A-Z

Breastfeeding

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.

 

Her baby attached straight away and she remembers just holding him, feeling him and stroking him....

Her baby attached straight away and she remembers just holding him, feeling him and stroking him....

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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With, yes with the baby, just very amazing, it was magical really as, you know, as I say very, very young, just, just a few minutes really the, the midwife was, was amazing, very natural birth and, and then straight sort of latched on and he just took to the left side and that has remained a favourite that, that's his favourite side. And he just latched on straight away and I just remember just, just holding him and just feeling him, and stroking him and looking at him and just, you know, having that wonderful magical bonding experience and, and just that lovely sort of suckling feeling and I think he fed for, for quite some time and then just fell asleep, and I, it was, yes just very, very lovely, very calm and soothing so.

 

With the first breastfeed, she suddenly felt fulfilled. It was a spiritual experience for her.

With the first breastfeed, she suddenly felt fulfilled. It was a spiritual experience for her.

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I want to go, just a step back to that first breastfeed when, when your son was put on the breast and you were still being stitched up. I gather'

Mm-hm.

'from what you were saying it sounded like a magic moment?

Absolutely.

Can you explain, describe it to me?

No [laughs] I can't describe it at all, life.

Is that because we don't have words for it?

Yeah. Life clicked suddenly my purpose was fulfilled, suddenly the creature that had been sort of almost surreal inside me was real and suckling and drinking and I was nourishing and yeah it, it was very magic, it was special, it was spiritual, it was incredible, absolutely mind-blowing.

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.

 

Her first breastfeed was uncomfortable but then the baby fed every two to three hours for the...

Her first breastfeed was uncomfortable but then the baby fed every two to three hours for the...

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
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I do remember my first breastfeed and it wasn't entirely pleasant because the labour had been very long, I was very tired and I didn't really know what to do and I just remember the midwife taking the baby and holding my breast in one hand and the baby in the other hand and just putting the both of them together, and I didn't really know what was going on, and it was just quite a shock to have a baby to hold really I wasn't really think, watching what she was doing or thinking about what she was doing and it did hurt a little bit but you know the midwife said, 'Oh no that's fine, that's normal, it's because, you know, she's got a small mouth and your nipples are very tender yet, and that will sort itself out' so I didn't enjoy that very first breastfeed subsequently it became a bit easier in that first twenty-four hours I think, I don't know whether I was doing it correctly or not but it seemed to me a bit easier at first.

Do you remember how often you put her to the breast in that first twenty-four hour?

In the first twenty-four hours I'd read that you have to put the baby to the breast as often as possible, so I, I think I was doing it about every two to three hours, she was quite sleepy the first day so it, I did, I didn't I don't think I woke her up but it seemed to be quite often I think it was about two to three hours.

 

She woke to find her first baby in bed with her and tried to latch her on by herself. Thereafter...

She woke to find her first baby in bed with her and tried to latch her on by herself. Thereafter...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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They didn't try her straight after the birth because, I had an emergency section and, I had the shakes for probably about an hour afterwards, I think due to the anaesthetic. They didn't try then, no I just, remember, vaguely remember, coming round in the hospital bed, with her next to me and she was crying and giving it a go basically'

Was there'

'it's.

'somebody there to help you latch on'

No, no I just'

'that first time, you just'

'picked her up and'

'snuggled'

'tried.

'her close?

Yeah I just picked her up and tried and presumed I was doing the right thing.

And?

She fed, yes, yes, she was, it was sore, it was most uncomfortable and I wasn't sure I was doing it right, I did ask, I did ask the midwives and they were helpful, I think it was embarrassment as well, a lot on my part, for baring your boobs and having a baby there kind of thing and having somebody else messing around with you, it was so, no I don't, I wasn't, I wasn't very comfortable with it, and I think that's probably why I didn't stick with it very long, and I wasn't confident how much milk she was having and I think those are the age-old arguments for giving them a bottle and you knew how much they were drinking and, stuff like that and I didn't know enough, really.

