Breastfeeding after birth should happen immediately! The first hour after birth is a critical time to establish milk supply and support breastfeeding.
Sometimes when mommy and baby don’t establish the first early feeding successfully, they can have breastfeeding difficulties.
So learn all about this magic hour after birth to establish breastfeeding right from the start! And read all the way to the bottom for an ESSENTIAL tip to make the magic hour a success.
So what is the magic hour?
Studies show that ALL babies after delivery follow the same 9 steps! It’s pretty amazing that babies have the same instinct to know what to do.
It’s a natural process and shouldn’t be interrupted… but that’s not always the case in a hospital. The baby will start each of the 9 stages on their own until they successfully breastfeed after birth.
Don’t try to force your baby to nurse! It’s important they establish these steps naturally.
Baby should be placed on mommy’s chest immediately after delivery. Then the magic happens. Here’s what to expect.
9 Steps In The Magic Hour Of Breastfeeding After Birth
1. Birth Cry
This is what most people think of when imagining a delivery. The first thing baby does is cry… loud and shrill. The birth cry is a good sign and important for baby to do.
They need to adapt to the outside world, and until this point have been receiving oxygen from the umbilical cord. Their lungs were filled with amniotic fluid, and the birth cry is the first time the baby’s lungs fill with air. They must clear out excess fluid from their lungs and airway in order to breathe adequately.
The next step is relaxation, and what a wonderful feeling! After the birth cry in the first few minutes, baby should relax onto their mommy’s chest. Skin to skin is VERY important during this time because mommy will regulate her baby’s temperature.
Mothers of twins will actually regulate each twin’s temperature individually. If both twins are placed on her chest, each breast will become a different temperature to help regulate each baby.
Around 3 minutes after birth, the baby will open their eyes, start to move their mouth and wiggle around. Take this time to make eye contact with your baby!
In these first few minutes after birth, oxytocin is released and making eye contact increases it even more. Oxytocin is essential to the establishment of breastfeeding. Just allow your baby to move around, and don’t try to force them to the breast.
The next stage occurs around 8 minutes after birth. Baby’s eyes open, and they start to move around more.
You will notice baby’s first hunger cues – they will start to salivate, root around, put their hands in their mouth, stick their tongue out, and massage your breasts with their hands.
Notice how the first 4 stages didn’t end with a nursing!
This is okay. Baby needs to rest. In fact, rest can happen during or between any of the 9 steps. Don’t be discouraged. It can take up to 2 hours for the baby to successfully follow all 9 steps and find the breast to successfully start breastfeeding after birth.
The rest periods are important for your baby, so please don’t interrupt them (I know it’s hard if you’re ready to start breastfeeding). Rest consolidates memory and is very important in the first few hours after delivery.
The next step towards breastfeeding after birth is baby becoming more active. It starts around 30 minutes after birth. Baby starts trying to find the breast.
They crawl, push, slide and leap across mommy’s chest! It isn’t the most coordinated movement in the world, but they sure do move.
After the crawling phase around 40 minutes after birth, the baby will start to familiarize them-self with the breast. Baby will locate the nipple through a very beautiful process.
The Montgomery glands located in your breast’s areola secrete a substance that smells identical to your amniotic fluid. As the baby sucks on ans smells their hands, they sense the same smell coming from their mommy’s nipple! The baby instinctively knows where to go in order to nurse.
During the familiarization process, baby will continue making movements with their mouth. They will lick your nipple, massage your breast, make cute baby sounds, suck on their hands and move their lips. This process could last 20 minutes or more!
Yay! Long awaited, your baby will finally latch and start to suckle.
This usually happens around 1 hour after birth. Your baby will locate your nipple, self-attach, and suckle.
Again, breastfeeding after birth happens naturally so don’t try to force your baby before they’re ready. You can support your baby through the process by placing your hand on their back or shoulders to stabilize them. But still allow them to move freely. Don’t place your hand on baby’s has because they need to freely move their head to self-attach.
The final step in breastfeeding after birth is sleep! Usually 1.5 to 2 hours after birth, baby falls into a deep sleep.
Until this moment, baby should be on your chest skin-to-skin to allow the breastfeeding process after birth to complete.
The hospital staffcan do most things skin-to-skin, and some procedures can be delayed (like bathing your baby). Usually skin-to-skin is easy to accomplish at a birthing center. For those brave moms that have home births, these 9 steps should be able to happen uninterrupted!
One Important Thing To Consider
Something to consider that might affect breastfeeding after birth… tell the nurses to wait before putting in the antibiotic eyedrops UNLESS there is a known risk for gonorrhea. It’s standard procedure to administer antibiotic eyedrops after birth because if the baby is exposed to gonorrhes, they can go blind.
However, the eyedrops can be declined or delayed if you aren’t at risk for gonorrhea.
Why is this important?
Because the baby needs to use their eyes in order to make eye contact with their mommy and locate her nipple! It’s an essential part of the process.
In Conclusion: Breastfeeding – First Feeding After Birth
These 9 steps in the magical hour can lead to successful breastfeeding after birth! Not all situations allow these steps to happen though. Premature delivery, low Apgar scores, and medicated mommies can cause barriers to skin-to-skin and breastfeeding after birth.
Don’t be discouraged! With support and persistance those obstacles can be overcome and lead to a beautiful breastfeeding experience.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.