The first week of breastfeeding is tough. Really tough, but so very worth it!
I honestly believe that so many more women would breastfeed if they knew just how much better breastfeeding life gets once you just get through the first seven days.
Your body (and boobs!) go through so much in the first week of breastfeeding; least not forgetting that you are recovering from the birth of your baby. This, combined with the massive learning curve that both you, and your baby have to go through to get breastfeeding sussed, is a big ask of both of you.
However, as big an ask as it is, it’s finite.
The first week of breastfeeding is the toughest. The second week is usually better (unless you are having real problems – see here: troubleshooting breastfeeding), and by the third week, life couldn’t be better.
Britain’s breastfeeding rates are the lowest in the Western world.
It makes me very sad to think that Britain has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
Some of the latest figures show that only 40% of babies are breastfed at 6 to 8 weeks of age, which compared to 70% in Norway is pretty shocking! (Source: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/breastfeeding-uk-position-statement).
I truly believe that if more women knew how much better life gets after that first week of breastfeeding, then more women would stick it out. What you experience in the first week of breastfeeding doesn’t last forever.
When Lil’Mem was born, it hadn’t even factored into my mind how I was going to feed her. I didn’t buy any bottles, any formula or any other bottle feeding equipment. I subsequently didn’t take anything to the hospital.
I also didn’t do any preparation or any research into breastfeeding. I guess I thought it all just came naturally.
Boy was I wrong. It didn’t come naturally.
Long story short, I had a horrific time getting going with feeding Lil’Mem (see here: How to survive when breastfeeding goes wrong!). BUT, we got through it, and I fed Lil’Mem for 9 months. Once we got going, she never had a bottle. EVER. (not because I didn’t try, she just was having none of it!).
Due to the experience I had with Lil’Mem, I was determined not to have the same happen with Lil’Miss May.
As an experienced breast-feeder, I was mostly confident that I would get it right this time, and I did.
She was a breastfeeding Rockstar!
That didn’t, however, mean that the first week of breastfeeding was easy. It was hard. However, this time I knew what I was looking out for, what to expect and what ‘going wrong’ felt like.
I winced through the pain of her latching on, especially when she didn’t have it quite right! Endured the day 3 beach ball boobs when my milk came in; and styled out subsequent milk leakage that soaked me through!
Literally soaked through in my own milk. NICE.
I spent ages pouring over infographics and videos to make sure that she was latching on properly. We tried every different hold to make sure she was in the right position. Panicked phone calls were made to the Maternity Ward when she started posseting bright red milk (Heads up, its generally OK!); and I discussed feeding at every Midwife and Health Visitor visit.
It was painful and frustrating and there were many, MANY tears (from me!). BUT we got through it, we got it sussed and life feels amazing!
We got through it and now we don’t even have to think about it.
Lil’Miss May knows each of my boobs (yes, they’re different) and I know how she likes to be held.
Breastfeeding is easy, comfortable and oh so snuggly!
There is nothing better for you and baby than having a lovely snuggly feed; it is the best possible nutrition for your baby and it delivers massive doses of feel good hormones to both of you (mamma we know we need it!).
There is no prepping for a feed; simply pop baby on boob and there you go! No worrying about boiling the kettle, or worrying about how long a bottle has been prepared and one less thing to worry about taking out of the house – as long and you have you, baby and a couple of nappies, you’re ready to go!
But you have to get through the first week of breastfeeding.
Don’t worry! I’m here to help you through it. You CAN do this!
Armed with my Ultimate Guide to Surviving the First Week of Breastfeeding you are giving yourself and your baby the best chance of making it through the first stage in your breastfeeding journey.
I am about to give you the best tips, tricks and head’s up’s that I have learnt to help you through. I will also be leaving loads of pointers as to where to get help whenever you need it.
If you need help, FIND IT!
Don’t let things get too bad before trying to correct them. Everything can be corrected and can be made right but your journey will be easier if you get help sooner rather than later.
There is so much help out there that I didn’t know about, and I suspect lots of other Mum’s don’t know about, so use it! A quick google search will bring up HUNDREDS of dedicated websites, organisations and helplines to help you on your breastfeeding journey. I will leave a list at the end of the post!
