The only goal of the game came from the boot of Arkadiusz Milik, who found the bottom corner from inside the penalty area, and Michael O'Neill's men must get something from their games against Germany and Ukraine to realistically have a chance of making the last 16.
From the opening whistle, Poland pushed the tournament debutants back into their own final third but Northern Ireland were doing an effective job when it came to closing down shots from their opponents.
It took 29 minutes for Poland to finally register an effort on target when Milik fired straight at Michael McGovern from distance but two minutes later, he should have found the back of the net from eight yards out but he could only clear the crossbar.
As half time grew closer, Bartosz Kapustka hooked a shot wide of the target but he came much closer with his next strike as McGovern pulled of a stunning intervention to tip his 20-yard volley over the bar.
Northern Ireland went through the first 45 minutes without having a shot on goal and they were made to pay for their lack of attacking intent when they fell behind shortly after the restart.
After being released down the right flank, Jakub Blaszczykowski pulled the ball back for Milik who found the bottom corner from 12 yards out.
Northern Ireland boss O'Neill had introduced both Stuart Dallas and Conor Washington to try to add a spark in the final third but the changes made them more open at the back and Blaszczykowski was not too far away with a low drive across the face of goal.
Such was Northern Ireland's desperation that Kyle Lafferty, who spent the game isolated in attack, attempted an overhead kick from the edge of the penalty area which drifted a few yards wide of the target.
Steven Davis almost added the final touch to a clever free kick from deep before Northern Ireland were reminded of Poland's threat at the other end when Grzegorz Krychowiak struck a thunderous shot marginally wide of the post.
That turned out to be the last chance of note for either side and Northern Ireland must now regroup before facing Ukraine on Thursday.