The first 48 hours after birth is incredibly special. It is a chance to have the long awaited first snuggle and finally meet your newest family member (or members!). It can also be incredibly nerve wracking trying to navigate this next stage. The time immediately after birth is crucial to setting the stage for your breastfeeding journey. Here are some things you can expect during this time.
The Golden Hour
The first hour after birth is often referred to as “The Golden Hour.” Skin-to-skin contact between birth parent and baby is extremely important. Having skin-to-skin within the first hour of birth decreases stress levels in mom and baby, stabilizes body temperatures, improves newborn bonding, and increases the ability to exclusively breastfeed. Initiating skin-to-skin contact gives your baby the chance to find the breast and begin to breastfeed on their own.
Babies have the instinct to crawl to the breast, find the nipple, latch on, and start to suckle. Sometimes this is immediate. Sometimes it may take a bit more time. Either way is normal. This instinctual survival mechanism is truly incredible to watch. To encourage your baby to latch on by themselves, it’s important to have baby on your chest as soon as possible after birth. Even after a cesarean, as long as there are no major complications, this is still possible! If you are unable to have baby skin-to-skin after birth, have your partner hold baby close until you are able to.
During the first hour after birth, baby will eat colostrum from the breast. Colostrum is extremely important for newborns. It helps give immunity by coating the intestines, which prevents germs from absorbing, and kills harmful microorganisms. It helps clear meconium, baby’s first poop, out of the system, which can reduce jaundice. It also helps prevent low blood sugar. Colostrum is even more important for early and preterm babies. While baby will only consume a small quantity of colostrum, it will go a long way towards filling their tiny bellies and setting them up for health. With each day that goes by, the amount of milk increases and amount of colostrum decreases, until baby is drinking only mature milk.
The first 24 hours
During the first 24 hours after birth, baby may be very sleepy as they adjust to life outside of the womb. There is a chance you may need to wake baby for feedings. Nurses and midwives will often ask you to keep track of how often feedings happen, the duration of feedings, and what side baby nurses from during the first couple of days after birth. Having your baby close with skin-to-skin contact can help encourage them to feed. Keep an eye out for hunger cues, including rooting (when baby turns head searching for a nipple), moving hands and feet, flexing of the legs and arms, sucking on hands, and restlessness.
If you give birth in a hospital, take advantage of the opportunity to work with lactation specialists. If you give birth at home, seek guidance from your midwife or consider a virtual lactation consultation. Ask as many questions as you like. Have them watch your baby while breastfeeding, especially if something feels uncomfortable. The advice you get from a lactation specialist can be incredibly empowering. Sometimes just a few small tweaks can make a huge difference.
Often during the first 24 hours, your baby will experience their first poop, known as meconium. It is thick, tarry, and unlike what most poop will look like going forward. Expect nurses to ask you to keep track of your baby’s dirty and wet diapers during this time as well, in addition to feedings.
The first 48 hours
Typically, sometime between day 2 and 3, babies start to wake up and become more aware of their new reality. As they adjust to new surroundings, new feelings, and new sounds of life outside of the womb, they will likely start to become more dependent on mom, cry more frequently, and want to breastfeed more often. All this coming as soon as you are ready to leave the hospital or lose the care of your midwife or postpartum doula. As unnerving as this may be, it is completely normal. Keeping baby close and responding to cues early can help make this transition smoother for everyone involved.
What about 48 hours and beyond?
Okay, so you’ve made it through the first couple of days. Now that you don’t have the support of a medical team, what is a new parent to do? Keeping these things in mind will help ease you into this new chapter in life.
- How to know baby is getting enough milk – Keeping track of baby’s diapers can help you determine if they are eating enough. During days three and four, baby should have three or more wet diapers in 24 hours. Day five and beyond, baby should have 6 or more wet diapers and three to four stools that are loose and seedy in 24 hours. During nursing sessions, look for a rapid sucking pattern to encourage letdown, then watch as your baby changes to a longer sucking pattern with audible swallows, which indicates they have a good latch and are drinking well. Proper weight gain is another indicator baby is getting enough milk. During wellness checks (there are a lot in those first months!) your pediatrician will chart baby’s growth. If you prefer to check baby’s weight more often, an infant scale can help provide piece of mind.
- Forget schedules, feed on demand – While baby may feed the widely talked about 8-12 times within a 24 hour, they may also feed more. Instead of trying to stick to a schedule that a book recommends, listen to your baby and feed on demand.
- Understanding baby cues – Babys give signs when they are hungry. Rooting, moving their head side to side, putting their hands to their mouth, sucking on hands and lips, becoming unsettled, and rapid eye movement are all early signs of hunger. Try to react to these before baby cries, as crying is often the later stage of hunger.
- Night feeding – Even though sleep may be a bit illusive during these early days and months, night feedings are normal, and even an important part of maintaining a healthy milk supply. Embrace these quieter times and nighttime snuggles.
- Ask for support – The early days and months can be blissful and challenging all at the same time. Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it. Enlist your partner for diaper duties. Take up offers for meals and chores. Seek advice from lactation specialists. If you feel you may be suffering from postpartum depression, get help. You are not alone. There is no shame in asking for support if you need it. Most will be delighted to be able to help in a meaningful way.
As your family adjusts to this new life together, your body is just beginning the process of healing, your baby is in culture shock from this entirely new world, and you are trying to figure out how to keep baby happy and fed on the outside. It can feel overwhelming, as your hormones endure a major shift and sleep is harder to come by. Yet, with a little preparation, some understanding, and a whole lot of love, you can get through these early days. Soon enough, you will be wondering how they went by so quickly.