The midwives, when they came round and visited like I said they did help, they did, I think one of them did try like latching [daughter] on and stuff like that, I think it was mainly lack of confidence on my part I really do. Whereas the second time the midwives were more hands-on, I was less, bothered, you don't, I don't think you care as much the second [laughs] time round it's like yes, fine and I was fine after I had him so he fed immediately, you know, probably like half an hour after he was born and that was it he just kicked in straightaway.

How was that, can you explain that sort of feeling, is it?

It was brilliant, it was really, yes, I really, I felt confident, he was obviously feeding, he was obviously satisfied, I didn't ever think [daughter] was satisfied, she was grizzly, I don't think she took to it and I think my nerves showed and that's probably why she didn't take to it and we never had a comfortable relationship while I was feeding her, whereas [son] from day, like I said from within half an hour of being born, in the recovery room he had a feed and it just kicked in from there so I never had a day's problem with it. I think he knew what to do as well, I thought he was quite competent, he knew what to do, he knew where to go and straightaway, you know, just put him.

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.

 

She had a caesarean section with her first baby and a water birth with her second, after which...

She had a caesarean section with her first baby and a water birth with her second, after which...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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I went for an ultrasound scan which estimated the baby was going to be ten and a half pounds or, four and a, four point six kilos or something. And they said “right you, you really can’t have this baby naturally, or at least you could but it’ll be dangerous so you have to have a caesarean or an induction tomorrow, but we recommend a caesarean”. So I hummed and hahed for all of one evening, I was really kind of put on the spot and went for a caesarean, so I had an elective caesarean, I didn’t have any labour at all, so I think in retrospect that wasn’t a particularly good start for things because I, I’d felt this was a bit sprung on me and I hadn’t expected to have to have a caesarean and I, certainly hadn’t expected to-to not have any labour at all, I mean one minute I was pregnant, the next minute a baby was pulled out of me and, you know, and then so they put the baby with me about, once I’d been sewn up and, sort of moved out of the operating theatre in to a kind of side room, they tried to get the baby on the breast, but it wasn’t really successful, I mean I don’t, I don’t think I really knew what to expect, you know, what it was for a baby to latch on I didn’t really know, but I got the feeling it wasn’t really working exactly. 

With baby number two, I’ve felt two things about that baby that when I was pregnant that, one that I did not want to have another caesarean as a matter of course, and secondly that I wanted the-the breastfeeding to go better this time and not to have all the kind of traumatic stuff about, you know, that we’d had with the first baby. So I was quite determined to have a natural birth and, for that reason I didn’t want to have the baby at hospital in the end and I had midwife, midwifery care rather than just consultant care that I’d had with the first baby. And, I think the support that I got from them helped me to feel more confident about breastfeeding as well when the baby arrived and in fact I did have a, a vaginal birth with the second baby, and that went really smoothly and it was a really much better experience than it had been first time round. And so when I had a water birth and I, when I’d had the baby the first thing I did more or less, once the baby, you know, had kind of opened her eyes and, was put her on the breast, and she just took it better, I won’t say perfectly, but she kind of knew what to do, whereas the first baby there’d been a big gap between when I’d had, when she’d been delivered and when, I’d actually first tried to feed her, plus it was not in a very nice environment the first time it was in the kind of brightly lit on a hospital trolley, whereas the second time it was, the lighting was dimmed, I was in a pool, I was just with two midwives and my husband, and it was a much, much calmer nicer atmosphere. And I also think my nipples had [laughs] been slightly pulled out or protruded, or whatever you wanna say, because I’d fed the other baby for as long as I did and I think that helped too. Also I knew better about how to position a baby and that sort of thing, and my midwives were really, really helpful this time. So she just kind of worked it out quicker and I was more confident, although I won’t say it was perfect because when I got back home I, I’d, ‘cause I didn’t have a home birth I had her in a birth centre, I still had problems thinking that, you know, the latch wasn’t quite right and, I was still a little bit worried so I, this time I thought ‘right I’m gonna get somebody who knows what they’re talking about round to my house’ like I had done the first time, so there was a woman in the local area who, who was a, ex-midwife and a breastfeeding counsellor and she came roun

 

Her baby took quite a while to suck after a caesarean birth.

