Breastfeeding in the Beginning

Woman cradles newborn baby in her arm while breastfeeding and providing skin to skin with its bare back

Even though you might think breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, it doesn’t necessarily come easily for every mother and baby pair. Maybe you read up during pregnancy, took a class, scoured the internet … but somehow you still got to a little one in your arms and the confused, “Wait – what?” place when it came to breastfeeding.

We asked experienced parents:

What surprised you about breastfeeding? What do you wish you’d know in the early days?

Here’s what they had to share:

  • “It might be painful in the beginning, but it doesn’t last forever.” Lactation professionals are forever saying if it hurts it must not be right – and there’s lots of truth to that. What you need to remember, though, is that every woman experiences pain differently. And the stretching of your nipple to twice its resting length every couple of hours can cause some soreness. Mild soreness in the first week is normal. If it lasts longer, or if you develop broken skin or blisters, then help from a lactation consultant is warranted. If you are dreading every feeding because of the pain, keep in mind that it does eventually get better. Get help and take it one feeding at a time. (Some of our favorite lactation professionals work with Premier Lactation and the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington.)


  • “Babies nurse often, but it’s not always evenly spaced.” A newborn baby will typically eat 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. While it seems like that would be every 2 to 3 hours, some babies like to cluster feed (nursing every hour for several hours) then have a longer stretch of sleep. Feed your baby whenever he shows signs that he’s hungry – let him set the pace. In the early days, your baby shouldn’t go longer than 3 hours without nursing. But once you both get the hang of breastfeeding, if he’s nursing often and gaining weight well, then one longer stretch of sleep each day is probably normal.


  • “You might feel your uterus contracting when you breastfeed.” Those afterpains are a sign that your body is working just right! The hormones released with nursing will keep your uterus contracting, staunching the postpartum blood flow and helping get the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. Some moms are surprised at the intensity of these pains, though. If they are uncomfortable for you, ask your healthcare provider about pain medications.


  • “Some women don’t feel letdown.” When your baby latches and starts suckling, your hormones signal that it’s time to squeeze milk out of the milk making cells and down the milk ducts to baby. Some women experience this as warmth, a flowing sensation, or pins and needles in the breast. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but other moms describe it as a feeling of release. Don’t be alarmed, though, if you don’t feel anything – you may just notice more frequent sucking and swallowing from their baby signaling that their milk is flowing. Frequent swallows are important to help you know your baby is getting milk.


Other parents are often the best source of practical parenting wisdom.  They’re the real experts – feeding their babies and making it work. Here is our list of places to make new friends feeding babies and build your support community!

Looking for help as you prepare for breastfeeding or need support as you learn from on-the-job training? Our postpartum doulas are here to help.