The Early Days


The early days of parenting and learning to breastfeed are both exciting and challenging. Learning to breastfeed is new for both mothers and their babies.With patience and time you will find you start to get the hang of it, but for many women this does not occur instantly and it takes a few days and for some even weeks before breastfeeding runs smoothly.


  1. Mothers are unsure of the amount of milk they are making. A mother’s milk goes through many changes in the first week. Mothers may notice changes in the volume of milk in the breasts and the colour of her milk over time.Refer to the section “The Breast Makes Milk” on the “How to Breastfeed” page for information on colostrum (the first milk in the breast) and how the milk changes over the first week to mature milk which is higher in volume. For this reason mothers will notice changes in the amount of milk and fullness of their breasts. Some mothers may experience engorgement during the early days as the breasts work to determine how much milk the baby needs. Refer to the “Engorgement” section on the “Common Concerns” page if this is an issue you are experiencing. Be sure to refer to this section if you think you are engorged as it is important that mom is comfortable and that the breasts are not overly full.
  2. Many parents are unsure of how to know the baby is getting enough breast milk.Although you cannot see the volume of milk the baby is drinking, you will be able to determine that your baby is getting all the colostrum he/she needs in the early days by monitoring wet and dirty diapers. Refer to the section on “How to Know Your Baby is Getting Enough” on the “The Early Days” page. The volume of milk and number of wet and dirty diapers will increase over the first week. In this section you will find a chart which you can use to track this information. A baby who is breastfeeding well will have energy and will actively feed at the breast. A very sleepy baby may not have the energy to feed and may fall asleep at the breast.
  3. Mothers may have some initial sensitivity and discomfort as they are learning to breastfeed.
  4. Leaking breast milk may occur while breastfeeding is being established and this often decreases and stops over time.It is common for the breasts to leak milk in the early days.Some women may notice leaking before a feed or from the breast not being suckled during a feed. As well, just hearing a baby cry may cause the “the milk ejection reflex” and leaking in some women. When the mature milk comes in over the first weeks, the breast is trying to determine how much milk the baby needs. Over time, as the lactation system matures, many women notice the leaking stops. This is not related to milk supply but is a sign the breast is beginning to know how much milk to make for your baby.If you experience leaking, breast pads may help keep you comfortable. See the “Things to Consider” section on the “Everyday Life Part 2” page for information on breast pads. You will want to change the breast pads frequently if you find you are experiencing leaking, as the moist breast pads may contribute to the development of thrush at the breast.See the “Thrush” section on the “Common Concerns” page for more information.
  5. Some parents have difficulty determining how often to breastfeed their baby and if they should wake them up to breastfeed.Many parents are unsure if they should let their baby sleep or wake the baby up for feeds in the first days.Cue-based feeding is suggested for breastfed babies, this refers to watching your baby for feeding cues and feeding your baby when he shows signs of hunger. Most babies will feed 8 or more times in 24 hours which includes day and night feeds.When to wake your baby for feed:In the first days, many babies will not wake on their own as they are tired and adjusting to the world outside of the uterus. For this reason it is suggested that if a baby does not wake on his own within 2-3 hours after breastfeeding, all parents should wake their babies. Parents may also have to work to keep their baby awake during feeds. Breast compressions during feeds can be helpful in keeping your baby actively feeding at the breast.When to use cue based feeding:Cue based feeding can occur when:
    1. the baby is waking on his own at least 8 times in 24 hours (every 2-3 hours)
    2. the baby cues to feed, stays awake at the breast, and shows signs of satisfaction after feeds
    3. the baby is having the number of wet and dirty diapers expected for his age (days old)
    4. the baby is gaining weight. For more information on cue based feeding, refer to the section “Reading Babies Cues” on the “The Early Days” page.
  6. The baby may cluster feed and may seem to be feeding “all the time” or for hours at a time.
  7. Mothers need rest as they are recovering from birth and getting their breastfeeding established.



You can help your baby learn to breastfeed by using these key skills right from the start:

  • Holding your baby skin-to-skin often.
  • Practice baby-led latching.
  • Follow your baby’s cues.
  • Breastfeed early after birth and breastfeed often.
  • Learn how to hand express colostrum.
  • Avoid soothers and bottles, which may affect the baby’s suckle.

Click here to watch a video on breastfeeding in the first few hoursPlease contact your local health unit for more information on breastfeeding services and resources.




Breastfeed your baby early after birth and often. Most babies will feed at least 8 times in 24 hours. Watch for and follow your baby’s cues. Your baby will tell you when he is ready and eager to feed. Your baby will show some signs called “feeding cues.”

Early cues: “I’m Hungry.”

  • Stirring and moving arms.
  • Mouth opening, yawning, or licking.
  • Hand-to-mouth movements.
  • Turning head from side to side.
  • Rooting and seeking to reach things with his mouth.

Mid cues: “I’m really hungry.”

  • Stretching.
  • Moving more and more.
  • Hand-to-mouth movements.
  • Sucking, cooing, or sighing sounds.

Late cues: “Calm me, then feed me.”

  • Crying.
  • Agitated body movements.
  • Colour turning red.

If your baby shows late feeding cues, it is time to calm your baby before feeding him. You can do this by:

  • Cuddling.
  • Skin-to-skin holding.
  • Talking or singing.
  • Stroking or rocking.

At the start of the feed, your baby will have shallow and quick sucks. When your milk starts to flow, the sucks will become deep and slow. You will notice a pause during the suck when your baby’s mouth opens the widest. Your baby will drink milk during this pause and you will probably hear or see his swallowing.

Click here to see what feeding cues look like:


Please contact your local health unit for more information on breastfeeding services and resources.