Breastfeeding Basics

Breastfeeding: 10 tips to get you started

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Learning to breastfeed

Breastfeeding is the best choice for babies. Yet despite its many benefits, most women stop breastfeeding sooner than they had planned.

According to the 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 83.2 percent of U.S. mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2015 but only 57.6 percent of babies were breastfeeding at 6 months of age, and 35.9 percent at 1 year. Reported barriers to breastfeeding often include hospital policies and practices that interfere with breastfeeding, poorly trained health care providers, lack of encouragement and support at home and in the community, and worksites that fail to accommodate breastfeeding mothers. Misconceptions about bottle-fed and breastfed babies being equally healthy, real fear about pain, and widespread misinformation about topics ranging from inverted nipples to saggy breasts also contribute to a lack of success.

When it comes to breastfeeding, the best approach is to take it one day at a time. No one breastfeeds for six months before breastfeeding for six days. Click through for tips to boost your chances of reaching your breastfeeding goal.

Watch for hunger cues

Watching your baby instead of the clock will ensure that your baby breastfeeds at least eight times in each 24-hour period. When you feed your baby on request (in response to early hunger cues) rather than on a schedule (every 3–4 hours), your baby is more likely to latch on effectively and breastfeed well.

Early hunger cues include lip-smacking, hand- and finger-sucking, squirming, coughing, and yawning. Crying is actually a late sign of hunger. If you wait until your baby cries to feed her, it will be harder for her to latch on well. By keeping your baby with you day and night during the early weeks, and feeding your baby as soon as she shows signs of hunger, you can ensure that your baby gets the calories and nutrients she needs to grow.

Hear what moms like you have to say in our breastfeeding video series.

Hold your baby skin-to-skin

Babies are born with senses and reflexes that enable them to smell, lick, latch on, and breastfeed—from birth! Within the first hour or two after birth, give your baby a chance to demonstrate the breast crawl. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t latch on and breastfeed right away. These early nursing attempts are a learning experience for you and your baby, so relax and enjoy this time together. Skin-to-skin care (often called “kangaroo care”) offers lots of benefits for you and your baby, so practice it every chance you get. 

Here are 10 ways to do skin-to-skin care at home.

Choose a comfortable position

For breastfeeding to be successful, both you and your baby need to be comfortable. Sit back or lie down, and most importantly, relax. Studies show that stress and anxiety can interfere with milk production. If necessary, use pillows to support your baby at the level of the breast.

Hear what moms like you have to say in our breastfeeding video series.

Make sure your baby faces the breast

Breastfeeding is mealtime for babies and your baby must face the breast to eat. Think about how you face the table to eat your meals and position your baby in the same way. Turn your baby on her side or tuck her under your arm so that her chin, chest, and knees face your breast. Support your baby’s neck, shoulders, and back with your hand and arm.

Express a few drops of milk

Your baby is more likely to latch on well if milk is readily available. Place your thumb and fingers opposite one another on the areola, the darker part of the breast around the nipple. Press your thumb and fingers inward against your chest. Then gently compress your breast (not the nipple) between your thumb and fingers. Drops of breast milk will appear. 

Get a good latch

Tickle your baby’s nose and upper lip with your nipple and wait for her mouth to open wide. Signs of a good latch include a wide open mouth (like a yawn), curled out lips (like a fish), and a chin that firmly touches the breast. You will know your baby has a good latch if you can hear her suck and swallow and breastfeeding is pain free.

Hold off on the pacifier

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all babies be given a pacifier at naptime or bedtime to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, the AAP cautioned that breastfeeding mothers should wait to use a pacifier with their infants until breastfeeding is well-established.

To ensure that pacifier use does not interfere with exclusive breastfeeding, wait 4–6 weeks before introducing either a pacifier or a bottle. Worried about how you will calm a fussy baby? Don’t. Most parents find that breastfeeding babies prefer to suck on fingers or fists, which are readily available and free!

Don’t ignore pain

A common complaint among breastfeeding mothers is that breastfeeding is painful. Studies show that 8 out of 10 mothers describe breastfeeding as painful at first. The fact is breastfeeding can be uncomfortable at the start of a feeding when your baby draws the breast and the nipple into her mouth. If your baby is positioned well, the pain should last only for a few seconds at the start of a feeding and disappear entirely after 1–2 weeks. If the pain lasts more than a few seconds (a sign of a poor latch) release the breast by sliding your finger into your baby’s mouth and try again.

Don’t delay or skip feedings

The more milk you remove from the breasts, the more milk you will make. During the first couple of weeks, most babies will show signs of hunger every 1–3 hours. Frequent feedings (day and night) prevent breast engorgement (which can lead to breast infection) and reduce swelling. Tips for increasing your milk supply and preventing engorgement include:


  • Breastfeed as long as your baby wishes on the first breast before offering the second breast.
  • Offer both breasts at every feeding and begin each feeding on the breast offered last.
  • If you delay or miss a feeding, or your baby breastfeeds poorly, hand express or pump to relieve fullness.
  • Avoid giving your baby water or formula supplements.