The first breastfeed

Every woman's experience of the first time they put their baby to the breast was unique. For some of the women we spoke to the baby latched on straight away and automatically seemed to know what to do. For these women, it was an emotional experience and they described it and their feelings using words such as 'amazing', 'awesome', 'wonderful', 'magical', 'special', 'fantastic', 'extraordinary', 'lovely', 'happy', 'natural', 'powerful', 'instinctive', 'fulfilling', 'spiritual', 'incredible', 'absolutely mind-blowing', 'brilliant', 'satisfying', 'wow', 'proud', 'protective', 'extremely thankful', 'very calm' and 'soothing'. For some women the first breastfeed was not particularly memorable though not unpleasant, especially if they were ill themselves or tired or medicated after a difficult birth experience (see the section on - Managing breastfeeding and 'Dealing with difficult times'). One woman said that she thought it was her duty to breastfeed and that she had done the right thing by her daughter and another was surprised that she was able to breastfeed so soon after birth.

For other women, the first breastfeed 'wasn't entirely pleasant' or it was 'disappointing'. Sometimes the baby was reluctant to feed and the mother needed extra help to get him/her to attach/latch-on. In a few cases, it was the mother who was reluctant to feed her baby at first (see 'Support from hospital staff'). Some women weren't comfortable with the midwife's hands-on approach (see 'Going home with a breastfed baby' and 'Emotional & psychological aspects of breastfeeding') and some were embarrassed about exposing their breasts. Sometimes the women were left alone with their newborn and didn't know what to do.

The birth experience and the health of both the mother and baby influenced the mother's experience of the first breastfeed, especially if she'd had a caesarean section.

Some women were ill and required extra nursing care or recovery time and some babies were ill and were admitted to the neonatal nursery, resulting in separation of mother and baby (see 'When extra care is needed for mother and/or baby'). This often increased the mother's anxiety levels, especially when she had planned on skin-to-skin contact with her baby and wanted to breastfeed as soon as possible after birth, or when the baby was given infant formula (see 'Dealing with difficult times').

Sometimes the baby was sleepy, especially after a difficult or medicated birth, and not interested in breastfeeding straight away. One woman found out later that it was quite normal for a baby not to want to breastfeed straight away.

Women with very sick babies who required intensive care, or with special need babies, were very appreciative of the chance to spend private time with their newborn straight after birth and to attempt the first breastfeed, saying that it was a very important time for them to bond with their baby.

Last reviewed November 2018.


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