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The first two weeks of breastfeeding

Early breastfeeding is always a challenging time, no matter how many babies you’ve had. Every baby is different, and there are some things that you have to figure out anew every time you become a mother. But fortunately, there are some constants, and if you’re prepared for them it makes the adjustment so much easier. In this post, we’ll look at all the things that you can expect in the first two weeks or so of your breastfeeding journey. Before you read further, I suggest that you go have a look at this post, which discusses the first 24 hours of your baby’s life in great detail. This post will pick up where that one ends.

First two weeks of breastfeeding

The first two weeks: a 14-day obstacle course

In your first two weeks of breastfeeding, you will face a few challenges. If you can get through these two weeks, though, you should be able to face anything. Here are the major obstacles you will need to overcome:

  • Learning how to breastfeed – figuring out what works for you and your baby, and finding your own rhythm
  • Getting your head in the right place, and adjusting to the realities of motherhood.
  • Getting through the so-called “baby blues”
  • Managing your milk “coming in”
  • Dealing with sore nipples.
  • Finding the assurance that your baby is getting enough milk.
  • Surviving the first growth spurt.

We’ll what you can do at each of these times to make the process as easy as possible.

Getting to know your baby

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was pretty sure I had everything figured out. Boy, was I in for a surprise! I quickly learned that every child has their own unique way of doing things. My second baby had a very different feeding rhythm to my first, and preferred other positions. This taught me a valuable lesson: you’ve got to figure out what works for you two. Watch your baby and trust your instincts.

I won’t leave you completely in the dark, though. Here are two posts that will give you lots of valuable tips on how to breastfeed your baby. Both of them cover a lot of different options and techniques, so you can try them all until you find the ones that work for you:

You should also check out this post on following your baby’s rhythm for feeding. One of the biggest things that you should not be stressing about is how often or how long your baby is feeding. Remember: only baby knows when he is hungry and when he is full, so you can’t go wrong if you follow baby’s lead. There’s no such thing as too much breastfeeding!

Getting your head right

Perhaps the most difficult part of becoming a mother is that it never turns out to be quite what you were expecting. If you have a lot of expectations about how your baby will behave, or what kind of mother you will be, I have some kind advice for you: let it go. Babies do not behave the way that the books say they should (and little wonder – your baby didn’t read the book!) If you expect certain behaviours, and they happen to be different to what your baby is doing, you will experience a lot of frustration and unnecessary worry.

The best advice I can give you is this: let your baby set the pace. Take it as your job and duty to find out how this little person works – not so that you can make him fit your lifestyle, but so that you can plan your life around him. Sorry, but that’s the reality of being a parent – your kids take over your life. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you will be able to find the joy in it (and there’s a lot of joy to be found, I promise!)

Warning: Day 2-3

Somewhere around day 2-3, you will hit the first real hurdle. At this stage, your hormones are messed up, your baby is not happy with the change in his accommodation, and you’re probably in pain. You will probably cry at some stage (or even all the time!) and you will almost certainly feel like you’re not up to the task of being a mother. But please know: what you are feeling is normal; everyone goes through it. Just because you feel like a failure it doesn’t mean you are one! These “baby blues” will pass, I promise. Sometimes just speaking a knowledgeable person (like and experienced mom, a La Leche League leader or even a lactation consultant) will re-assure you that you’re doing okay and help you to cope.

I should add one thing here, though: if these baby blues persist beyond a week or two, if you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, you may have a problem – speak to someone! Post-natal depression is a real thing, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and there’s treatment available.

When your milk “comes in”

Often, the time when the milk “comes in” – i.e. when your milk production suddenly increases exponentially – is the first time when breastfeeding becomes really difficult. It usually happens around day 3-4, so it’s nicely timed to coincide with the baby blues (thanks, Mother Nature).

This sudden increase in your milk supply can be difficult to deal with, because your breasts swell and hurt, and it can become difficult for baby to latch and drink. I wrote a full post about this earlier, so I won’t repeat myself here; I’ll just mention the most important thing: keep the milk moving. You need to try, as far as possible, to keep your breasts a bit soft. So if baby isn’t drinking enough, you can express a bit of milk. Whatever you do, don’t just let the pressure and swelling increase and increase: you will end up with mastitis. If you need more advice for dealing with this, please read my post on engorgement.

The good news is, if you can survive these 2-3 days, you’re through the worst. Once the swelling subsides, things tend to get a lot easier.

Managing sore nipples

Some nipple pain is very common in the first few days: your nipples are being pulled and stretched in ways they’re not used to. But there’s a difference between normal nipple tenderness and abnormal nipple pain. What’s normal is to have a bit of pain in the beginning of the feed as the nipple stretches – it should subside in about 30 seconds, and the rest of the feed should be comfortable. Any pain that lasts for an entire feed, any pain in-between feeds, any broken skin and anything that makes you want to cry out in pain is not normal and can be fixed. Please check out this post on what causes sore nipples and how to treat them. You don’t have to just suffer through it.

