As a new mom, there are so many changes your body goes through, and it’s totally okay to be hesitant or unsure of what to expect. After all, you’re literally growing a new human! Many questions we receive from moms-to-be center around what breastfeeding feels like, especially for the first time. While experiencing ‘let down’ is different for every mama, we’ve done our best to help paint the picture of what those initial days and weeks will look like.
First thing’s first
Before breast milk production begins, you’ll nourish your baby with colostrum. Nicknamed ‘liquid gold’, colostrum is breast fluid packed with nutrients, white blood cells and immune-boosting properties. It also contains high levels of antibodies such as proteins that fight off bacteria and infections.
Aswe wrote about here, the timing varies from one mama to the other. More than likely, you’ll start producing colostrum in the third trimester. However, it could begin as early as the first trimester. Usually, if you’re in your third trimester and you squeeze your breasts, you’ll see some of this liquid gold exit your nipple.
Colostrum production usually lasts for about 2-5 days after giving birth. Then, you’ll get ‘transitional milk,’ which is a blend of colostrum and breast milk and sticks around for 10-14 days postpartum. After about the two-week mark, your regular breast milk comes in and it has a thinner texture to it.
Colostrum is easy to spot because of its light yellow color. It also tastes and smells a bit like buttermilk, with a thick texture. Some compare its consistency to that of blood. Colostrum is also higher in protein and lower in both sugar and fat. This combination makes colostrum easy to digest, which is extra helpful for babies whose guts are still immature.
When your milk is getting ready to come in, you’ll feel your breasts become heavy and full. You might start reaching for your nursing bra for a little better support. Your breasts might also feel more tender than normal. Another sign is that you might have some milk leakage—this is especially common during the night when you’re sleeping.
All the feels
Some moms describe feeling a tingling sensation or like there are needles touching their breasts. It could also be that you feel a sudden sense of fullness that seemingly comes out of nowhere. For those who experience mastitis, it could feel like there are marbles rolling around in your breast.
—Dionna, Lilu mom
My milk came in about 72 hours after having Zen and I honestly didn’t know what to do. It was extremely painful and my breasts literally just started “filling up.” My step-mom told me to go take a shower and to put my breasts under the hot water. It helped so much but that experience alone showed me just how little I knew about my milk, breastfeeding, and how to actually feed my son!
—Maria, Lilu mom
My milk came in about three days after my daughter was born. She was a preemie and was stuck in the NICU, so she had never had a chance to nurse. I remember coming home after visiting her at the hospital, feeling like my breasts were heavy and full of marbles. I couldn’t feel the marbles with my hands, but I could fill them inside my breasts, which was the weirdest feeling. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I figured I would just keep pumping every two hours, as the NICU nurses kept insisting. And sure enough I started to see milk actually accumulate at the bottom of my breast pump bottles, and the nurses started accepting it which was definitely a win (even if it was just 20 cc at a time).
Easing the pressure
Once you begin breastfeeding, you’ll feel an immediate sense of relief. Like anything, there will be a bit of a learning curve as you and your baby adjust to your new routine. Here are a few ways to ease the pressure of engorgement and soothe breast tenderness:
Empty your breasts
Easier said than done, we know, but this is a big reason why you feel full even after breastfeeding. It could be that your baby is not drinking enough of your milk or that you are overproducing for the nourishment needs of your baby. It doesn't happen as much if you are exclusively breastfeeding, but while pumping it’s helpful to really tune in to your body and make sure you feel comfortable afterward. This is a sign that you got all the milk out and you can ward off clogged ducts and mastitis.
Fully emptying your breasts helps you relieve engorgement, helps get all the milk out while pumping and lets you relax more easily while pumping. Our Lilu Massage bra will also help you pump up to 50% more milk per session, all while going hands-free.
Check your nips
In the early days of breastfeeding, your nipples give you a lot of information on how well your baby’s latching to your breast. If your nipples are cracked, blistered or scabbed, there’s most likely a latch problem. Lactation specialists can help with this, and many are available for virtual support.The same happens with ill-fittingflanges. If they are too big or too small, it will be uncomfortable and your skin will show signs that it is being pinched the wrong way.
Use hot and cold therapy
For example, you might put a warm, wet cloth on your breast before breastfeeding to encourage ‘let down’ and to get you in a more relaxed state. A warm shower or heading pad set to low are other alternatives. In between feedings, you can apply a cold compress (like a bag of frozen peas). An easy way to remember it is to use heat before feeding/pumping and cold after feeding/pumping.
Lilu is a Women’s Health company building tech-enabled devices to empower new moms. Our first product, the Lilu Massage Bra, mimics compression massage, so you can empty your breasts fully to establish, increase and maintain your milk supply. Pump up to 50% more milk each session, all while going hands-free.
The Lilu Massager + Bra is designed to make pumping moms’ lives easier. It works with your pump so that you can produce up to 50% more milk per pumping session completely hands-free. It enables you to actually get stuff done or simply relax while pumping. Reach your pumping goals, with Lilu.