Starting breastfeeding — the first feeds

Placing your pēpi (baby) on your bare skin encourages them to feed as soon as possible after the birth. Find out about starting breastfeeding and why the first feeds are so important.

Skin-to-skin contact

Newborn babies are placed straight onto their parent as soon as they are born. This skin-to-skin contact with you after birth is good for your baby’s physical health and helps you to bond with each other. Skin-to-skin contact:

  • is the best way to keep pēpi at the right temperature
  • encourages them to start breastfeeding.

First breastfeed

You and pēpi will spend some time recovering from the birth. Within an hour, your pēpi will start to show interest in breastfeeding.

They will:

  • feel the warmth of your body
  • feel your body rhythms
  • recognise your voice
  • smell the breast
  • start to push upwards towards the breast
  • open their mouth
  • suck their tongue.

Your midwife will help you to position your pēpi for breastfeeding and make sure that they have a good latch on your breast. 

The first milk – colostrum

It is important in the first few days that your pēpi feeds whenever they need to, so that they get the first milk, or colostrum.

Colostrum is the first milk that your pēpi gets. This special milk is yellow in colour and is thick and sticky. Colostrum protects pēpi from infections and gives them their first food. Your pēpi feeds on colostrum for the first few days until your milk 'comes in'. This is when your breasts start making more milk and the milk changes from thick and sticky colostrum to the normal breast milk, which is thinner and whiter.

Colostrum — La Leche League (external link)

Baby’s hunger signs

Babies will show hunger signs when they are ready for a breastfeed. These may happen with eyes closed or open.

The hunger signs are:

  • rooting around with the mouth — opening the mouth and moving the head as if looking for the breast
  • sucking movements and sucking sounds — often quite soft sounds
  • the tongue coming out of the mouth and almost licking the lips
  • hand-to-mouth movements
  • sucking the fingers or hand
  • opening the mouth and possibly turning the head in response to a touch around the mouth area.

These signs are often called early hunger signs. If you miss these early hunger signs your pēpi will cry. Crying is a late hunger sign. Try to not let this happen, or your pēpi may be too upset to feed well.

How long on each breast

Different people find different ways to breastfeed, but as a general guide:

  • feed your pēpi from one breast for 20 to 30 minutes
  • change your baby’s nappy then feed your pēpi from the other breast
  • remember to start the next feed on the breast that you last fed from.

New babies need to feed about 8 to 12 times every 24 hours. This means that you will be feeding your pēpi during the night. Some days your pēpi will need more feeds. You will not run out of milk. If you feed your pēpi more, your breasts will make more milk.

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