Preparing to breastfeed
Learn steps you can take before and after birth to help breastfeeding go smoothly for you and your baby.
Prepare for breastfeeding before birth
- Get good prenatal care, which can help you avoid premature birth and a baby in the hospital after you go home. Premature babies (born before 39 weeks of pregnancy) have more problems with breastfeeding than full-term babies.1
- Tell your doctor about your plans to breastfeed, and ask if the place where you plan to deliver your baby has the staff and setup to support breastfeeding after childbirth. Some hospitals and birth centers have taken special steps to create the best possible environment for supporting breastfeeding. These places are called Baby-Friendly Hospitals and Birth Centers.
- Take a breastfeeding class. Pregnant women who learn about how to breastfeed are more likely to breastfeed than those who do not. Breastfeeding classes offer pregnant women and their partners the chance to prepare and ask questions before the baby's arrival.
- Ask your doctor to recommend a lactation consultant. You can establish a relationship with a lactation consultant before your baby comes so that you will have support ready after your baby is born.
- Talk to your doctor about your health. Discuss any breast surgery or injury you may have had. If you have depression, or are taking supplements or medicines, talk with your doctor about treatments that can work with breastfeeding.
- Tell your doctor that you would like to breastfeed as soon as possible after delivery. The sucking instinct is very strong within the baby's first hour of life.
- Talk to your doctor about your birth control options after delivery. Some types of birth control interfere with breastfeeding, but many do not.
- Talk to friends who have breastfed, or consider joining a breastfeeding support group.
- Get the items you may need for breastfeeding, such as nursing bras, covers, and nursing pillows.
Steps you can take right after birth to get you off to a great start breastfeeding
- Cuddle with your baby skin-to-skin right away after giving birth if you are both healthy.
- Breastfeed as soon as possible after giving birth.
- Ask for a lactation consultant to help you.
- Ask the hospital staff not to give your baby pacifiers, sugar water, or formula, unless it is medically necessary.
- Let your baby stay in your hospital room all day and night so that you can breastfeed often.
- Try not to give your baby any pacifiers or artificial nipples until he or she is good at latching on to your breast (usually around 3 to 4 weeks old).
Steps your partner can take to help support your breastfeeding
Talk to fathers, partners, and other family members about how they can help support your breastfeeding. Partners and family members can:
- Support your breastfeeding by being kind and encouraging
- Show their love and appreciation for all of the work that goes into breastfeeding
- Be good listeners if you need to talk about any breastfeeding concerns you might have
- Help make sure you have enough to eat and drink and get enough rest
- Help around the house
- Take care of any other children who are at home
- Give the baby love through playing, talking, and cuddling
Tips for breastfeeding success
- Learn your baby's hunger signs. Signs your baby may be hungry include:
- Becoming more alert and active
- Putting hands or fists to the mouth
- Making sucking motions with the mouth
- Turning the head to look for the breast
Crying can be a late sign of hunger, and it may be harder for the baby to latch if he or she is upset. Over time, you will be able to learn your baby's cues for when to start feeding.
- Follow your baby's lead. Some babies will feed from (or "take") both breasts, one after the other, at each feeding. Other babies take only one breast at each feeding. Help your baby finish the first breast as long as he or she is still sucking and swallowing. Your baby will let go of your breast when he or she is finished. Offer your baby the other breast if he or she seems to want more. If your baby falls asleep while nursing and you are worried he or she did not get enough milk, try switching to the other breast or squeeze your breast to encourage more milk to flow and wake up your baby. Learn how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
- Keep your baby close to you. Skin-to-skin contact between you and baby will soothe his or her crying and also will help keep your baby's heart and breathing rates stable. A soft carrier, such as a wrap, can help you "wear" your baby.
- Avoid nipple confusion. Do not use pacifiers and bottles in the first few weeks after birth unless there is a medical reason. If you need to use supplements, work with a lactation consultant. She can show you ways to give supplements that help you and your baby continue breastfeeding. These include feeding your baby with a syringe, a tiny tube taped beside your nipple, or a small, flexible cup. Try to give your baby expressed or pumped milk first.
- Make sure your baby sleeps safely and close by. Have your baby sleep in a crib or bassinet in your bedroom so that you can breastfeed more easily at night. Research has found that when a baby shares a bedroom with his or her parents, the baby has a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (called SIDS).1
1. Buckley, K.M., Charles, G.E. (2006). Benefits and challenges of transitioning preterm infants to at-breast feedings. International Breastfeeding Journal; 1(13): 1-13.