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Learning to breastfeed

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How can I prepare for breastfeeding before I give birth?

To prepare for breastfeeding, the most important thing you can do is have confidence in yourself and to plan ahead. Committing to breastfeeding starts with the belief that you can do it!

Other steps you can take to prepare for breastfeeding are:

  • Get good prenatal care, which can help you avoid early delivery. Babies born too early have more problems with breastfeeding.
  • 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 successful breastfeeding. Some hospitals and birth centers have taken special steps to create the best possible environment for successful 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 be successful at breastfeeding 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 the baby comes so that you will have support ready after the 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 friends who have breastfed, or consider joining a breastfeeding support group.
  • Talk to fathers, partners, and other family members about how they can help you successfully breastfeed. 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 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 and cuddling
  • Get the items you will need for breastfeeding, such as nursing bras, covers, and nursing pillows.

What can I do after birth if I want to breastfeed?

After you have your baby, the following steps can help you get off to a great start breastfeeding:

  • Cuddle with your baby skin-to-skin right away after giving birth.
  • Breastfeed as soon as possible after giving birth.
  • Ask for an IBCLC 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 to avoid giving your baby any pacifiers or artificial nipples until he or she is skilled at latching on to your breast (usually around 3 to 4 weeks old).

How can I help my baby get a good latch while learning to breastfeed?

Getting your baby to "latch" on properly takes some practice and can be a source of frustration for you and your baby. One approach to learning to breastfeeding is a more relaxed, baby-led latch. Sometimes called biological nurturing, laid-back breastfeeding, or baby-led breastfeeding, this style of breastfeeding allows your baby to lead and follow his or her instincts to suck.

The steps below can help your newborn latch on to the breast to start sucking when he or he is ready. Letting your baby begin the process of searching for the breast may take some of the pressure off of you and keeps the baby calm and relaxed.

Keep in mind that there is no one way to start breastfeeding. As long as the baby is latched on well, how you get there is up to you.

  • Create a calm environment first. Recline on pillows or other comfortable area. Make sure you are relaxed and calm.
  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin. Hold your baby, wearing only a diaper, against your bare chest. Hold the baby upright between your breasts and just enjoy your baby for a while with no thoughts of breastfeeding.
  • Let your baby lead. If your baby is not hungry, he will stay curled up against your chest. If your baby is hungry, he will bob his head against you, try to make eye contact, and squirm around.
  • Support your baby, but don't force the latch. Support his head and shoulders as he searches for your breast. Avoid the temptation to help him latch on.
  • Allow your breast to hang naturally. When your baby's chin hits your breast, the firm pressure makes her open her mouth wide and reach up and over the nipple. As she presses her chin into the breast and opens her mouth, she should get a deep latch. Keep in mind that your baby can breathe at the breast. The nostrils flare to allow air in.

If you have tried the "baby-led" approach and your baby is still having problems latching on, try these tips:

  1. Tickle the baby's lips with your nipple to encourage him or her to open wide.
  2. Pull your baby close so that the baby's chin and lower jaw moves in to your breast.
  3. Watch the lower lip and aim it as far from the base of the nipple as possible so that the baby takes a large mouthful of breast.

1. Tickle the baby's lips to encourage him or her to open wide. 2. Pull your baby close so that the baby's chin and lower jaw moves onto your breast. 3. Watch the lower lip and aim it as fas from the base of the nipple as possible so that the baby takes a large mouthful of breast.

Click on the start button for a demonstration:

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What are signs of a good latch in breastfeeding?

Signs of a good latch include the following:

  • The latch feels comfortable to you and does not hurt or pinch.
  • Your baby's chest rests against your body. Your baby does not have to turn his or her head while drinking.
  • You see little or no areola (the darker skin around the nipple), depending on the size of your areola and the size of your baby's mouth.
  • When your baby is positioned well, his or her mouth will be filled with breast.
  • The baby's tongue is cupped under the breast so you might not see the baby's tongue.
  • You hear or see your baby swallow. Some babies swallow so quietly that a pause in their breathing may be the only sign of swallowing.
  • You see the baby's ears "wiggle" slightly.
  • Your baby's lips turn outward like fish lips, not inward. You may not even be able to see the baby's bottom lip.
  • Your baby's chin touches your breast.

