Prenatal Breastfeeding Education 101

Is breastfeeding painful? Yes, for most of us in the beginning it is painful. Is that normal? After supporting hundreds of parents in all birth settings and breastfeeding my own daughter for three years, I think it is normal.

However, it is not normal for there to be injury to the nipple or such excruciating pain that you don’t want to do it anymore. Is that a common experience for many breastfeeding parents? Yes, it is common due to a variety of reasons that are resolvable with good support and time. Pain with initial latch on: normal. Pain that lasts for the entire feeding: not normal. Pain is also a really personal experience. What I think is painful now after breastfeeding a baby with a severe lip and posterior tongue tie is not the same as what I thought was painful before! It’s all relative.

  • The first 24 hours: In the first 24 hours, baby is likely to be very sleepy. Birth is crazy, no matter how it goes, and the baby will be overwhelmed and exhausted just like you! Baby may also be busy spitting up clear, thick fluid, which is very common for babies who are born very quickly or through cesarean birth. All of this may lead to a baby who doesn’t want to do a lot of eating, but you still have to encourage baby to try. Keep your baby skin to skin on your chest as much as you can in that time!
  • Frequency of feeds: Baby should breastfeed on demand (aka: anytime they smack their lips, try to eat their hands, or root around on your chest like they are looking for something!), and at least every three hours. Aim to have baby feed for 15–20 minutes on each breast, but don’t worry if they don’t do that every time! Your baby is building up the muscles in their jaw that they need to be a strong feeder, and that is tiring at first.
  • Bowel movements: Baby should have at least one poop and one pee in the first 24 hours of life, two poops and two pees on day two, three poops and three pees on day three, and around day four or five, their poop should change from dark, sticky poop (called meconium) to a watery, seedy Dijon mustard color. You should be keeping track of all the stuff that comes out of your baby and all the times they feed! Get an app or a nice sharp pencil and sheet of paper.
  • Colostrum: Days one, two, and three, you are producing a kind of milk we call colostrum. It is thick and sticky because it’s mainly made up of a sugar that helps the baby poop and pee. You’ll hear people call it “liquid gold” because of its health benefits and also because it is sometimes a golden color. But it may start out looking clear or white or, for some women, it is green or red! It’s still “liquid gold” even if it doesn’t come out looking golden! It doesn’t have any fat in it, so your baby will lose weight in the first four to five days until your milk increases and baby can take in higher volume.
  • Engorgement: Day four to five is when you should feel your breasts getting full. This can hurt and feel sudden! For a few days you may experience engorgement. Your milk may rush in so fast and furious that your breasts become hard — as hard as your forehead (crazy, I know!) — and make it difficult for the milk to flow. Gentle breast massage while your baby is latched on can help. This video on hand expression is a great one to bookmark. By day seven, the engorgement should settle down, and you and your baby start finding a rhythm.
  • Feeding schedule: Once your baby has Dijon mustard poops and you have felt your milk increase, you can switch from waking baby every three hours to just feeding on baby’s demand. They will still demand it every two to three hours, and sometimes more frequently, but you can follow their lead more than pushing them. You can also tune into the feeling of your breasts more and feed on one side until baby seems done (comes off seeming satisfied).

I firmly believe that there is no wrong way to feed your baby. But there is a wrong way to go into this process, and that is to be told by an educator that it’s a simple process and to think you have to do it one specific way.

After supporting hundreds of families, it breaks my heart to hear them say, “no one told me it was going to be this hard — I had no idea.” So I walk the line as an educator to tell the truth, but not scare anyone away. It’s a tight one, so I want you to know that you are not alone no matter what kind of experience you have. We were never meant to do this in isolation, and I hope you will reach out for support when you need it, even if it’s just to sit in a circle with other parents and say, “Does your baby’s poop smell like buttered popcorn like my baby’s poop does?”

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