you and what works best for you and your baby.

For more information and tons of details about breastfeeding, be sure to check out The Alpha Parent’s Timeline of a Breastfed Baby.