What are some common breastfeeding latch problems?

Below are some common latch problems and how to deal with them.

  • Are you in pain? Many moms say their breasts feel tender when they first start breastfeeding. A mother and her baby need time to find comfortable breastfeeding positions and a good latch. If breastfeeding hurts, your baby may be sucking on only the nipple, and not also on the areola (the darker skin around the nipple).

    Gently break your baby's suction to your breast by placing a clean finger in the corner of your baby's mouth. Then try again to get your baby to latch on. To find out if your baby is sucking only on your nipple, check what your nipple looks like when it comes out of your baby's mouth. Your nipple should not look flat or compressed. It should look round and long or the same shape as it was before the feeding.

    Get answers to common questions about breastfeeding and pain.
  • Are you or your baby frustrated? Take a short break and hold your baby in an upright position. Try holding your baby between your breasts with your skin touching his or her skin (called skin-to-skin). Talk or sing to your baby, or give your baby one of your fingers to suck on for comfort. Try to breastfeed again in a little while.
  • Does your baby have a weak suck or make only tiny sucking movements? Your baby may not have a deep enough latch to suck the milk from your breast. Gently break your baby's suction to your breast by placing a clean finger in the corner of your baby's mouth. Then try to get your baby to latch on again. Talk with a lactation consultant or pediatrician if you are not sure if your baby is getting enough milk. But don't worry. A weak suck is rarely caused by a health problem.
  • Could your baby be tongue-tied? Babies with a tight or short lingual frenulum (the piece of tissue attaching the tongue to the floor of the mouth) are described as "tongue-tied." The medical term is ankyloglossia. These babies often find it hard to nurse. They may be unable to extend their tongue past their lower gum line or properly cup the breast during a feed. This can cause slow weight gain in the baby and nipple pain in the mother. If you think your baby may be tongue-tied, talk to your doctor.

How often should I breastfeed?

You should breastfeed as soon as possible after giving birth. Then, breastfeed your baby at least eight to 12 times every 24 hours so that you will make plenty of milk. This means that in the first few days after birth, your baby will likely need to breastfeed about every one to two hours during the day and a few times at night.

Healthy babies develop their own feeding patterns. Follow your baby's cues for when he or she is ready to eat.

How long should feedings be?

There is no set time for feedings. They may be 15 to 20 minutes per breast. Or, they may be shorter or longer. Your baby will let you know when he or she is finished feeding. If you worry that your baby is not getting enough milk, talk to your baby's doctor. Use our Feeding Chart (PDF, 110 KB) to write down how often your baby wants to eat.

What are some typical breastfeeding holds?

Some moms find that the following positions are helpful ways to get comfortable and support their babies while breastfeeding. You also can use pillows under your arms, elbows, neck, or back to give you added comfort and support. Keep trying different positions until you are comfortable. What works for one feeding may not work for the next feeding.

Cradle hold — An easy, common hold that is comfortable for most mothers and babies. Hold your baby with his or her head on your forearm and his or her body facing yours.

Cross-cradle or transitional hold — Useful for premature babies or babies with a weak suck because this hold gives extra head support and may help the baby stay latched. Hold your baby along the area opposite from the breast you are using. Support your baby's head at the base of his or her neck with the palm of your hand.

Clutch or "football" hold — Useful if you had a C-section, or if you have large breasts, flat or inverted nipples, or a strong let-down reflex. This hold is also helpful for babies who like to be in a more upright position when they feed. Hold your baby at your side with the baby lying on his or her back and with his or her head at the level of your nipple. Support your baby's head by placing the palm of your hand at the base of his or her head.

Side-lying position — Useful if you had a C-section, but also allows you to rest while the baby breastfeeds. Lie on your side with your baby facing you. Pull your baby close so your baby faces your body.

What are some tips for helping make breastfeeding successful?

  • 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 only take 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 the baby the other breast if he or she seems to want more.
  • 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. Avoid using pacifiers and bottles in the first few weeks after birth unless your doctor has told you to use them because of a medical reason. If you need to use supplements, work with a lactation consultant. She can show you ways to give supplements that are supportive of 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 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).

