In the first 24 - 48 hours after the birth your baby will receive colostrum through breastfeeding. Colostrum is a high protein fluid that the woman's breasts first produce, before the mature milk 'comes in'. Colostrum contains many substances that your baby needs like fat-soluble vitamins and anti-infective agents, or 'antibodies'. Antibodies help to provide protection for your baby, until their own immune system matures.
The first couple of days after the birth are typically a time for the mother and her baby to rest and recover. The baby is already well hydrated and nourished from being in the amniotic fluid, and receiving all their sustenance from the placenta. Babies are naturally born with extra fluid and fat stores, and can survive on very little for several days. This is why it is considered normal for a baby to lose up to 10% of their birthweight in the first week after birth. However, babies usually regain this weight (reaching their birthweight again) by the time they are 2 weeks old. The low volume of colostrum is specially designed not to overfill your baby's very small stomach, but contains everything they need.
The woman's breasts are 'soft' to touch in these first couple of days, being no different from how they were during the pregnancy. The nipples can be sensitive (as they may have been during the pregnancy) but not generally tender. The initial latching (as the baby draws the nipple into the back of their throat) can be a little uncomfortable, but this sensation is momentary - unless the baby is not latched correctly. (If the feeding continues to feel painful, the baby needs to be taken off the breast and re-latched.) The sensation of feeding can initially feel 'strong' or 'dragging', but it should not be uncomfortable, or painful.
It can be difficult for many woman to hand express colostrum from their nipples (and a breast pump is not recommended until the milk comes in). If you do try to express colostrum, it can look like a clear, or creamy yellow, substance that is syrupy in consistency. It is normal only to get a few drops of colostrum out at one time. Some women can express small amounts of colostrum during their pregnancy (but this is not expected for every women). Colostrum can also be expressed from the breasts of women and grandmothers years after they stop breastfeeding!
Most babies are 'sleepy' during the first couple of days and do not usually wake frequently for feeds. Although, some babies can be fussy and unsettled in the early days, and settle down once the milk comes in.
It is expected that the baby passes meconium and urine at least once during the first 24 to 48 hours after the birth, but until the milk comes in this does not have to happen on a regular basis.
- Rest and recuperate as much as you can. Feed your baby whenever they seem interested. Enjoy sharing the news of your baby and having visitors if you feel up to it.
- Be aware that 'emptying' the breasts and remembering to change breasts, is not really an issue at this stage, it is just good to give the nipples of both breasts plenty of stimulation through regular feeding, while learning the art of latching your baby.
- Try to latch your baby on your own as much as possible. If the sucking feels uncomfortable, take the baby off the nipple by 'breaking the seal' (or placing your finger in the side of the baby's mouth, pushing their gum down to release them from the breast). This may need to be done several times each feed in the early days. If you are continuing to struggle with latching your baby comfortably, then ask the midwife for assistance.
- If your baby is an impatient little one, who gets frustrated or upset because they are not able to get onto the breast quickly enough, try cuddling them, or gently placing your little finger in their mouth, to suck for a minute or so to calm them down, before trying to latch them again. If you use your little finger, make sure the palm of your hand is facing upwards, so that your fingertip, and not the fingernail, rests on the roof of their mouth. Be sure that your finger is clean and that your nail is not too long and sharp.
Last revised: Wednesday, 19 December 2012
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.