Starting breastfeeding – the first feeds

Placing your baby on your bare skin encourages baby 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 mothers 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 baby at the right temperature and it encourages the baby to start breastfeeding.

First breastfeed

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

Baby 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 baby for breastfeeding and make sure that baby has a good latch on your breast. You can find out more about positioning and latching on the How to breastfeed page.

The first milk – colostrum

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

Colostrum is the first milk that your baby gets. This special milk is yellow in colour and is thick and sticky. Colostrum protects baby from infections and gives your baby their first food. Your baby 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.

Find out more about colostrum.  

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 baby will cry. Crying is a late hunger sign. Try to not let this happen, or your baby may be too upset to feed well.

How long on each breast?

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

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

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

Related websites

Breastfeeding NZ – YouTube channel and Facebook page
Breastfeeding information and videos. The YouTube channel contains the Breastfeeding. Naturally. video (as 7 separate chapters); these are also available with captions and in New Zealand Sign Language. The Facebook page is for anyone and everyone who is breastfeeding or interested in breastfeeding. Find out more, share your stories and get support from other members.

Breastfeeding – Kidshealth
Information and short videos about breastfeeding. Each section has a short video followed by key messages in English and 9 other languages.

Breastfeeding your baby – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Clear, simple suggestions about the nursing relationship, why breast milk is a baby’s best food, different ways to hold the baby during breastfeeding, how to ensure the baby is on the breast in the best way, frequency of feeds, breast care and further help. Available in English, simplified Chinese, Korean, Māori, Samoan and Tongan.

La Leche League
The New Zealand website of La Leche League, an international organisation that promotes breastfeeding.

Eating for healthy breastfeeding women – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Food information for breastfeeding women. Includes nutrition, healthy food for mother and baby, dietary variety, drinking plenty of fluids, foods low in fat, salt and sugar, healthy weight, losing weight gained during pregnancy, daily activity or exercise, taking time out, alcohol, and being smokefree.

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