How do I know if my baby is getting enough breastmilk?

There are many signs you can watch for to see if your baby is getting enough milk, including the following:

  • Your baby passes enough clear or pale yellow urine (See the chart below). The urine is not deep yellow or orange.
  • Your baby has enough bowel movements. (See the chart below.)
  • Your baby switches between short sleeping periods and wakeful, alert periods.
  • Your baby is satisfied and content after feedings.
  • Your breasts may feel softer after you feed your baby.

From birth to 3 months old, a baby usually will gain two-thirds to one ounce of weight each day. Keep in mind that many babies lose a small amount of weight in the first days after birth. Your baby's doctor will check your baby's weight at your first doctor visit after you leave the hospital. Make sure to visit your baby's doctor for a checkup within three to five days after birth and then again when the baby is 2 to 3 weeks old.

Watch the video Is my baby getting enough milk? to learn more. Also, talk to your doctor if you are worried that your baby is not getting enough breastmilk.

How much do babies typically eat when breastfeeding?

A newborn's tummy is very small, especially in the early days. Once breastfeeding is established, exclusively breastfed babies who are 1 to 6 months old take in between 19 and 30 ounces of breastmilk each day. If you breastfeed your baby eight times a day, your baby will get around 3 ounces per feeding. But every baby is different.

The Newborn Tummy

At birth, the baby's stomach can comfortably digest what would fit in a hazelnut (about 1 to 2 teaspoons). By around 10 days, the baby's stomach grows to hold about 2 ounces, or what would fit in a walnut.


Typical number of wet diapers and bowel movements in a baby's first week (it is fine if your baby has more) 1 day = 24 hours*

Baby's age Number of wet diapers Number of bowel movements Texture and color of bowel movements
Day 1 (first 24 hours after birth) 1-2 The first bowel movement usually occurs within 8 hours after birth Thick, tarry, and black
Day 2 2 3 Thick, tarry, and black
Day 3 5-6 disposable,
6-8 cloth
3 Looser and greenish to yellow (color may vary)
Day 4 6 3 Soft, watery, and yellow
Day 5 6 3 Loose, seedy, and yellow
Day 6 6 3 Loose, seedy, and yellow
Day 7 6 3 Larger amounts of loose, seedy, and yellow

Keep in mind that, if using disposable diapers, the absorbency may make it harder to tell if the diaper is wet. Use this chart as a guide, but talk to your child's doctor if you are concerned about your child not getting enough milk.

*Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

How long should I breastfeed my baby?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the only source of food for the first 6 months of your baby's life. The AAP also recommends continuing breastfeeding beyond your baby's first birthday and for as long as both you and your baby would like. The easiest and most natural time to wean is when your child leads the process. But how you feel is also very important in deciding when to wean.

Your decision may depend on several factors, such as returning to work, your or your baby's health, or a feeling that the time is right.

When should I not breastfeed?

While rare, your doctor may advise you or tell you not to breastfeed if you:

  • Take certain medicines, like anxiety medication or certain migraine medications that are dangerous for babies and can be passed to your baby in your breastmilk
  • Have a specific illness (like HIV or active tuberculosis)
  • Get radiation therapy, though some therapies may mean only a brief pause in breastfeeding

If you take medicine or have an illness, talk to your doctor before you begin breastfeeding. Medicines that are safe for you to take during pregnancy may also be safe while you are breastfeeding. But you should always check with your doctor before you start breastfeeding. Talk to your baby's doctor if your baby shows any signs of a reaction to your breastmilk, such as diarrhea, excessive crying, or sleepiness.

Should I stop breastfeeding when I am sick?

In most cases, you can continue to breastfeed your baby when you are sick, and if your baby is sick. But, if you are sick with the flu, including the H1N1 flu (also called the swine flu), you should avoid being near your baby, so that you do not infect him or her. Have someone who is not sick feed your baby your expressed breastmilk.

All material contained on this page is free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.

Content last updated: July 21, 2014


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Photo credit: DFW Bellies & Babies

This information in Spanish (en español)


Breastfeeding fact sheet
(PDF, 160KB)

Your Guide to Breastfeeding
This easy-to-read publication has how-to information and support to help women breastfeed successfully.

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