Breastfeeding your baby

KEY POINTS

  • Plan to breastfeed before your baby is born. Put breastfeeding in your birth plan and share it with your provider and hospital staff.

  • Breastfeeding takes time and practice. Be patient as you and your baby get comfortable with breastfeeding. Ask for help when you need it. 

  • Most women can start breastfeeding within 1 hour after giving birth. Nurses and lactation consultants can help you get started.

  • Feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months. Learn your baby’s feeding cues so you know when she’s hungry and ready to eat.

  • If you’re worried that your baby’s not eating enough, tell his provider or your lactation consultant. 

How do you plan for breastfeeding before your baby’s birth?

Planning ahead can help you get breastfeeding off to a good start once your baby’s born. Here’s what you can do:

  • Find a health care provider for you and your baby who supports breastfeeding.
  • Find out if the hospital where you’re having your baby supports breastfeeding. Ask if a lactation consultant is on staff there.
  • Take a breastfeeding class. Many hospitals offer these classes. Ask your provider to help you find a class in your area. Ask your partner to go with you so you learn about breastfeeding together.
  • Add breastfeeding to your birth plan. A birth plan is a set of instructions you make about your baby’s birth. Fill out the plan with your partner. Then share it with your provider, your family and other support people. It’s best for everyone to know ahead of time that you plan to breastfeed.
  • When you get to the hospital, share your birth plan with the nurses. Tell them that you want to breastfeed. Ask to have your baby stay in the room with you after birth so you can breastfeed him when he needs to eat.
  • Get a nursing bra. Nursing bras have flaps to make breastfeeding easier. Buy one size larger than your regular bra size so it will fit when your breasts get larger when your breast milk comes in.

How do you get started breastfeeding once your baby is born?

You may have heard people say that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world. The truth is that breastfeeding isn’t always easy. It may take time and practice. Be patient and give yourself and your baby time to get comfortable with breastfeeding.

Most women can start breastfeeding within 1 hour after giving birth. A nurse or lactation consultant can help you get started. A lactation consultant is a person with special training in helping women breastfeed. Feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months. Any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby’s health and development. Even breastfeeding for a short time is good for your baby.

Check out our step-by-step breastfeeding guide to help you learn about breastfeeding. It shows you how to get started, how to burp your baby after feedings and different ways to hold your baby when you breastfeed.  

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it does, tell your health care provider or lactation consultant. You may just need a little help to get it figured out. Ask your provider, nurses and the lactation consultant to help make sure breastfeeding is going well before you leave the hospital.

Who can help you with breastfeeding?

You can get breastfeeding help from a lot of different people: 

  • Your health care provider and your baby’s provider
  • A lactation consultant. You can find a lactation consultant through your health care provider or your hospital. Or go to the International Lactation Consultants Association.
  • A breastfeeding peer counselor. This is a woman who breastfed her own children and wants to help and support mothers who breastfeed. She has training to help women breastfeed, but not as much as a lactation consultant. You can find a peer counselor through your local WIC nutrition program. Or visit womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding or call the National Breastfeeding Helpline at (800) 994-9662.
  • A breastfeeding support group. This is a group of women who help and support each other with breastfeeding. Ask your provider to help find a group near you. Or go to La Leche League.
  • Friends and family members who have had good experiences breastfeeding
  • Your partner. Have your partner feed your baby a bottle of expressed milk (milk that you pump from your breast). This can help your partner share in the feeding experience.  

You also can learn about breastfeeding from books, websites and videos. Check online or at your local library.

Can you breastfeed multiples (twins, triplets or more)?

Yes. If your multiples are healthy, you can start breastfeeding them one at a time. Later you can feed two at once. Visit our breastfeeding guide for more information. 

How do you know when your baby’s ready to eat?

Feed your baby when she’s hungry. This is called on-demand or responsive feeding. Most newborns eat every 2 to 3 hours, or eight to 12 times over 24 hours. But each baby is different. Your baby may want to feed more or less often. As your baby grows, her feeding patterns may change, and she may go longer between feedings.

Look for and learn your baby’s feeding cues. Feeding cues are ways that your baby tells you that she’s hungry. Feeding cues include: 

  • Rooting. This is turning her head toward anything that touches her cheek or mouth.
  • Sucking movements or sounds
  • Putting her hand to her mouth
  • Crying. This is a late feeding cue. Try to breastfeed your baby before she starts to cry.

