Tips for First-Time Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding newborn wearing knit cap in the hospital

Patrice Hauser / Getty Images

You want to get breastfeeding started as soon as you can after delivery. If you and your baby are doing well, you should be able to attempt the first breastfeeding right in the delivery room within one hour of your baby's birth.

How Do Babies Breastfeed for the First Time?

Right after your baby is born, she can be dried off and placed directly on your chest. This skin-to-skin (chest-to-chest) contact helps your baby transition to the outside world. It decreases the baby's stress and promotes bonding between you and your newborn. Early skin-to-skin also encourages breastfeeding.

Newborns tend to be more alert in the first hour after birth, and they're born with a natural reflex to help them find the nipple and latch on.

Once your baby is placed on your chest, she may crawl up to your breast and begin to try to breastfeed on her own, or with a little help from you and your nurse.

When your baby is at your breast, you can stroke your child on the cheek that's closest to your nipple. The baby will root, or turn his head toward the stroking and open his mouth wide.

If you have a c-section, you can place your baby skin-to-skin and try to breastfeed as soon as you and your baby are able to. 

What Does Breastfeeding Feel Like?

The first time you put your baby to the breast, it may feel strange. Your new little one may nuzzle your breast, move his head from side to side with his mouth open, lick your nipple, or latch on strong and start sucking.

Here's where you may want to ask for a little help to check if your baby is latching on the right way.

A proper latch is one of the most important parts of successful breastfeeding. It allows your baby to compress the milk ducts in your breast and draw out your breast milk.

Without a good latch, your baby may not get enough breast milk, and you might end up with sore nipples.

If your baby doesn't latch on well the first time, you can gently insert your finger into the side of your baby’s mouth to break the suction between his mouth and your nipple. Then, remove your nipple and try again.

Once your little one is latching on correctly, you may feel pulling and suction. If your nipples are tender, it might be a little uncomfortable at first. You may also feel uterine cramping since breastfeeding stimulates your uterus to contract.

What If You're Embarrassed to Breastfeed?

It's normal to feel self-conscious, embarrassed, or apprehensive the first time you try to breastfeed. If you're concerned about feeling exposed, let your nurse or caregiver know that you would like some privacy.

If there are visitors in your room, they can leave while you breastfeed. If you're in a hospital, you can use the privacy curtain. And, if you want to try to breastfeed on your own, you could ask to have some time alone with your baby.

Just keep in mind that it may be helpful to have a nurse, a lactation consultant, a doula, or someone else with breastfeeding experience stay with you in the beginning.

Learning how to position your baby correctly for a good latch right from the start will help to prevent breastfeeding problems later on.

What If Your Milk Hasn't Come in Yet?

During pregnancy, your body begins to produce colostrum. Colostrum is a concentrated, highly nutritious fluid that your baby will drink during the first breastfeeding and for the first few days of life. Your baby will only get a small amount, but since it is very high in nutrition, it's all that he or she will need in the first few days.

Colostrum is the perfect first food for your newborn because:

  • It acts as a laxative, helping your baby excrete bilirubin to prevent jaundice.
  • It coats the digestive tract and helps prevent infection.
  • It provides immunity to protect against illness.
  • It's easy to digest.
  • It's high in protein.

When Breastfeeding Is Challenging

The first breastfeeding is a learning experience for you and your baby. Some newborns latch on immediately and breastfeed well from the beginning. Some babies show little interest in nursing and don't latch on at all. Other babies latch on but won't suck.

All of these responses to the first feeding are normal. Be patient, keep trying, and ask for help. Many hospitals have lactation consultants on staff who are available to assist you. If possible, try to use the resources that the hospital provides while you're there so that you feel more comfortable when you go home.

1 Source
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  1. Bryant, Joy, Thistle, Jennifer. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Anatomy, Colostrum. Update: June 13, 2019

Additional Reading

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.