Her baby took quite a while to suck after a caesarean birth.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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Well after I left the theatre, you know, they’d stitched me up and everything, I’d lost quite a lot of blood, I’d had a very big blood loss so I spent, I lost track of time, I don’t know how long I was in the recovery but it seemed like quite a long time and nobody had said, “We’ll try and feed your baby” or anything it was me that was lying there I said, “Shouldn’t I be trying, you know, shouldn’t I be thinking about trying to feed this baby now?” and they said, “Oh yes well there’s no hurry” and I was like, “Well, you know, I’d rather sooner than later” but he wasn’t interested at all he was just dozy and sleepy and no wonder, after [laughs] him being, being pulled from this nice cosy bed. Then the first, for about twenty-four hours he seemed to be able to latch on okay but he wouldn’t suck, just wouldn’t suck at all, and the longer that the time went on I was getting more and more worried, you know, ‘cause they lose weight very quickly and I was getting more and more worried about him not eating and being taken away [laughs] and fed formula. I seemed to be obsessed with them feeding my baby formula. And then I just kept trying every half an hour or so, of latching him on and I actually said to him, “Come on now you’ve got to suck, you’ve got to suck come on, you know, you’re doing a good job just suck, just suck” and he did, he did he got the hang of it and we haven’t looked back.
 
How long did that take him do you think?
 
Maybe thirty-six hours.Yeah from.
 
So quite a while?
 
Quite a while yes, quite a while
 

She insisted on skin-to-skin contact with her baby immediately after her caesarean section delivery.

She insisted on skin-to-skin contact with her baby immediately after her caesarean section delivery.

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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I was clued up that it was the only option as far as I was concerned. I was clued up about a lot of the mechanics and I was clued up about some of the things to bully staff about, like my son was born by emergency c-section and when we were going into theatre I said, “I want skin-to-skin straight after delivery” and they said, “There won’t be room.” I said, “There will be room, I’ll make room” they said “Oh no there won’t be room behind the curtain” I said “Oh yes there will be, I’m having skin-to-skin straight after the delivery” and I did have skin-to-skin straight after the delivery and he suckled in the Delivery Suite and I think the midwife was quite impressed with how bolshie I was being about it but to me it was just the most important thing in the world.
 
How did the surgeon take it?                                                                       
 
I don’t know [laughs] because I was saying all that to the midwife not to the surgeon. I think they were just more concentrating on sewing me up to be honest [laughs].
 
So, he was born and put straight…
 
Straight to the breast.
 
…on to your chest, straight to the breast?
 
and, and, and he suckled pretty much straight away.
 
 

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').

 

She was ill and unable to put her baby to her breast straight after birth which caused her to be...

She was ill and unable to put her baby to her breast straight after birth which caused her to be...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
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They'd given me medication to lower my blood pressure so after I delivered my daughter obviously I had her on my chest and at the back of my mind I remember advice being given, try and get the baby to feed, you know, to latch on straightaway. Well that didn't happen for three or four hours at least because my, with my pressure I was ill, I couldn't sit up I was going in and out sort of, not of consciousness but I was feeling sick and things, so my husband had to take over, in looking after my daughter and, I think we were in the delivery room for what four or five hours before going back up to the ward and it was near the end where somebody had come back into the room because they'd been quite busy that night, there had been thirteen deliveries and, I sort of said to the woman, you know, 'Can you help me, I'm trying to get my baby to latch on, I can't remember anything I've been told, don't know' so the woman, at the time, did quickly help and, you know, 'It might work might not', you know, so tryna remember now, she, my daughter did latch on but not for long or anything and then we were taken up to, to the ward.

How did you feel at that time with those four hours?

