What to Expect While Breastfeeding: Your Journey and Your Child's

What to Expect While Breastfeeding: Your Journey and Your Child's

Breastfeeding is a unique journey, different every time, and a learning experience for you and your baby. Knowing what to expect can help you not just navigate this journey but appreciate it.

Starting Your Breastfeeding Journey

Your breastfeeding journey begins even before your child is born! In fact, your body may start producing colostrum, the first form of milk, weeks or even months before your due date. It's perfectly normal for this early milk production to occur, but it's also completely normal if it doesn't happen.

The First Days and Weeks

Early production of colostrum can lead to leakage from your breasts. If this bothers you, consider placing breast pads inside your bra for comfort. These are available at drug stores and offer more comfort than tissues, though tissues can suffice in a pinch. It's advisable to use breast pads, as you might experience some leakage throughout breastfeeding and for a few weeks after you stop. During pregnancy, the leakage you notice is colostrum, a vital yellowish substance for your newborn.

To ensure your baby gets colostrum if they can't nurse immediately, you can hand express it as your due date approaches. This colostrum can be frozen and taken to the hospital with you.

Colostrum is all your newborn needs initially, as it's packed with protein, rich in antibodies, and protects your child against illnesses you've recently had or for which you've been vaccinated. The amount of time you produce colostrum and the subsequent transitional milk can vary from woman to woman. You might produce colostrum alone for approximately five days, followed by a combination of colostrum and milk (transitional milk) for about two weeks after delivery. After this phase, your body will begin producing mature milk. During this transition, you will notice an increase in milk production and a change in color from yellow to the creamy white typically associated with milk.

Understanding Your Baby

Babies are born with the instinct to suckle, but aren't necessarily any good at it. Your baby will be learning to feed slowly at first, and it will take practice for both of you to get a good latch. You can encourage your baby to latch by "tickling" their lips with your nipple, and by positioning the nipple correctly, just above the top lip.

A good latch should not be painful. Your baby's head should be straight, with their chin touching your breast and their mouth taking in more than just the nipple. Their tongue should cup under your breast.

Your baby will get the knack of sucking and swallowing, and you should be able to hear them swallow. Again, their urge to suck is natural, instinctive, and shared with all baby mammals. In fact, they have been practicing sucking in the womb. You might have seen them do this on your ultrasounds.

Common Experiences While Breastfeeding

There are some things that happen a lot when breastfeeding, and they can make it a challenge. The most common are:


We've already mentioned leaking and it can be annoying! Using breast pads tucked into a maternity bra is the best way to deal with it. Change them regularly and keep them clean. Avoid the ones with a waterproof liner, which tends to trap moisture. Cotton breast pads are washable. Leaking typically improves as your body gets used to releasing milk correctly. As leaking can happen at night, it's a good idea to sleep on a towel.


Your breasts may feel full and swollen, typically due to insufficient milk expression. To prevent engorgement, it's crucial to start frequent feeding or pumping right from the beginning, not just to manage swelling after it occurs. Ensure your baby is on a consistent feeding schedule, and try to avoid introducing pacifiers too early, as they can interfere with establishing effective breastfeeding. Likewise, if you are pumping, maintaining a regular schedule is key.

If engorgement does occur, prioritize feeding from the engorged breast first, as your baby can help alleviate the discomfort. Additionally, applying a moist washcloth to your breasts before feeding can soften the area, making it easier for your baby to latch. If your breast is particularly hard, you may need to pump a small amount of milk to facilitate latching. Should engorgement become frequent even with regular feeding, consult your doctor as this could be an indication of excessive milk production.

Sore nipples

Sore nipples are the biggest cause of premature cessation of breastfeeding—it hurts, so you give up. Again, a painful or sore latch is not normal and you may need to readjust your baby to get a better latch. Get advice from your doula or doctor on the right flange to use if pumping, as this can cause nipple damage.

If your nipple itches, burns, cracks, or looks pink and flaky, these could be signs of a fungal infection, dermatitis, or even a bacterial infection, all of which require different treatments. It’s important to consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Remember, if you have an infection, your baby might also need treatment to prevent reinfection or to address any symptoms they may have.

Pain while breastfeeding

Some discomfort during the early days of breastfeeding is common as you and your baby learn to latch properly. However, persistent or intense pain usually indicates an issue such as an improper latch, which is the most common cause of pain during breastfeeding. If you feel a small, tender lump in your breast, this may indicate a blocked milk duct. Prioritize feeding from the affected breast, as your baby's sucking can help release the blockage. You can also use a warm washcloth to encourage flow and gently massage the lump towards the nipple to aid milk flow.

If you experience pain along with malaise and a fever, these could be signs of mastitis, commonly known as "milk fever," which results from an unresolved blocked duct. Continue breastfeeding or express milk to maintain flow, and consult your doctor promptly if your condition doesn't improve within a day or so.

Overcoming Obstacles

The most important thing about all the potential issues is that you should not stop breastfeeding! If you do have a blocked duct, it's the last thing you should do. Two other obstacles that often come up are pacifier use and teething.

Your breastfed baby can still use a pacifier, but don't introduce one until they are feeding well. This can vary from 2 to 6 weeks, and may be different with each pregnancy. Introducing a pacifier too early can interfere with their ability to learn to latch. Pacifiers may help reduce the risk of SIDS and can encourage your baby to sleep better, so don't hesitate. If you have questions about the right time to introduce a pacifier, consult with a lactation expert or pediatrician for additional support.

Your baby's first teeth will start to come in somewhere between four and seven months. Some babies start to have issues latching, and you may find you need to change positions. If your baby bites, try removing them gently from the breast and calmly waiting before offering to nurse again. This is typically enough "discipline" to help them realize biting mama is bad!

Adjusting to Your Baby's Growth

As your baby grows it will come time to start to introduce solid food. Older babies may start to become distracted while feeding, and nursing might seem less engaging to them. To manage distractions, find a quiet, calm environment for feeding sessions. Some mothers use white noise or other sound machines to help their child focus, while others might ask family members to step out or put away distracting devices.

Weaning is a very personal and gradual process, influenced by both your readiness and your baby's cues showing interest in solid foods and decreased interest in breastfeeding. Importantly, cow's milk or soy beverages should not replace breast milk before your baby is at least 12 months old, as these do not provide the necessary nutrients in the right proportions for infants under one year. After your child's first birthday, you can begin to introduce cow's milk or a suitable alternative if allergies are a concern. Introducing solid foods while your child sits on your lap can also make the transition easier, providing comfort and closeness during mealtime.

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Disclaimer: This is general medical information and not specific medical advice.  It does not and should not replace diagnosis or treatment by your healthcare provider. If you are seeking personal recommendations, advice, and/or treatment, please consult your physician. If you have an emergency, you should contact 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.