Knowing that your baby is getting enough milk

Probably the most distressing thing about breastfeeding, especially in the beginning, is that you never know how much milk your baby is actually drinking. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to know whether your baby is actually getting enough milk. You can check out this post if you want all the details, but here are the most important things to look out for:

Swallowing

If you can see baby swallowing while he is breastfeeding, you know the milk is moving. You want to see him swallowing about every 1-3 sucks; that’s a good sign that a lot of milk is flowing.

Weight gain

You can also check baby’s weight gain. In the first few days, you will see a weight loss – don’t panic, it’s normal! Only if the weight that was lost is more than 10% of baby’s birth weight do we need to take a closer look.

Weight gain usually starts from around day 4, when your milk production picks up. Weight gain in the first two weeks can be gradual or very fast, depending on how things are going. Baby should at least be back at his birth weight by 14 days of age, although most babies will be above their birth weight by then. If your baby is still under his birth weight at 14 days old, it’s time to call in a breastfeeding specialist to find out where the problem is.

Diapers

Probably the easiest thing to monitor at home is baby’s diaper output. What goes in must come out; thus, if it is coming out, then it must have gone in. Enough diapers are a good sign of adequate milk intake.

Here’s what to look out for (keeping in mind that any dirty diaper automatically counts as a wet one):

  • Day one: at least one wet & one dirty diaper. Urine should be pale or colourless, and poop will be black and sticky.
  • Day two, at least two wet and two dirty diapers; day three, at least three of each.
  • By day four, you should notice a change in the colour of the stools – it may be starting to go greenish or brown. Of course, this colour change could also happen a bit earlier.
  • By day five to six, you will probably be seeing normal yellow stools. From this point onwards, for the entire first month, you can know baby is getting enough if you see at least:
    • Three dirty diapers a day (it can be a lot more – many babies will poop with every feed)
    • 5-6 wet diapers a day (“wet” meaning it contains some urine, not that the nappy has to be bursting at the seams – modern disposables can hold a LOT of liquid!)

If all these things are happening as I described it above, then your baby is almost certainly getting enough milk. If there’s anything else that’s worrying you, please check out this post to help you decide whether it’s really a problem.

The first growth spurt

Around 10-14 days after baby’s birth, many women start to seriously doubt their milk supply. Why? It’s the first growth spurt. All of a sudden, baby is cranky and just wants to be on the breast – All. The. Time. If you take the breast away, baby starts crying, and doesn’t stop until you put it back – but your breasts feel so empty that you can’t imagine there’s any milk in there.

Again, this is all normal. Baby is putting on a lot of weight in these few days, and the frequent feeds are his way to tell your body to push up the milk production! Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to give a bottle – your breasts will lose out on that supply boost, and you may find you’ve created a milk production problem where there wasn’t one before. Just spend these few days focusing on baby – stay in bed if you can – and feed, feed, feed. It will pass.

Other little niggles

After-pains

For the first few days after giving birth, you will feel a contraction-like pain in your abdomen when baby drinks. This is your uterus shrinking back down to its pre-pregnancy size. When you breastfeed, your brain secretes a hormone called oxytocin that helps your milk to flow faster. Oxytocin also causes the uterus to contract – that’s why you feel the pains while you are breastfeeding. It will go away after several days, once your uterus is fully contracted.

Day-night confusion

Most babies have their days and nights switched around when they are born: they’ll happily sleep longer stretches during the day, but at night they’re constantly awake. This is a carryover from their days in the womb: during the day, you were moving around, so they were constantly being rocked to sleep. At night, when you were lying still, baby would wake up and start kicking. Their brains stay in this pattern after birth, and it takes a while to reset. You can help the process by keeping a very clear difference between night and day: at night, make sure it is always dark and you talk quietly; during the day, keep baby in a well-lit room (even during naps) and be sure to talk and play a lot more. You can also make sure baby gets some early morning sunlight; it helps to reset the body clock. But probably the best advice for surviving this early period is: sleep when baby sleeps. Even if it’s 8 am or 4 pm, take a nap. Dad can look after meals, chores and errands for a week or two while you and baby recover from the birth.

The light at the end of the tunnel

If you’ve made it to the two-week mark, you’ve already surmounted a lot of obstacles – you’re a supermom! From here on, it just gets easier. If you still feel like you haven’t got a handle on things by the time you hit the two-week mark, please reach out to someone – La Leche League is possibly the best place to find this kind of support, but any other mother will be able to give you assurance that it does get easier. And it you suspect something’s not right, get professional help. It’s never too early or too late to reach out.

How were your first two weeks of motherhood? Did you have a rough or an easy start? Please share your top tips for new moms with us in the comments!

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