Pregnancy + Parenthood

Breastfeeding 101 for First-Time Moms and Nursing Parents

13 min read
Mom holding up her baby in the air to kiss her.
Mom holding up her baby in the air to kiss her.

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Welcome to parenthood! Maybe your baby is already here, maybe you’re counting down the days. But regardless, there’s one big to-do that dominates a lot of parent’s energy in those first few weeks: nursing.

As you’re gearing up for new parenthood and searching for answers, we’re here to guide you through your first-time nursing journey—and (wink, wink) highlight our postnatal multivitamin, which is formulated to support new nutrient demands on a mother for 6 months postpartum, and throughout lactation.*

“While breastfeeding/chestfeeding is a natural process, it can present challenges for many families,” explains Mari Wills, MS, RDN, IBCLC of Aloha Nutrition. “Focusing on the small wins can help create a positive outlook for a more confident nursing journey.”

What to Expect Breastfeeding in the First Few Weeks

Breastfeeding/chestfeeding can be an incredible way to connect with your newborn. But it can also be really, really hard. From difficulties latching to sore nipples and engorgement, it isn’t always sunshine and giggling babies.

Getting enough nutrients is important when you’re nursing or preparing to nurse. (2) So is knowing what you can expect.

“The first hour after birth is a key time to begin breastfeeding/chestfeeding because holding your baby skin-to-skin can help babies to feel calm, helps stabilize their body temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and encourages them to start latching onto the breast on their own,” Mari explains. “This early cuddle time can really improve your breastfeeding/chestfeeding journey by promoting milk production and helping your baby latch on well from the start.”

The First Few Days of Breastfeeding

Just before childbirth, the mammary glands produce colostrum. Colostrum is a precursor to breast/chest milk, but it’s thicker, yellow, and more nutrient-rich to support babies in the early days. 2-5 days later, “transitional” milk comes in, and stays for the next two weeks. (3)

There’s no pressure to formally establish a feeding routine. In the early days, babies need to eat every 1-3 hours. This often means waking them up. You may nurse for about 10-15 minutes per breast/side of the chest. (4) Most of the time, they’ll let you know when they’re hungry and when they’re done. (5)

Hunger signs can include:
• Head moving from side to side
• Opening and closing their mouth
• Putting their hand or fist by their mouth
• Making a sucking motion with their lips
• Nuzzling the breasts/chest

Full signs can include:
• Unlatching from the breast/chest
• Turning away
• Relaxing their body
• Opening their fists

Frequent nursing in the days after childbirth can help keep up your milk supply.

The First Few Weeks of Feeding

From 10-15 days postpartum and on, milk production leads to “mature” milk. (3)

In the first few weeks of feeding, your baby may want to “cluster” feed or nurse more frequently. This might happen in the evenings or during growth spurts. It’s important to follow your baby’s lead. (6)

Getting Your Baby to Latch

Getting your baby to latch is a challenge for a lot of nursing parents. There are a few steps you can take to make sure your baby gets a good latch (7):

• Brush your baby’s lips with your nipple so they open their mouth wide.
• Point your nipple above your baby’s top lip.
• Try to make sure the base of your nipple is aimed away from your baby’s lower lip.
• Check out your baby’s placement. They should have their lips turned outwards like they’re making a fish face. They should lean toward your breast/chest with their chin first, latch on, and then have your breast/chest filling their mouth.

A good latch will be comfortable and pain-free. You should see signs of swallowing. If you can’t get a good latch, try doing skin-to-skin contact and then letting your baby find your nipple with their mouth. If you continue having trouble, talk to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant. They’re there to support you!

Making Sure Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk

If only newborns could talk… but since they can’t, here’s what to look out for to ensure they’re getting enough milk (8):

• They lose less than 7% of their birth weight before putting weight back on. (Losing weight is common in the first five days after birth.) (9)
• They have 1-2 blackish, tarry bowel movements on days 1-2, at least two more greenish or yellowish stools on days 3-4, and 3-4 yellow and loose stools on days 5-7. After that and through the first month, there should be one stool per feed.
• They have six or more wet diapers every day with pale yellow urine by days 5-7.
• They seem satisfied for 1-3 hours between feedings.
• They nurse 8-12 or more times every 24 hours.

Common Breastfeeding Challenges

If you find nursing to be a challenging experience, you’re in very good company. These are some of the more common issues you may encounter. (10)

“The most common nursing issues I've encountered while working at Aloha Nutrition are nipple pain and worries about not having enough milk,” Mari says. “Working with an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) can help families learn latching and positioning techniques. If you're stressed about not making enough milk, an IBCLC will help identify the root cause of the low milk supply.”

Sore Nipples or Breastfeeding Pain

Once you and your baby have gotten into a good rhythm, nursing should be comfortable and pain-free. If you have continued discomfort:

• Make sure your baby has more than just the nipple in their mouth.
• Check in with the latch.
• Try switching positions each time you nurse.
• Moisturize cracked nipples using a few drops of your milk, nursing ointment (lanolin), and letting your nipples air dry or wearing a soft cotton shirt after nursing.
• Wear well-fitting bras and clothing that aren’t too tight around the breasts/chest.
• Frequently change nursing pads.
• Only wash your breasts/chest with water.
• Talk to your healthcare provider about non-aspirin pain medication if you need it.
• Reach out to your healthcare provider or lactation consultant for support.