Right, let’s get into it! Stick with me Mamma!
The Ultimate Survival Guide to the First Week of Breastfeeding
Get the latch right.
This is the single most important thing you need to do to survive these first seven days. Get this wrong and it can have disastrous consequences. Trust me on this one, I was left with half of one of my nipples hanging off due to a bad latch.
It wasn’t pretty!
There are so many resources that will do a better job than I can as to explain how to get baby to latch on properly that I won’t try and confuse things by re-writing them here.
Below you will find a (extensive!) list of links below to provide more information. However I will first provide you with my own tips!
1. Make sure you’re comfortable and have a hand free.
Getting baby into the right position to work on the latch is a two handed job in the beginning. Not having the luxury of having two hands free, you will have to improvise! Position and prop baby up on pillows (I found ordinary pillows worked just fine!) so you don’t have to fully support them with your hands. You will then have at least one hand free for manoeuvring/boob positioning etc.
Propping baby up closer to you will also mean you’re not bending over to baby. This will save you the ‘breastfeeding backache’ in the beginning. Every BF mother will have experienced this; usually when you are out and about trying to feed baby on some ridiculously shaped furniture
2. Don’t point your nipple at baby’s mouth.
Think ‘nipple to nose’ and ‘baby to boob’.
For a proper latch, baby needs a big mouthful of breast from below the nipple. The nipple needs to be the last thing to enter their mouth so it is at the very roof of their mouth.
If you move baby across your body (as they are lying in front of you, tummy to tummy, propped up on your pillows!) from your tummy across to your boob, this should automatically happen as baby will get to your breast first and nipple last.
The other useful way of achieving this, I found, was to hold baby on their back, baby rugby ball style (but propped up on a pillow!) and keeping baby still, move my boob down to her mouth, offering the bottom of my breast first. This technique also allowed for a two handed job!
3. If it doesn’t feel right, break the latch and try again.
Yes this can be incredibly frustrating for you, and for baby, but it’s so important!
I didn’t realise just how bad Lil’Mem’s latch was until it was right. The difference was unreal!
Going right, the latching pain hurts for a few moments. It can then still be a little sore as baby feeds in the first few weeks as your nipples get used to a small child sucking on them, but IT SHOULD NOT HURT.
I repeat! If it hurts, its wrong!
Break the latch and try again. If you don’t, you could end up damaging your nipple and feeding can go from sore, to excruciating.
4. Practise, practise, practise!
You will get there, don’t worry. It might take a few days, but soon you won’t even have to think about it. It will be natural to you both.
You both have to learn though (even if you’ve done it before!). Give yourselves time to do that.
For more information on getting baby to latch correctly, please check out the following:
The pictures on the above one are very useful!
Prepare yourself for day three.
If you haven’t breastfed before, day three can be a bit of a shock.
I say day three loosely; for you it may be day two, four, five or six. Whichever day it is, you WILL know about it!
The day that your milk comes in.
Its pretty spectacular.
Suddenly you will find yourself with bowling balls instead of boobs. Its like having an overnight boob job!
So here is the heads up about the day your milk comes in; its not comfortable. You will feel full, very full, and you will be desperate for baby to latch on to provide some relief!
Your boobs will probably be so full that baby will not be able to latch on very well. The shape of your breast and nipple will have changed pretty dramatically and baby will probably struggle to latch on.
To help baby, and to provide some slight relief for yourself, try hand expressing off a little bit of milk before offering your baby a feed. Your breast should then be slightly softer and easier to latch on to. Just don’t try expressing off too much; whatever comes out of your boobs will be replaced in greater quantities!
Express off just enough – you will know when!
I got into quite a panic during my day three when Lil’Miss May started brining up blood in her posset. I called the Maternity Ward to talk to a Midwife (Mr.Google was being rather unhelpful!) who reassured me it was normal.
Apparently when your boobs are that full, baby can slip off when feeding which can cause your nipples to bleed. Baby then ingests this blood, which irritates their stomach and they bring it back up! Just so you know, just in case it happens to you!