The four hours [sighs] I, I well, 'cause I was quite ill I was, you know, I wasn't feeling the best, and I just felt, I felt very pressurised that people had been saying, 'You have to do this quickly, if you don't do it quickly it's not going to work, your baby won't, you know, if you don't latch on quick enough your baby might struggle later on to feed' and things.

Who had said that to you?

You know, friends, you sort of read it in the literature, obviously in the literature it didn't say you don't do this, that and the next thing but it was, this is the, all the advice said that and it's, it's the back of your mind thinking that it hasn't, I haven't done this it's not working, I'm going to have problems later on, so, yeah feeling apprehensive, anxious at that point.

 

Her baby needed resuscitating and was given infant formula. She was concerned about not being...

Her baby needed resuscitating and was given infant formula. She was concerned about not being...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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With the second one, because there was complications I had to have an emergency C-Section, he wasn't breathing when he was born so, they just took him, took him away for an hour, I didn't know whether it was a boy or girl or if he was alive, and they were running around trying to resuscitate the baby but it took an hour after he was born, for him to latch onto the breast, but I was reading something which it said, 'Once a baby's born it's important that the first hour they latch on' so I was really like concerned that he wasn't gonna get onto the breast on time, because it says the first hour. And, so I, because they took him away I thought it was going to take hours and hours before they brought him back and when they did bring him back they said to me that his glucose was low so they had to give him fake milk, that's what I call it fake milk. So I didn't understand why they had to give him milk that wasn't from me basically, so I asked them, 'Why can't I give him breastmilk?' And they said it would be better for him if he had fake milk and I said, 'oh I think it would be better for him if he has his Mum's milk and I would like him to latch on because it's been an hour already as it is'. You know, it was getting a bit ridiculous and I really wanted him to latch on, so they just gave him to me and he latched on straightaway.

What sort of response did you get when you were strong and telling them what you wanted?

Well they just thought it was best, that he, they gave him fake milk and put him somewhere, and I thought it was best for him to stay with me and to have the breastmilk because everybody knows when a baby's sick breastmilk is the best thing to give them and that. It's good for everything, rashes [laughs], colds, so I always use breastmilk.

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.

 

After a quick birth and meconium in her waters, her baby did not want to feed. She says that she...

After a quick birth and meconium in her waters, her baby did not want to feed. She says that she...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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I had a very quick birth, my son was born very quickly and I nearly only really just made it into hospital [laughs], we went in an ambulance and he was born. He wasn't interested in feeding at all which I tried to feed him and obviously for my husband it was a completely new experience, completely because he hadn't been to any meetings he had, you know, I'd not, not really involved him in that really other than that I wanted to breastfeed and he we, yeah we, I tried to feed him first and he didn't he wasn't interested and it was, my son was born on Christmas Day so [laughs] I remember it vividly it was the day after, it was Boxing Day afternoon when my sisters came to visit, that actually no, it wasn't my sisters I think it was my husband's Granddad who was there and he wanted, and he suddenly wanted to feed and he fed, quite small, quite a small feed it wasn't very long and then I think he fed once more probably that night but he had a lot of mucus and he kept coughing, coughing that up and choking and gagging and I think he wasn't ready to feed because of that it was like he needed to get all of that up, but then we went home the day after Boxing Day and I remember feeding him probably before we came home I don't remember him feeding that much, in hospital but when we got home, the night, that night we got home he fed and he fed and he fed all night long and I can remember like yesterday sitting up in bed and I'm looking at my husband and saying, 'Well if this is parenthood we're never going to survive this?' [laughs] because we just sat up, I mean, he was, he was great, he sat up with me all night long and he just he just fed, obviously he was ready to feed and, I don't remember having any soreness or problems, sorry we.

Why do you think he wasn't ready to feed sooner? The mucus obviously but was there anything about the birth? Was it a medicated birth?