Low Milk Supply

Many nursing parents have concerns about low milk supply. But if your baby is gaining weight as expected, they’re getting enough milk.

If you don't think you're producing enough milk:

• Check in with your baby’s latching and positioning.
• Nurse frequently and follow your baby’s lead on when to end.
• Offer both of your breasts/sides of your chest every time you nurse.
• Avoid introducing other ways of feeding your baby (unless you’ve decided to do combination feeding). When possible, you can try pumping extra milk to supplement.
• If the issue continues, talk to your healthcare provider about possible underlying causes.

Milk Oversupply

On the flip-side, producing too much milk can also be distressing and uncomfortable.

If you have this issue, try:

• Nurse on one side each time you feed your baby. Offer that same side for at least two hours. Then, gradually increase the length of time you nurse each time you nurse.
• Hand express your breast/chest for a few moments if it’s uncomfortably full between nursing times.
• Use a cold compress or washcloth to help with discomfort.
• Nurse your baby before they get too hungry so you can avoid more intensive sucking.
• Burp your baby as often as you need. Doing that has the added benefit of leaving more space for milk.


Breasts/chests become fuller and tender when milk production starts. Sometimes, though, this can lead to engorgement. Engorgement is caused by a build-up of milk, and it’s common around 3-5 days after childbirth.

Signs of engorgement include swelling, tenderness, warmth, redness, throbbing, flattened nipples, and a low-grade fever. Engorgement can also lead to clogged ducts.

You can try to prevent engorgement by:

• Nursing frequently and letting your baby feed for as long as they want to.
• Working with a lactation consultant to address any issues.
• Nursing on the engorged side to relieve the buildup.
• Avoiding pacifiers or bottles until about 3-4 weeks.
• Hand expressing or pumping to soften the breast/chest before nursing.
• Doing reverse pressure softening to soften the areola around the base of the nipple and help your baby latch.
• Massaging the breast/chest.
• Using a cold compress between feedings to help with discomfort.
• Pumping when you would be nursing if you’re at work or otherwise away from your baby more often.
• Wearing a supportive bra that isn’t too tight.
• Eating, hydrating, and sleeping well (or, as well as you can.)

Plugged or Clogged Ducts

Plugged or clogged ducts are common. They’re caused by milk ducts not fully draining. Pressure can build up and the area can become irritated. You might notice a tender and sore lump in your breast/chest.

If you think you might have a plugged or clogged duct, try:

• Nursing on the side with the clogged duct every two hours.
• Aiming your baby’s chin toward the clog.
• Massaging the area in a circular motion, starting from the sore spot and moving toward the nipple.
• Using a warm compress on the sore spot.
• Relaxing and getting more rest.
• Wearing a supportive bra that isn’t too tight.
• Reach out to a lactation consultant if clogged ducts keep coming back.

Nipple Size and Shape

Everyone’s nipples are different! But sometimes nipples temporarily flatten with engorgement. Having flat, inverted, or very large nipples can make it harder to nurse. Flat and inverted nipples may begin to stick out more over time.

If your nipples are making it difficult to nurse, try:

• Reaching out to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.
• Pulling out your nipples with your fingers or using a helpful device.
• Giving it time. Latch can improve the more you nurse. As long as you have enough milk production, the latch doesn’t have to be perfect to ensure your baby’s eating enough.

Nursing Strike

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, babies may stop or get fussy around nursing. This could mean they’re trying to communicate an issue like pain, illness, or infection.

If getting your baby to nurse becomes really difficult, try:

• Hand expressing or pumping at the same cadence you were nursing to reduce the chances of engorgement and clogged ducts.
• Temporarily using another feeding method, like a cup, dropper, or spoon.
• Track wet and dirty diapers to confirm your baby’s eating enough.
• Continuing to offer your breast/chest. Stop if they get frustrated and try again later, like when they’re sleepy.
• Nursing in positions that allow for skin-to-skin contact.
• Nursing while rocking your baby in a quiet and distraction-free space.
• Giving your baby extra comfort and cuddles.


New parenthood can be overwhelming. It’s also not a time that is exactly known for quality sleep. But being exhausted can contribute to a lot of the challenges you may face when nursing. Remember to take care of yourself in addition to your baby. Sleep when your baby sleeps, and lean on loved ones when you need support.

Breastfeeding Tips & Tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for readying your body and your life for the realities of nursing.

Returning to Work

An estimated 4 in 10 new birthing parents work outside the home. (11) If you’re part of the majority of parents who work, whether virtually or in person, your feeding routine will likely change.

La Leche League International recommends the following things when preparing to go back to work (12):

• Plan ahead: Think in advance about how long you can stay away from work, how you can make your workdays more flexible, and whether or not you’ll need childcare.

