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 interactive feature for step by step instructions on how to breastfeed. Our feature also includes information on how to hold your baby and how to breastfeed multiples.

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it does, talk to your provider or lactation consultant. You probably just need a little help getting started. Don’t feel badly about asking for help.

How do you hold your baby when you breastfeed?

There are different ways to hold your baby when you breastfeed. Our interactive feature shows you all the ways to hold your baby when breastfeeding. Try them all to find out which one you and your baby like best. You may want to use a pillow to help support your baby.

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

Yes. If your babies are healthy, you can start breastfeeding them one at a time. This helps each baby learn to latch on. Later you can feed two at once.

Most moms make plenty of milk for all their babies. Talk to your lactation consultant about feeding rotation. This means which baby eats first and from which breast.

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. For most newborns, this is about eight to 12 times over 24 hours. That’s 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?

Most babies feed for 15 to 30 minutes at a time at one breast. It’s OK if your baby takes 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

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. 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 February 2012

See also: How to breastfeed: Step by step, Keeping breastfeeding safe, Using a breast pump, Breastfeeding and medications, prescription drugs, Breastfeeding: What dad can do, Breastfeeding your baby in the NICU, A visit with a breastfeeding support group

Most common questions

How much vitamin D should my baby get?

Vitamin D is important to help avoid a bone-weakening disease called rickets. All babies should receive 400 IU of vitamin D per day, starting in the first few days of life. This includes breastfed babies and babies who drink less than 1L of infant formula per day.

Our skin makes vitamin D when it gets sunlight. But too much sunlight can be harmful, too. In fact, babies 6 months and older and young kids should stay away from direct sunlight and wear sunscreen at all times when out in the sun. However, sunscreen stops the skin from making vitamin D. The best way to get enough vitamin D is by giving your baby liquid multivitamin drops with vitamin D. They can be found in many pharmacies, and you won't need a prescription for it. Just be sure you've filled the dropper to no more than 400 international units (IU).

How often should I nurse my baby?

All babies are different and have different feeding patterns. In general, breastfed newborns need to eat 8 to 12 times in 24 hours (about once every 2 to 3 hours), for about 30 minutes each time. Breast milk is easily digested so it may be difficult to time when you should nurse your baby.

Newborns may need to feed more frequently than older babies. They may need to be fed on demand. As your milk supply is established and the baby grows, the baby's feeding patterns may change and she may go longer between feedings. Remember, breastfeeding is a natural skill, but it’s also a learned skilled. Be patient and give yourself (and your baby) time to master this new ability.

What solids foods should I start my baby on?

Begin with a single-grain iron-fortified cereal such as rice, barley or oatmeal. Mix it with breast milk or infant formula. Start with a small amount once a day. It's hard to tell how much your baby will eat. At first, most of her food will probably end on her bib or face. Be patient and help your baby learn this new skill. It's important that meal time is a pleasant time. This will build the foundation of healthy eating habits. If your baby cries, shows no interest in feeding or turns her head away from the spoon, stop feeding her. She is trying to tell you that she's full or she doesn’t want anymore. You should never force her to eat more than what she wants.

When should I give my baby solid foods?

Breast milk is the best food for most babies. It's best to give only breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Some babies might be ready to start solid foods between 4 to 6 months of age. When your baby is between 4 to 6 months, she may begin to show signs that she's ready to try some solid foods alongside her breast milk or formula. Watch for her developmental cues (signs) and she'll let you know when she's ready. Some signs that show your baby might be ready to start solid foods are:

  • She can sit with support.
  • She shows a good head neck control when seated.
  • She shows a desire for food by opening her mouth, drooling and leaning forward.
  • She begins to chew and brings her hands to her mouth.
  • She begins to handle objects with the palm of her hand.
  • She swallows pureed food and the extrusion reflex starts to go away (tongue-thrust reflex).
©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).