To make nighttime feedings easier, put the baby’s crib in your room. Keep your baby’s crib close to your bed so he’s nearby during the night. The American Academy of Pediatrics (also called AAP) recommends that you and your baby sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed, for the first year of your baby’s life but at least for the first 6 months.

How long does each feeding last?

Let your baby feed as long as she wants at one breast. This is called feeding unlimited at the breast. It usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes for your baby to feed. Your baby may take more or less time. When she is finished with one breast, burp her. Then switch her to feed from the other breast. It’s OK if she only wants to feed from one breast. You can start her on the other breast at the next feeding. Let your baby stop breastfeeding on her own. 

Signs that your baby is full include:

  • He starts and stops feeding.
  • He unlatches often or spits out the breast.
  • He slows down or falls asleep.
  • He gets distracted easily.
  • He closes his mouth or turns his head away from the breast.

How do you know if your baby is getting enough milk?

As you breastfeed, your body learns when your baby needs more milk. Your body makes exactly the right amount for your baby. Your baby is getting enough milk if he:

  • Is gaining weight. Your baby’s provider checks your baby’s weight at each well-baby visit. You can track your baby’s weight, too.
  • Is making two to three wet diapers each day in the first few days after birth, and six to eight wet diapers 4 to 5 days after birth.

If you’re worried that your baby’s not getting enough to eat, tell your baby’s provider or your lactation consultant. If your baby doesn’t get enough breast milk, it can affect his health and your body’s ability to keep making milk. Some moms have problems or discomforts when breastfeeding. These can affect how much milk you make. Learn what you can do to take care of these discomforts so they don’t affect breastfeeding.

Signs that your baby may not be getting enough breast milk include:

  • He breastfeeds for very short or very long stretches of time. Keep your baby at your breast as long as he’s actively sucking. If your baby feeds for less than 10 minutes or more than 50 minutes each time, he may not be getting enough milk.
  • He’s still hungry after breastfeeding.
  • He goes for hours without feeding. Your baby needs to eat about once every 2 to 3 hours during the day and every 4 hours at night. You may need to wake him up to be sure he eats this much each over 24 hours.  
  • He isn’t gaining weight. It’s normal for a baby to lose a little weight after birth. Within the first 2 weeks of life, though, he should gain the weight back, plus a little more. If your baby’s not steadily gaining weight, he may not be getting enough milk.
  • He isn’t swallowing. It’s hard to tell when your baby swallows. Look and listen closely. He should swallow after a few suckles. A short break in breathing can be a clue that he’s swallowing.
  • He sweats or his lips turn blue during breastfeeding. These can be signs of other health problems. Tell your provider about them right away.

You may want to use a breastfeeding log to record when and how much you breastfeed. You can find a breastfeeding log online. Or you can keep the information on paper or in a notebook. Share the log with your baby’s provider at your baby’s checkups. Breastfeeding logs usually track these things:

  • Day and times of your baby’s feedings
  • How long your baby feeds from each breast  
  • Which breast you started with at each feeding
  • How much breast milk you pump
  • Number of wet diapers or bowel movements your baby has
  • Any problems or worries you have about breastfeeding 

Do breastfed babies need vitamin supplements?

Yes. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat. Breastfed babies need these vitamin supplements:

  • Vitamin D. Breast milk doesn’t have enough vitamin D for your baby. Vitamin D helps make bones and teeth strong and helps prevent a bone disease called rickets. All breastfed babies need vitamin D drops with 400 IU of vitamin D starting in the first few days of life. Talk to your baby’s provider about getting vitamin D drops for your baby.
  • Iron. Breast milk doesn’t have enough iron for your baby. Give your baby a liquid iron supplement each day until he starts eating solid food. Ask your baby’s provider about how long your baby needs an iron supplement.

When can you start feeding your baby solid foods?

Feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months. This means no water, formula, other liquids or solid food — just breast milk. Formula is a man-made product you can feed your baby. Once your baby starts eating solid food, keep breastfeeding until at least 12 months. You can breastfeed longer than 12 months if you and your baby want. 

Last reviewed: April, 2019