Breastfeeding basics

Breastfeeding has benefits for both mother and baby. Breastfeeding is a new skill you both are learning. Sometimes it can be hard for mom and baby to get it right. You may need time, patience and help. If your baby has health concerns, breastfeeding can be even more challenging. However, most breastfeeding difficulties can be overcome with a little help.

Before birth

Here are a few things you can do to help prepare yourself for breastfeeding:

  • Read books and magazines about breastfeeding
  • Visit websites related to breastfeeding
  • Choose a breastfeeding-friendly OB/GYN and pediatrician
  • Take a breastfeeding class
  • Find and meet with a lactation consultant
  • Get things organized at home

Once your baby arrives

  • Meet with the lactation consultant where you deliver
  • Read or watch information about breastfeeding

Beginning breastfeeding: Getting started

The first few weeks of breastfeeding, your baby needs to breastfeed frequently to establish your milk supply. Your baby should breastfeed at least 8 times in a 24-hour period. Studies shows that newborn babies usually breastfeed 11 times a day. Some newborns may breastfeed as often as every hour at first.

The key to successful breastfeeding is the way you position and latch your baby onto the breast. There are many positions to hold your baby in when breastfeeding. Some may be more comfortable for you and for your baby. Remember you both are learning and may need to try and practice different breastfeeding positions. Correct position and latch ensures your baby will get the most milk when feeding and that you will not get sore nipples.

Look for signs your baby is ready to feed before you begin. Feeding cues include:

  •  Making sucking noises or smacking lips
  • Trying to suck on his/her fists
  • Searching for your nipple or “rooting”

Make sure you have good positioning:

  • Position your baby on his/her side, turned toward your tummy or “tummy to tummy”
  • Hold him/her close to you, keeping his/her ear, shoulder and hip aligned or in a straight line
  • Support his/her neck and shoulders with your hand
  • Avoid holding or pushing on your baby’s head
  • Bring your baby to your breast not your breast to him/her
  • Support and lift your breast with your other hand
  • Make sure that your fingers are away from the areola
  • Align your baby’s nose to your nipple

Make sure you have a good latch:

  • Touch or stroke your baby’s top lip with your nipple to elicit a wide gape
  • Make sure your baby opens wide enough to take both the nipple and about ½ - 1 inch of the areola (the dark area around the nipple) in
  • Do not push your nipple in, but be patient and wait for a wide gape
  • When your baby’s mouth is wide open, bring him toward you quickly
  • Make sure the baby’s tongue is underneath the nipple
  • Both his upper and lower lips should be curled out like “fish lips”, not pulled in
  • The initial latch may feel slightly tender, but then suckling is comfortable
  • With suckling watch and listen for swallowing

Signs of a poor latch:

  • Your nipples are painful during the whole feeding, or are cracked or bleeding
  • Your nipples are creased or slanted when the baby comes off the breast
  • When the baby sucks, you hear clicking or smacking sounds
  • The baby is coming off the breast repeatedly after only a few sucks
  • The baby’s cheeks are dimpling in with each suck
  • The baby acts hungry all the time after nursing

Is my baby getting enough milk?

Many parents wonder if their baby is getting enough milk. After the first few days of life, many infants seem to breastfeed more often and may be a little fussy. This is a normal stage of breastfeeding in the newborn period. The more your baby breastfeeds, the more comfortable he/she will get. Frequent breastfeeding builds a good milk supply.

Your baby is getting enough if he/she:

  • Breastfeeds at least eight times in a 24-hour period
  • Breastfeeds for at least 10- 15 minutes or more in a rhythmic suck/swallow/pause/suck pattern, which is faster in the beginning of the feeding, and slower at the end
  • Breastfeeds on 1 or both breasts at each feeding
  • Is satisfied and not displaying feeding cues (rooting, sucking on fingers) after a feed
  • Has one wet diaper and one dark blackish (meconium) stool on the first day of life
  • Has two to three wet diapers and two to three dark greenish stools on 2nd and 3rd days of life
  • Has four or more wet diapers and three brown stools on 4th and 5th days of life
  • Has at least six to eight wet diapers and three to four stools that are becoming mustard yellow and looser by the 6th day of life
    • NOTE: If your baby is not passing any stools, call your pediatrician
  • Is gaining weight. Your baby should be weighed during the first week of life. Breastfed babies lose weight after birth. They should stop losing weight around day 4 or 5
  • when your milk comes in. They usually return to birth weight by 2 weeks of age. Normal weight gain after the second week is about 1 oz. per day for a full term healthy baby.

Once your milk comes in, your breasts will feel softer after a feeding.

How often should I feed my baby?

  • A newborn baby’s stomach is very small and can only hold a tablespoon or more in the first one to two days of life. It stretches gradually as your begin to make more milk. On day 3 it can hold about one ounce.
  • Small very frequent feeds are necessary to keep your baby hydrated and nourished and help your milk to come in.
  • Breast milk is easily digested so it will leave the stomach in one to two hours. This means you should feed your baby often in the first few weeks but eventually the time between feedings may be longer.
  • Always feed your baby when he is showing signs of hunger, even if the baby just ate an hour ago.

How long should a feeding last?

  • Your baby should nurse long enough to get a good flow of milk and to be full.
  • At the start of a feeding, the milk is more watery to satisfy the baby’s thirst.
  • As your baby continues to feed, the amount of fat in the milk increases.
  • At the end of the feeding, the milk is very high in fat giving your baby lots of calories to grow. The high fat milk at the end of the feeding is called hind milk.
  • Let your baby nurse as long as he/she wants (at least 15 minutes) on the first breast so the baby empties the breast and receives the hind milk.
  • When your baby is full, he/she will let go of the breast and seem satisfied.
  • Some babies fall asleep but don’t let go. If your baby hasn’t suckled in a minute, he is sleeping.
  • To remove your baby from your breast, slide your finger between your nipple and his/her tongue to break the seal before pulling out your nipple.
  • Offer the other breast at each feeding.
  • If your baby is sleeping, try burping or changing the diaper to awaken him/her. If your baby is still hungry, he will continue to feed on the second breast.
  • At each feeding, alternate the breast you start with, because the baby’s suck is always stronger at the beginning of the feeding.

Growth spurts

At around 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 3 months of age, your baby may have a growth spurt. He will want to breastfeed every 1 to 1½ hours for a day or two. Remember this is your baby’s way of taking in more calories to grow. Allow your baby to breastfeed as often as he wants during these growth spurts.

Call your pediatrician if you think your baby is not getting enough milk.

Call your obstetrician if you have signs of a breast infection: a fever, achy flu-like symptoms and a painful, tender and red breast.

Breastfeeding basics resources

We created these links to resources to help you achieve success in breastfeeding or pumping. Use the links below to learn more. 

Contact us

For more information or to request breastfeeding support from our lactation team at Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee, call:

(414) 266-1757

For more information or to request breastfeeding support from our lactation team at Children's Wisconsin in Neenah, call:

(920) 969-7990

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