Tips from an LC: 3 Tips if Your Baby Won't Breastfeed After Birth

If your baby doesn't or won't breastfeed in the first few hours (or days!) after birth, don't stress. This period of time is important and these tips can help you begin to establish a breastfeeding relationship, so you can ensure your little one receives your liquid gold.

3 Tips if Your Baby Won't Breastfeed Right Away

Transcript: 3 Tips if Your Baby Won't Breastfeed After Birth

Most babies find and attach on to the breast by themselves within the first few minutes or hour after birth. But for some babies, this doesn’t always happen. This may be due to the gestational age of your baby (i.e. born before 38 weeks), the type of birth that you have both had, or the medications used during the labor; all of which may make your baby quite sleepy for the first few hours or days in some cases. Of course, they eventually want to wake up and feed..and feed..and..feed! But, it might take a day or two for breastfeeding to get going.

So, why am I talking about this and why is it important?

During the first hours and days, babies are designed to latch on to your breast and suck frequently - not only for them to get your colostrum, but this also switches on the milk making cells in your breast. Each time your baby feeds, it rapidly increases the hormone prolactin, circulating in your blood, and signals to the milk-making cells to start building a good milk supply for now and the future. In the early days, you are laying down the foundations to enable you to keep making a good milk supply for your baby. So, breastfeeding early, frequently, and effectively is vital to ensure all moms have a good opportunity to make sufficient milk.

But what happens if your baby is unable to breastfeed frequently in these early hours and days? We have seen from the research that if babies do not feed frequently and effectively in this critical time point, then their mothers are less likely to make enough breast milk to be able to exclusively breastfeed their baby. This is why it is really important for anyone whose baby is not yet able to breastfeed well in the first few days to start stimulating the milk-making cells through other techniques. If we miss this critical window of the first few hours and days, it can be very difficult for some moms to ever make a full milk supply.

So, How Do We Stimulate the Milk-Making Cells if Our Babies Can't Yet Breastfeed?

Here are the top tips to help support your baby and your milk supply in the first few hours if breastfeeding doesn’t quite go as planned:

Tip #1

Skin-to-skin contact! This is essential in combination with all the other tips I will give you today. Skin to skin contact is not only lovely to have with your baby, it does some very special jobs as well:

  • Holding your baby in skin to skin contact helps release the hormone oxytocin, known as the love hormone.
  • This hormone helps to reduce stress levels in both moms and babies.
  • Oxytocin helps to contract your uterus and helps reduce your bleeding after birth.
  • It is the main hormone which pushes the milk down through your milk ducts. I like to think of oxytocin as the waitress; she delivers the milk to the baby!
  • Skin to skin contact offers your baby the opportunity to breastfeed more frequently or to start breastfeeding.
  • Holding them close to your breasts allows your baby to smell your milk and to utilize their natural instincts to find the breast and feed.
  • Holding them in skin to skin contact means that moms learn their babies feeding cues much sooner and that helps with keeping babies calm around the breast when it is time for a feed.
  • Finally, we know from the research that babies who are held frequently in skin to skin contact cry less than babies who are not.

Tip #2

The first 3 hours after birth are really important. It’s important to start early to get your milk supply on track, as we already said. In order to do this, your breasts need to be stimulated frequently; normally this would occur by your baby feeding around 8 - 12 times in 24 hours. But, if your baby is not yet breastfeeding frequently, or at all, it is important to activate the milk-making cells by expressing. You need to express the same number of times as a baby would naturally feed; so this means pumping your breasts 8 or more times in 24 hours if they are unable to breastfeed. And, if your baby is only doing some breastfeeds (but not yet meeting the minimum of 8 feeds in 24 hours), then you would need to make up the rest of the missing feeds by pumping.

You will need to keep pumping until your baby is breastfeeding well. This may be within a few hours or could be several days, depending on the reason why your baby is unable to breastfeed at this stage.

Once your baby is breastfeeding well, you should no longer need to be expressing and instead just breastfeed. Enjoy your baby and listen to their feeding cues, they will likely show signs of wanting a feed between 8 - 12 times every 24 hours. That’s quite a lot, but very normal!

Tip #3

Wondering how to express? Be the baby! Do everything they would do:

  • Massage your breasts and nipples with your hands gently before expressing.
  • Express frequently using a breast pump.
  • Hand express for a few minutes after pumping.

Remember, it is very normal to see only very small amounts of colostrum in the first day or two. The milk volume will rapidly increase once your milk comes in. Be sure to collect all your wonderful colostrum to feed to your baby!

Over the next few days and weeks, you and your baby are gaining confidence together to get breastfeeding on track. Never be frightened to reach out for more support and please never feel like you’re the only person out there who is finding some aspects of breastfeeding difficult at the beginning! Like anything new, sometimes it just takes time to learn and feel more relaxed with it in the beginning.

Check out our other videos for more support and help in the first few days and weeks of your breastfeeding and lactation journey.