Breastfeeding after the First Week

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated February 23, 2013.

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By the end of the first week you may begin to see some basic rhythms or patterns emerging with your baby.  Though he still sleeps the vast majority of the day, you may notice that in the late afternoon or evenings he clusters some feeds together, nursing very frequently over a few hour period. 1

Rhythms, rest, relationship

522049_10100153833199311_422754318_nBreastfeeding and mothering may seem completely natural or totally foreign by this point, but both mother and baby still need lots of rest, nourishment, and bonding time together.  It can be more challenging if you have older children, but being able to rest during the day and night, whenever your baby is asleep, is important for a new mother to recover from birth and inconsistent nighttime sleep.  Mother and baby are establishing sweet rhythms in their relationship, where mom is able to nurture and meet her baby’s needs and her baby begins to learn this strange, new world through the comforting touch and gentle love of his favorite person in the world.  The bond that is forged in these early days will grow and be nurtured over a lifetime.

Now is the time to accept all offers of help – let your husband, partner, family, or friends cook, help out with older children, clean, and serve you.  Your job is to relax with your baby, provide love and nourishment for his every meal, and enjoy this tiny new life in your arms.

Feeding Patterns

A newborn baby is born with a stomach capacity the size of a small marble.  This is perfect for the tiny amounts of colostrum that are available that first day.  However, every day his stomach capacity grows (as does a mother’s milk supply) and by the end of the first week babies are able to take in between 10-19 ounces/day. 2

As a mother continues to feed her baby frequently, her supply continues to build.  During the 2nd and 3rd weeks your baby is increasing his daily intake to around 20-25 ounces.  He is also increasing the number of feeds and duration to stimulate his mother’s milk supply to continue to grow.

By five weeks, babies take in an average of 3-4 ounces at a feed and consume 25-35 ounces in a 24 hour period. 3  This is about the same amount a baby will continue to need during months 1-6.  Once solids are introduced, a baby slowly begins to take in less milk.  Thus, if a woman can develop a full milk supply and feed her 5 week old she should have enough milk to also feed her 6 month old.  It may seem that a bigger baby needs more milk but this is not the case with breast milk!

Growth Spurts

As your baby goes through growth spurts he may have a few days where he will take in more milk.  This is no problem for a breastfeeding mother who nurses her baby on demand.  Your body will adjust to your baby’s needs and quickly produce more milk if required.  An empty breast makes more milk so as your baby nurses more frequently your body gets the message to increase milk production.  When the additional milk is no longer needed, your body will also adjust back down.

Growth spurts can be at anytime, but babies typically go through growth spurts at 3 and 6 weeks, and 3 and 6 months.

One side or both?

It is completely normal for your baby to nurse on just one side, nurse on both sides, or sometimes nurse on one and other times nurse on both at each feed.  All babies are different; all mothers are different.  Sometimes a baby is hungrier and wants to nurse on both sides whereas other times he fills on just one side.  It is important to allow your baby to nurse until he comes off the breast and then offer him the other side.  If he doesn’t want it, no problem!  The next time he nurses, begin with this other side.  As you settle into a pattern, your milk supply will adjust to your baby’s needs and desires.

Ebb and Flow of Milk Supply

It is common for moms to find they feel their breasts are quite “full” in the mornings and “empty” later in the day.  Though there may be less milk later on in the day (especially for western moms with our nursing patterns) this milk tends to have a higher fat content, which can fill a baby more quickly.  No matter how “full” the breasts feel, a baby can always get milk.  Though it may not always be the flow he desires, there is always milk!

There is no need to worry about whether your baby is getting enough of the high fat content hind milk.  If you are nursing on demand and making sure to offer both breasts, your baby is getting everything he needs.  Over the course of a 24 hour period he will get just the right amount of nutrients.

Help. . . My baby wants me more in the evenings!

It is common for babies to be fussy in the evenings.  Using a sling to hold your baby while you still have hands free to do other things can be an important tool during these weeks.  From 2-8 weeks, your baby has more waking hours than when he was first born yet doesn’t yet have the coordination to play or interact with his world yet.  It can be an intense time wondering if you will always have to hold him so much and when you will ever be able to cook a meal again!  This phase usually passes quickly.  Even by 8 weeks, your new baby will usually enjoy laying on his back on a play mat for at least a few minutes as he begins to learn how to interact with his world on his own.

And what about sleep?

Breastfed babies sleep about 14 hours a day.  But did you know that mothers of exclusively breastfed babies get more sleep than their formula or mixed feeding counterparts? 4  Breastfeeding at night is important. Safe bed sharing or co-sleeping can be a tremendous help to both breastfeeding and maternal rest.  Around 6-8 weeks, most babies begin to follow a circadian rhythm of sleep where their longest stretch of sleep of the day is during the night.

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Emde R.N. et al (1976) Emotional expression in infancy. Psychology Issues Monograph 37. New York, NY: International Universities Press.
  2. Ingram, J.C. et al. (1999) Maternal predictors of early breast milk output. Acta Paediatrica 88(5), 493-499
  3. Kent, J.C. et al (2006) Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), 387-395.
  4. Doan T., et al (2007) Breast-feeding increases sleep duration of new parents. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing 21(3):200-206.
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