How to start your breastfeeding journey - Ruth Health

How to start your breastfeeding journey

Fast facts:

  • Breast milk production begins during the second trimester.
  • There are three stages of milk production and three types of milk: colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk
  • Your breasts may feel sore or tender as milk comes in around 3-4 days postpartum.
  • A lactation consultant can help you manage the discomfort of engorgement and navigate other breastfeeding challenges.

Breastfeeding can be rewarding for many women, but it isn’t always smooth sailing. Some trial and error is often involved, and a lot of the learning comes from experience. You can set yourself up for an easier start by familiarizing yourself with the basics.

To help you prepare, we’ve put together a guide to breast milk production.

When does milk production begin?

The lactation journey begins during the second trimester and unfolds in three stages:

  • The first stage is colostrum production, which can start as early as a few weeks into your second trimester and lasts until a few days postpartum.
  • Milk production ramps up during the second stage, which begins around 3-4 days after childbirth and may last until about two weeks postpartum.
  • From about the second week postpartum onward, your breasts will produce mature milk.

What are the three types of breast milk?

  • During the first stage, your breasts will produce thick and nutrient-rich colostrum. This is the first type of breast milk that your baby will consume.
  • During the second stage, your breast milk will change from colostrum to transitional milk, which is a mixture of colostrum and mature milk.
  • During the third stage, your breasts will produce mature milk, which is full of nutrients that support your baby’s growth. It typically has a thin and white appearance but may sometimes have a bluish tint.

What causes breast milk production?

During the second trimester, hormonal changes prompt the mammary glands to begin milk production in preparation for your baby’s arrival. 

Your breasts will likely become fuller as your nipples and areolas darken. These changes indicate that your body is doing what it needs to to nourish your baby.

As your levels of estrogen and progesterone rise, your milk ducts will grow and transport milk from the mammary glands to your nipples. This is when colostrum production begins.

While some women produce colostrum without realizing it, others experience leakage. Both responses are natural, and leaking colostrum doesn’t indicate that you will struggle with milk production in the future.

After childbirth, an increase in the breastfeeding hormone prolactin triggers more milk production. Your breasts may feel sore or tender during this time as they fill up with milk.

How can I treat breast engorgement?

Try to fully empty your milk supply with the following techniques:

A cold compress often alleviates some of the discomfort. You can also discuss pain medication options with a health professional.

Speak with a lactation consultant for individualized support in navigating engorgement and other breastfeeding challenges.

When should I start breastfeeding?

If you have decided to breastfeed, it’s recommended to start as soon as possible after delivery, ideally within an hour of giving birth.

Babies are born with a natural reflex that helps them find your breasts to begin nursing, and most newborns are interested in breastfeeding during their first hours of life.

They may not be able to feed very long at first, but even short spurts will provide nourishment and stimulate more breast milk production.

Can I breastfeed after a c section?

Breastfeeding after a c section is possible! Many women who deliver by cesarean breastfeed for the first time in the recovery room, but some hospitals will let you try to nurse in the operating room. If you had general anesthesia, you may need to wait a few more hours.

It isn’t uncommon to experience some initial discomfort when breastfeeding after a c section. Finding the right position can make all the difference.

A side-lying position is often a good option while your body heals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a lactation consultant or another member of your birthing team.

How often should I breastfeed my baby?

You should expect short but frequent breastfeeding sessions throughout your first days postpartum. This will help your body produce a good milk supply.

While the average breastfed newborn feeds about 8-12 times in a 24-hour period, each baby’s needs are different. Some may want to feed every 2-3 hours while others prefer many short bursts over a few hours, which is called cluster feeding. 

Babies on the sleepier side will need to be woken up for breastfeeding sessions. 

Newborns under two weeks old and those who haven’t yet reached birth weight always need to be woken up if they sleep longer than four hours.

There are benefits to staying flexible and feeding your newborn on demand rather than adhering to a strict schedule. Breastfeeding your baby when they’re hungry may give them comfort and security, and it will also help maintain your milk supply. 

As your baby grows, a regular schedule will likely begin to establish itself, which means more sleep for you!

What does breastfeeding feel like?

As you settle into the rhythm of your baby’s feeding patterns, you may be able to feel your breasts fill with milk when it’s time to breastfeed. 

The let down reflex — your body’s response to your baby latching on to your breast, which triggers the flow of breast milk — may feel differently to each breastfeeding person.

It often produces a tingling sensation in the breast or a feeling of relief. It may even cause your breasts to leak in response to your baby’s cries or as feeding time approaches.

Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything from the let down reflex. This is the case for many breastfeeding individuals.

Some initial discomfort is common during the first days and weeks of breastfeeding.

Try to be patient, with yourself and your baby. It often gets easier as your baby grows and gets better at latching. And if challenges persist, don’t hesitate to seek support from experts.

How can a lactation consultant help me?

Breastfeeding shouldn’t be a painful experience, and there are resources that can ease this journey.

If you’re still experiencing discomfort after a few weeks, a lactation consultant can offer suggestions and help you find what works best for you. 

Ruth Health offers virtual breastfeeding support on your time. Get started today.

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