Remember, it is only temporary! Your boobs will calm down pretty quickly; it should only take a day or two for the supply to match the demand!
In the meantime there are a couple of things you can do to keep you comfortable:
1. Hand express a little bit off
As I mentioned above. Remember you only want to take the edge off, to soften your breast just a little bit. The more you take off the breast the more it will produce so just be careful not to overdo it!
To find out how to hand express see here:
2. Double up on the breast pads.
Just trust me on this one. Milk will start spewing out of you at an alarming rate for reasons unbeknown to you.
Unless you want to end up in a soggy milky mess, stuff your bra like a teenager. You might just end up staying dry
3. Grab some cabbage!
On oldie, but a goodie!
To help with the pain and discomfort of engorgement, give cabbage leaves a go!
I know it sounds odd, like and old wives tale, but it is one that works! Studies have been carried out on this odd treatment, and there has been a correlation found between the treatment and a reduction in a variety of boob related symptoms!
Pop some big old cabbage leaves in the fridge and once cool pop them on your poor boobs!
4. Soak your breasts in a warm bath.
If cabbage isn’t your bag, or if you fancy mixing it up a bit, pop your boobs in a warm bath! Take some time out and have a good long soak!
There will be tears.
Along with the boob job will come floods of tears.
Its normal. But it wont stop people looking at you weirdly.
You will cry for no apparent reason, and for every silly reason you can think of.
Not much I can help you with, with this one. Just one to be aware of.
Maybe pass the heads up on to your partner. Or don’t and you might get some extra sympathy (never worked for me!). Up to you!
Its temporary; it will pass.
Take good care of your nipples.
Your poor nipples won’t know what’s hit them!
They will go from living a quiet and undisturbed life in your bra to being sucked on for many hours of the day. It takes some getting used to!
Your nipples will get sore as they adjust to their new life. Remember that sore is very different to hurt or damaged. Sore is normal, painful is not!
You can make the transition slightly more comfortable with good nipple care.
1. Apply nipple cream all the time!
A good nipple cream will help soothe and protect sore nipples. Always choose one that doesn’t need removing before breastfeeding.
I can personally recommend either of the following;
Lansinoh is the standard issue nipple cream, however my personal preference is the Weleda Nipple Balm; it did a much better job at being soothing!
When you apply your nipple cream, be sure to give it a good massage into your nipple. It might be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it will do wonders to help them!
2. Bathe your nipples in salt water.
Salt water is my go to solution for healing everything! It’s easy to forget how something so simple can be so beneficial!
If your nipples are sore or cracked, wash your nipples very frequently with salt water.
Stir one teaspoon of salt (table salt or sea salt is fine!) into 100ml of warm water until dissolved. Then, dip a cotton pad (or similar) into the solution and use it to wipe, very gently, around your whole nipple. Leave it to air dry. Then follow with nipple cream.
Sounds a bit odd, but it will help your nipples heal so much faster!
3. Walk around with your baps out!
Another way to speed up the healing of your nipples! Let them breathe in as much air as possible!
I’m sure that your other half won’t mind the view, but probably best to avoid around visitors!
It can get very stuffy and damp in that bra and letting your nipples get a good dose of ‘outdoor activity’ will help them to heal.
This is especially good when combined with salt water bathing!
If letting your boobs run wild and free isn’t an option for you, try this:
Take a small plastic tea strainer and snap the handle off. Pop the strainer over your nipple to create a shield from your bra, allowing the air to circulate around your nipple without having to whip them out!
This one came from my dear mother. My midwife had never seen this trick before and remarked how ingenious it was!
I spent a very long time with two tea strainers in my bra with my first daughter…nobody knew except me. And probably my Mum!
Keep your milk supply even.
You should always aim to feed your baby evenly from both breasts. This is to keep your milk supply up and ensure that you don’t end up with one huge boob!
Your breasts produce milk on the basis of how much they are being emptied. They don’t talk to each other; they produce independently of each other.
Let your baby feed from one breast first (say the left side), then when they are done, offer the other (the right side). The next feed should then start from the opposite side to the one you started the last feed from (the right side).
