How to breastfeed

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 their baby is born. A nurse or lactation consultant can help you get started. A lactation consultant is a person with special training in helping women breastfeed.

How do you breastfeed?

Check out our step-by-step breastfeeding guide to help you learn to breastfeed. It shows you how to get started, how to burp your baby when he’s done eating, and different ways to hold your baby when you breastfeed.

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

Yes. If your babies 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?

Look for her feeding cues. Feeding cues are ways that your baby tells you that she’s hungry. Examples are:

  • Rooting (turning her head toward anything that strokes 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.

How often do you breastfeed?

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

To make nighttime feedings easier, put the baby’s crib in your room. Just don’t sleep with the baby in your bed.

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. This usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes. 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 nurse from one breast. Just be sure to start her on the other breast at the next feeding. Let your baby end breastfeeding on her own.

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

Lots of new moms ask this question. Your body is pretty amazing. As you breastfeed, your body learns when your baby needs more milk. Your body makes exactly the right amount for your baby. But what if you’re still not sure he’s eating enough? Your baby is probably getting enough milk if he:

  • Is gaining weight
  • Is making six to eight wet diapers a day by the time he’s 5 to 7 days old

Does your baby need vitamin supplements if you breastfeed?

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.

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. Give your baby vitamin D drops starting in the first few days of life. Talk to your baby’s provider about vitamin D drops for your baby.

If you’re a vegan or if you've had gastric bypass surgery, you need extra vitamin B12. A vegan is someone who doesn’t eat meat or anything made with animal products, like eggs or milk. Gastric bypass is surgery on the stomach and intestines to help a person lose weight. Ask your provider about taking a vitamin B12 supplement to make sure you and your baby get the right amount.

When do you start feeding your baby other 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.

At about 6 months, your baby may be ready to start solid food. Solid foods can be soft or mashed, like baby cereal or baby food. Keep feeding her breast milk even when she starts eating solid food. This can help make sure your body keeps making enough milk.

Any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby’s health and development. Even breastfeeding for a short time is good for your baby.

Do you need special clothes to breastfeed?

No, but nursing bras have flaps that make breastfeeding easier than if you’re wearing your regular bra. You may want to get one or two while you’re pregnant so you have them when your baby is born. Get a nursing bra that is one size larger than your regular bra size so it will fit when your breasts get larger when your breast milk comes in.

You may find it easier to breastfeed in shirts that pull up, rather than shirts that button. Sometimes it’s hard to get buttons undone quickly when you've got a hungry baby wanting to eat!

What is weaning?

You can breastfeed your baby for as long as you want. When you stop breastfeeding, it’s called weaning your baby. Some babies begin weaning on their own between 6 and 12 months as they start eating solid food and become more active. Weaning is a slow process that doesn't happen in a few days. Taking your time can make weaning easier for you and your baby.

If you wean your baby off breast milk before she’s 12 months old, feed her formula. She can stay on formula until she’s ready to drink regular milk after she turns 1.

Last reviewed: June, 2014