Get the Scoop on the Benefits of Breastfeeding Right After Birth

Breastfeeding right after birth has long-term benefits for your baby's health and your success at breastfeeding. See why you should get started right away.

Breastfeeding provides tremendous benefit right after birth—for both the infants and the new moms. But not everyone knows that breastfeeding should happen right away, or how it's best done: That's why Jane Morton, M.D., a national breastfeeding expert, released a video detailing both the benefits and the best practices for that very first breastfeeding moment. Check out her advice—both in the video and in our Q&A.

Fit Pregnancy: After giving birth, does a baby usually need a bit of guidance to make her way toward the breast?

Jane Morton, M.D.: I think a lot of times new mothers come into the hospital and they expect that either the baby or the hospital or someone on the staff is going to take care of breastfeeding for them, and that they really don’t need the breastfeeding class. They feel dependent on the system or nature to do it for them. I think that’s where people get into trouble. Whether a baby can automatically do a “breast crawl” depends on a few factors: One of the big ones is "Is this a C-section baby or this a vaginal baby?" A C-section baby has literally gone through an operation. If you look at totally healthy term babies who were born vaginally, 88 percent within one hour will be able to crawl to that breast. Not necessarily take a full feeding—they’re just barely latching on. C-section babies, only 11 percent of those babies will [be able to do a breast crawl].

FP: How can early breastfeeding help moms?

JM: The most common reason that mothers give up on breastfeeding is not having enough milk. That’s the factor that most strongly associates with how long mothers breastfeed and how exclusively mothers breastfeed. How much milk you make depends on how you phone in your order in the first few days. The reason a pump doesn’t work in the first three days is because that milk is too thick—it’s hard to suck it out, but it’s easy to massage it out.

FP: Can women expect someone in the delivery room—whether it’s a doctor or a nurse—to remind them to breastfeed right away or walk them through the process at all?

JM: If they’re lucky. What I would advise them to do is watch the video. That’s why I made it. They’re not going to get a lactation consultant in the delivery room—you have no idea what’s going to happen when you walk in to deliver. You might end up with a C-section. If you end up with a C-section, you’re not going to have your lactation consultant allowed to come into the operating room.

FP: What are the biggest benefits for babies who are breastfed within the first hour of life?                                                                                                                                            

JM: Let me just say this: The milk they get in the beginning is very small quantities very frequently. That thick milk in the beginning is not very nutritional, but what is is like a vaccination. It is the most protective thing you could possibly do. It turns on the baby’s own immune system, the baby’s own ability to fight inflammation and infection is turned on, which is critical. You really see the most difference in the most vulnerable babies, but it’s absolutely there in term babies as well.

FP: Do you think most moms are aware that they should be breastfeeding right away—or do you think most women go through pregnancy without understanding that?

JM: I think it’s the latter. Everybody sort of has the idea of "the first thing is called giving birth and the second thing you do later, which is called breastfeeding." What we’ve learned is the longer you wait between the birth and the first feeding, the more problems you’re going to have with breastfeeding.