The First 24 Hours of Breastfeeding

A newborn and his mother at maternity ward
Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

The first 24 hours of your baby's life are crucial to a positive breastfeeding experience for both you and your child. Whether you deliver vaginally or by C-section, putting your newborn to the breast as soon as possible after delivery is essential. Getting off to a good start with breastfeeding is key.

The First Few Hours

Babies tend to be awake and very alert for the first two hours after they're born, and they're typically pretty eager to eat. Nursing within the first hour ("the golden hour") is usually recommended.

Research shows that breastfeeding within the first hour of life improves infant survival rates and can lead to parents breastfeeding longer.

Realistically, it can be a bit tough to latch on your baby right after delivery. If you are in a hospital, you may have a blood pressure cuff on one arm, an IV in another, and the baby swaddled in quite a few blankets. Not all delivery nurses and midwives are well-trained with latching and positioning for breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding may not feel very natural and comfortable immediately after the birth of your baby. Do the best that you can and know that this will change once you're out of the delivery room. 

Establishing Your Milk Supply

While newborns are awake and alert during the first 2 hours of life, they tend to become sleepy from about 2 to 24 hours after they are born. Depending on the labor and type of delivery you had, baby (and you!) are likely to be exhausted.

However, it is necessary for both the establishment of your milk supply and the baby's nutrition to wake the baby up to breastfeed during this stage if they are not waking up on their own. Put your baby to the breast very frequently to stimulate your breasts and the production of breast milk.

Stimulation of your breasts is what helps to build your milk supply. Pumping within the first 24 hours postpartum is not recommended unless the baby is unable to nurse at the breast. This can apply to preemies, babies with medical issues or if parent and baby have to be separated.

Common Issues  

The most common issue breastfeeding parents face in the first 24 hours is sore nipples. A poor breastfeeding latch is a common cause of pain. But even when the baby is latching on properly, the nipples may still be sensitive. Nipple pain should get better once the baby is latching on well and the sensitivity fades. 

Parents who have a c-section have other challenges in the first 24 hours. Pain from the surgery can make it difficult to position the baby and breastfeed. Pain medication and help with positioning from a nurse or lactation consultant can make getting started much easier.

Some of the medications given during labor and delivery can make a baby even more sleepy than usual. This is doesn't happen with every baby. If you're concerned about the medications and how they may affect your newborn or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before your baby is born. 

Tips for the First 24 Hours

For some parents and babies, breastfeeding goes smoothly right from the start. For others, it takes a little patience and some help to get things going. To make it easier:

  • Try to breastfeed within the first hour after your baby is born. Your baby is more likely to be awake and take the breast. 
  • Be persistent and consistent. Even if your baby doesn't take a full feeding right away, they are still getting important nutrition. Keep offering the breast.
  • Spend time in direct skin-to-skin contact with your newborn, since it can encourage your child to breastfeed more.
  • Refrain from giving your baby a pacifier. If your baby is crying or looks interested in sucking, put them to the breast instead.
  • Keep putting them to the breast every few hours if your baby is sleepy—even if you have to wake them up. And remember, newborns become much more alert and breastfeed better as the days go on.
  • Talk to your nurse or a lactation consultant if you're worried that your child isn't getting enough to eat the first day. Your colostrum is all your baby needs in the first few days of breastfeeding, and it increases each day until your breasts fill up with milk by about the third day postpartum. So, even though it seems like your child needs more, you don't have to give supplemental formula feedings unless it's medically necessary. 

Other Concerns

There are times when it just isn't possible to start breastfeeding right away. If your child is born prematurely and/or has breathing issues or heart-rate problems, they may go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for observation, monitoring, and treatment.

In these cases, you can ask for a breast pump and start pumping your breast milk for your child. Then, as soon as your child can breastfeed, ask for help and begin to put them to the breast. 

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Colostrum: Your baby's first meal.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding after Cesarean delivery.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Skin-to-skin contact for you and baby.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Providing breastmilk for premature and ill newborns.

Additional Reading

By Melissa Kotlen
Melissa Kotlen is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Lactation Consultant.