No, I had I didn't use any pain relief, well I used a tens machine but I think because it was very it was quite dramatic actually it was when I look back I always wish that we would have stayed home because he what happened my labour was it'd started my labour started very early in the morning and it was just niggles and then it was it was something like I think it was about two o'clock half past two when it suddenly kind of things got you know got going and then it got quite painful and we called the midwife 'cause at that time in our area midwives came to you and then when you were ready to go in the midwife went in with you and delivered you it, it was a really good system and, we asked them to come sooner than they were supposed to be so I don't think they left you for three or four hours and she came once she was only probably about ten minutes early than she was going to be, and she took one look at me and I think I was eight centimetres at that point and but leading up to that I I'd gone upstairs to the toilet and then I'd gone and I couldn't get back downstairs and I was sick on my bed I'd been sick and it was all very kind of scary because I just didn't 'cause for me I probably thought I'd got another twelve hours of labour I hadn't realised how soon, and the midwife came in and she checked me and she said, 'No, that's it, ambulance, we need to get you in now' but looking back I was in my bedroom I was on my bed and if we'd have stayed there another fifteen minutes then he could have been born at home so we went we went in the ambulance literally by the time I got downstairs the ambulance was here we went and, you know, got by the time just literally got to the delivery suite in time and he was born, now when at some obviously at some stage they'd noticed that there was some meconium in the water, in my waters and, so when he was born they had to, I don't know what they call it they had to suction him out so I think that might have made his throat sore

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.

 

Her baby was born with a cleft palate. She had him on her chest for skin-to-skin contact and put...

Her baby was born with a cleft palate. She had him on her chest for skin-to-skin contact and put...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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So your baby was then diagnosed as cleft palate?

Was diagnosed, yes so on delivery in the suite he was diagnosed as having a cleft palate.

What happened then? What did that mean to you two?

I've got, it's all a bit of a blur, I have images of him on my breast because that's the first thing I did after he came out and I think that was maybe even before the cord was cut I actually don't remember, but I've got these images of my baby on my breast, before which ah you could call it skin-to-skin. I mean, he never latched, he never could latch, he never had any suck, it wasn't even like he had a reduced suck, without a roof to his mouth there was no suction that he could create, no negative pressure. But I've got these beautiful images and I, I don't know whether that was before or after we found that he, that he couldn't, all I know was that I've got those photos because it was always my plan, as soon as my baby was born there was going to be wonderful skin-to-skin and then he would breastfeed [Sighs]. I mean it was to say a bombshell is not, you know, is nothing your world collapses in on you. My world I guess doubly collapsed in because not only was my world falling apart but my husband's was, and just to see the devastation on his face he, sometimes knowledge is not such a good thing, because with Pierre Robin comes with, often a lot of babies with this syndrome have a lot of other problems as well. We are very, very lucky, my son is perfect in every way except that he had no roof to his mouth when he was born and he has some hearing problems associated with that so he wears hearing aids now, but there is no other medical or physical problems, but we didn't know that at that time. So we were, it was all a blur and it was all heavy, and it was all dark, and it was very, very difficult. I had this incredible, immediate, intense bond with my baby and I'm so, lucky that happened and that we had that, and that was unquestionable and unshakable. But it was very, very hard for my husband because, that [sighs], it's difficult to say this because, he couldn't love my son more now but that wasn't a fren, a love that wasn't as instant because there was too much worry and too much stress going on in that early period. But I remember all I wanted was to have him here, when we would lie next to each other in the room it was interesting, you didn't, it was only four and a half years ago but you feel almost a bit guilty about having them out of the cot and with you, but when we, we'd curl up like, sat like spoons, him kind of in front of me it felt like he, I could almost feel that he was still in me that we were almost physically still connected. But I always felt I was being naughty and I should put him back in the cot, that sat by the side of the bed which is such a shame, but I did I was naughty on a number of occasions and we had special hugs. But it is interesting because the more I know now the more I realise the more skin-to-skin you can give your baby the more special it is for both of you.


 
Last reviewed November 2018.
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