Whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced one, the early days of breastfeeding can cause a lot of anxiety. The newborn weeks are such a blurry, confusing time. But all that worrying and self-doubt can cloud the fact that breastfeeding is actually going exactly as it should be, and you’re doing great.
Here are 12 reassuring signs that breastfeeding is going well.
Your newborn (because of the size of her stomach and metabolism) is feeding 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period and actively sucking at the breast for at least 10 minutes, says Nicole McHardy, a private lactation consultant and registered practical nurse in Hamilton, Ont., who has been working with new families for more than 12 years. During growth spurts, newborns feed more frequently, too, so your baby’s behaviour is a better cue than watching the clock or obsessively timing the length of every feed. (That said, if your newborn is falling asleep on the boob within the first 5-10 minutes, breast compressions can help give your baby a boost of milk to help perk them up and keep them going.)
The number of wet diapers is increasing by day, which means by five days old your baby has at least six wet diapers. Breastfed babies will also have several poops a day for the first couple of months (with the consistency changing from dark and sticky meconium in the first 48 hours, to seedy, loose and golden yellow).
Her chin is pressed into your breast, and her nose may also be visible. (It’s OK if you can only see one nostril—she can still breathe.) If her eyes are open, and she’s positioned correctly, you should be able to make eye contact, says McHardy.
Your baby’s lips are flanged outward like a duck (and not tucked under). Her mouth is open nice and wide with full cheeks and it doesn’t look like she’s sucking on a straw with her cheeks sucked inward. Your nipple, as well as some of the areola surrounding it, should be inside her mouth. Her tongue will also be lying over her bottom gums, to cushion your nipple.
The nipple remains firmly in her mouth for the feed, because she isn’t sliding off. After a feed, it shouldn’t be lipstick-shaped or flattened, creased or pinched, says Kylie Field, a Halifax-based lactation consultant and postpartum doula. Initially, some mild discomfort and tenderness (usually for the first 30 seconds or so) or a stretching sensation is normal, but you shouldn’t have any skin damage on your nipple if your latch is good. If you're struggling with nipple pain, make sure to use a lanolin cream, or consider a prescription for APNO—All-Purpose Nipple Ointment.
Your baby’s jaw is moving as she sucks (sometimes a baby’s ears will also wiggle in sync…awww!). Her chin may look like it’s paused, or you may hear a soft “k” sound when she swallows milk, whereas soothing sucking movements are quicker and more like a flutter.
You notice a sensation of tingling or mild pain in your breast or nipple when let down happens. (This varies from mom to mom; sometimes it’s a few minutes or a few seconds into a nursing session.) Sometimes, milk drips from the other breast. To keep up with the flow, your baby might use a stronger suck and change the swallow-suck pattern.
When she first starts sucking, she may splay her hands and stretch the fingers, or make tight fists. This is a sign she’s concentrating on sucking. As the feed goes on, her hands will relax and go back to their usual curved position.
When things are going well, your baby will go to the breast without fussing or pulling away. A well-fed baby will look calm and relaxed (or milk-drunk) after feeding, says Field. “She will also be able to drift off to sleep or be quietly alert after a feed.”
When the feed is over, your breasts go from feeling firm and full to soft and lighter. And your shoulders and back feel comfortable, too, because you’ve been careful not to lean forward and your breastfeeding pillow is being used to support your arms while they hold the baby.
Even though most babies lose weight soon after birth, a steady weight gain is a very good sign she’s getting enough to eat.You’re offering both breasts at each feed, to keep up an adequate milk supply. “Think of it as meat and potatoes on one side, and dessert on the other,” suggests McHardy. A quick diaper change can get a sleepy baby alert enough to take the other side. At your well-baby checkups, her weight will be tracked, and she should be back to birth weight within two to three weeks.
Even though you may be breastfeeding for the first time, and swimming in self-doubt or exhaustion, listen to your instincts. You’re the authority on your baby.
Listen to your baby, too. “It’s OK to breastfeed your baby to sleep or to comfort them, if that feels right for you,” reminds McHardy.
“If you’re having difficulty with breastfeeding, physically or emotionally, don’t hesitate to ask for help,” says Field. “But also trust yourself when things are going well.”