• Make your workplace as pump-friendly as possible: This could include finding out if there’s a space for pumping, refrigeration options, and what the policies are for pump breaks.

• Start pumping and storing: After you’ve been nursing for a few weeks, you may notice that you still feel fullness after feedings. Pump after 1-2 of those feedings to collect milk for the first bottle. Freeze the milk and add more as you collect it.

• Estimate how much pumped milk your baby will need: You may get a total or range of ounces based on your baby’s weight. Divide the total or low end of the range by how many times you typically nurse in 24 hours. Store that amount for the first bottle. Store a few smaller amounts in case your baby gets hungry between typical feeding times.

• Get ready for the first bottle: Once you have enough milk stored for a bottle, plan when you want to introduce it. Thaw the amount for the first bottle overnight in the fridge. When you notice your baby stirring, warm up the bottle in a bowl of bath-temperature water or in a bottle warmer. Your baby may be more willing to accept the bottle from someone other than you. Have someone go change your baby’s diaper and get them ready to eat. Consider running the bottle’s nipple under warm water so your baby’s more likely to take it.

• Introduce the first bottle: Have the person giving your baby the bottle hold them in an upright position, almost like they’re sitting. Direct them to angle the bottle so the nipple fills up with milk but the baby can control the flow. They should tickle the baby’s mouth with the nipple and then move them up toward it, while aiming the nipple toward the top of your baby’s mouth. Stay nearby but not in the same room. You can give the person who’s bottle feeding something that smells like you to comfort your baby.

• Pump enough for another bottle plus a little extra: Keep this pattern up until there’s enough to get your baby through a workday and some extra milk just in case.

• Make sure you have everything you need: It’s also important to plan ahead in terms of what you’ll wear to make pumping possible at work and how you’ll make time for pumping. Do a practice run if you need to.

• Prepare for the separation: Separating from your baby for the first time can be really difficult. Take time to connect with your baby in the mornings, check in when you can, and bring a photo or video of your baby to work. That photo or video may be a comfort to you, and you can look at it while you’re pumping. Spend as much time in the evenings with your baby as you can.

Support Your Nutritional Needs During Lactation

When you’re producing milk and nursing, your body needs more nutrients to keep up. Our Essential Postnatal Multivitamin is formulated to help support those increased needs during lactation.*

Taking our Natal Choline while nursing can help support choline intake which has been shown to increase choline content in breast milk, which is delivered from you to your baby.*

What’s more? Our Essential Protein Pregnancy & Postpartum includes 250mg of choline and 20g of pea protein to help support the increased nutrient demands during pregnancy and lactation.*

Connect With a Lactation Consultant

Whether you have questions or concerns about nursing or pumping, lactation consultants are the ultimate experts.

Find a lactation consultant near you through USLCA’s Find An IBCLC® Directory or La Leche League.

Is It Ok to Not Breastfeed?

It’s 100% OK to nurse or not nurse. In some cases, health conditions can make nursing not an option. (13) If trying to nurse is causing too much stress, choosing another way to feed your baby might be best for you both. Some people simply don’t want to nurse — and that’s okay.

All of these are perfectly valid reasons to choose not to nurse, or to opt for exclusive pumping or combination feeding instead of exclusive breastfeeding. Making sure your baby is fed, healthy, and happy is all that matters.

Understanding what you can expect while nursing and what resources you’ll want on hand can add some clarity to the uncertainty. Know that Ritual can support you in one very important way: increased nutrient demands in lactation. We’ve got you covered with our Postnatal Multivitamin, Essential Protein, and Natal Choline).*

  1. “Newfound Brain Circuit Explains Why Infant Cries Prompt Milk Release.” NYU Langone News.

  2. “How a Healthy Diet Helps You Breastfeed.”

  3. “The Phases of Breast Milk | WIC Breastfeeding.”

  4. “Breastfeeding Basics | WIC Breastfeeding.”, 2019.

  5. “Baby’s Hunger Cues | WIC Breastfeeding.”

  6. “Cluster Feeding and Growth Spurts | WIC Breastfeeding Support.”

  7. “Steps and Signs of a Good Latch | WIC Breastfeeding.”, 2019.

  8. “How to Tell If Your Breastfed Baby Is Getting Enough Milk.”

  9. “First Month: Physical Appearance and Growth.”

  10. “Common Breastfeeding Challenges |”, 27 Aug. 2018.

  11. “Supporting Nursing Moms at Work.”, 12 July 2018.

  12. “Working and Breastfeeding - La Leche League International.” La Leche League International, 17 Apr. 2023.

  13. CDC. “When Breastfeeding or Feeding Expressed Milk Is Not Recommended.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Dec. 2019.

Meet the Author

This article was written by our content specialist.

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs, Copywriter and Editor

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is a New York-based writer and editor of words dealing with reproductive and mental health. She is in the process of getting a master's in community health from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs, Copywriter and Editor

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is a New York-based writer and editor of words dealing with reproductive and mental health. She is in the process of getting a master's in community health from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.


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