You just need to remember which side you need start the next feed from.
Now this is all well and good, but being sleep deprived and hormonal does tend to make you a bit forgetful!
The best thing to do to remember what breast you need to start your next feed from is to use some sort of marker.
Some women use breastfeeding apps. They measure how long baby has fed and from what side, indicating which side to start with next.
Check out this list and reviews for examples:
Other women use clips on their bras to indicate which side you need to start with next, or indeed which breast you last used.
You can find examples here:
Personally, I use a bracelet. A small elasticated bracelet.
I use the bracelet to indicate which side to start the next feed from by wearing it on the corresponding wrist. When I am about to begin feeding, before I cradle little one’s head, I move the bracelet to the other wrist, so I know which breast to start the next feed from.
Keep those essentials within reach BEFORE you start feeding!
New-borns feed for a long ass time.
There is nothing worse than getting baby happily latched on, then realising that everything you might want to pass the time with is just. out. of. reach. The remote, a magazine, your phone, anything!
Similarly, suddenly realising that you need a drink, a snack, some lip balm or a breast pad is equally as frustrating.
It will make that feed feel like it is going on forever!
You will mostly just have to remember to move the TV remote before you sit down and remember to have your phone to hand. But for everything else, make a breastfeeding bag.
Put in everything you think you might want during a feed; baby wipes, a drink, snacks, lip balm, magazines, muslins etc. into your breastfeeding bag.
Leave your breastfeeding bag near wherever you sit down to feed. Having everything in a handy bag means that you can easily transfer it from place to place, wherever you need to feed. It also means that you’ll never get caught out during a feed again.
One more tip:
Pee BEFORE you start feeding.
I won’t explain; you can imagine!
Baby can cry for a minute longer so you can wee before you feed. Everyone will feel better for it. Trust me!
Cluster Feeding is Real!
New-born babies cluster feed. They mainly do this in the evenings.
It feels like all you are doing is feeding when they do this.
Unfortunately, it’s just something that you have to ride out. It doesn’t last forever; a couple of weeks or so. Just hang on in there!
The only advice I have for this one is to eat your main meal at lunchtime. Have something you can eat one handed in the evening. Chances are you won’t get much of a chance to sit down and eat properly in the evenings for a little while!
Your baby IS getting enough milk!
Breastfeeding is not like bottle feeding; you can’t see how much milk your baby is taking. You just have to trust your body. And your baby!
This is one of the main reasons that new mothers switch to bottle feeding; they just can’t accept that their baby can get all the milk they need from them.
Baby is getting all the milk they need.
Your body is very quick at catching up to supply baby with enough milk. The more baby feeds, the more milk your body provides.
Please, please do not panic!
As long as you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, you have no reason to ever doubt your supply.
If you do start to offer ‘top up’ feeds with formula, please be VERY careful.
Every time your baby feeds from something that isn’t your breasts, you run the risk of ruining your milk supply.
If your breasts aren’t being emptied during a formula feed (i.e. if you express or of course feed your baby), they won’t know that more milk needs to be produced to satisfy your baby’s growing appetite.
Breastfeeding works solely on a supply and demand basis. They more that is demanded by your baby by an increase in feeding, the more milk your breasts will produce.
If you do feel you need to offer a top up with formula, offer your baby a breastfeed and then top up with formula straight afterwards.
So there you go! That’s all the advice you should need to get started with breastfeeding LIKE THE ROCKSTAR MAMMA YOU ARE!
Remember, if you are worried about anything or if anything doesn’t feel right with you or your baby, ask your Midwife or Health Visitor or pop and see your GP.
You are the best judge when it comes to yourself and your baby. If something doesn’t sit right with you, go and check it out!
You got this!
For further help, here is the list of organisations and their helplines where you can find an expert for all the help you need! (Please note that these are UK based!)
National Breastfeeding Helpline: https://www.nationalbreastfeedinghelpline.org.uk/
La Leche League: https://www.laleche.org.uk/
TheBreastfeeding Network: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/breastfeeding-support/