A guide for moms who breastfeed
How to breastfeed: getting started
For most infants, feeding from the breast is a natural response. Others need a little help. Here is some basic information to help you and your baby get started:
- Colostrum: your first milk
- How do you know when your baby is hungry?
- Latching on (or positioning your baby on your breast)
- Breastfeeding intervals
- How do you know if your baby is getting enough milk?
- Charting the course: patterns commonly seen in breastfed infants (PDF)
If you find you need more advice and support, you always can seek the expertise of a lactation specialist. Your health care professional, or the nurses where you delivered your baby, can help you locate a specialist in your area.
Colostrum: your first milk
Once your baby is born, and for three to four days afterward, your breasts produce colostrum. It is thicker than typical breast milk, but packed with nutrients your newborn needs. The flow of colostrum is slow, making it easier for your newborn to practice sucking, swallowing, and breathing at the same time.
By day five, your baby probably will have mastered the rhythm of feeding, and your milk supply will increase to match his increasing appetite.
How do you know when your baby is hungry?
Crying can be a telltale sign of hunger, but there are others. When your baby makes sucking movements or puts her fingers to her mouth — even if she is sleeping — she might be telling you she is ready to eat. It is best to feed her when she is fully awake. You can help wake her by playing with her, changing her diaper, or talking to her before she eats.
Latching on (or positioning your baby on your breast)
Your newborn might latch on as soon as you hold him to your breast. If not, do not be disappointed. To help your baby latch on correctly, position his mouth over the pockets of milk located 1 to 1-1/2 inches behind the nipple. This way, he will get the most milk possible and you will be less likely to have sore nipples.
The four steps to latching on are:
- Positioning your baby’s face and body so he faces you, with his head at the level of your breast
- Gently lifting and supporting your breast with your fingers below, and your thumb on top of, the breast, well away from the areola (the dark area around your nipple)
- Gently stroking your baby’s lower lip with your nipple until he opens his mouth very wide
- Quickly pulling him onto your breast so his nose, cheeks, and chin are all slightly touching your breast. If his nostrils are blocked, pull his bottom upward and closer to you so his head will move back slightly.
If you can imagine being able to draw a straight line from his ear to his shoulder to his hip, your baby will be latched on correctly. Because your baby sucks more efficiently on the first breast he uses, alternate the side he starts nursing on from feeding to feeding.
If your baby does not open his mouth widely enough, gently stroke his bottom lip with your nipple in a downward motion. Repeat this stroking until he opens his mouth wide. Then quickly pull him onto your breast so his nose, cheeks, and chin all are touching the breast. He then should begin to suck.
To keep a steady milk supply in each breast, it is important to switch breasts during feedings. Begin feeding on the breast that was not used last. After 10 to 15 minutes,1 try burping your baby, and then offer the second breast for as long as he wants. If he does not seem interested in the second breast, offer that breast first at his next feeding.
When you need to remove your baby from your breast, it is important to first break the suction. Gently slip one of your fingers into the corner of his mouth before removing him from your breast.
During the daytime, if three hours have passed since your baby’s last feeding, or if your breasts are full, you might want to wake her to feed. Talking, rubbing, patting, unwrapping, or undressing her will help. It could take up to five to 10 minutes to wake her completely, but it usually will result in a better feeding.
If she shows signs of hunger — even if she just ate an hour ago — it is OK to feed her again. Sometimes infants "cluster feed" before taking a nap. It does not mean your milk supply is low. Instead, this is normal breastfeeding behavior.
On the other hand, if one or both breasts become engorged between feedings, using a breast pump or hand expressing will help to relieve them.
How do you know if your baby is getting enough milk?
In the beginning, you will know your newborn is getting enough milk if he stops passing meconium (thick black or dark-green stools) after about four days, and begins to pass yellow, seedy, runny stools three or more times a day. For more information, please review Breastfeeding: Is your baby eating enough?
During the 1st month, your baby will wet six to eight diapers and have two bowel movements per day. Once your milk supply is established, he should gain about 2/3 ounce per day during his first 3 months. Between 3 and 6 months, weight gain tapers off to about 1/2 ounce per day.