Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby. In this method of feeding your baby, they latch on or attach their mouth onto your breast and, through a sucking motion, drink milk made by your body. Your baby will likely start breastfeeding not long after they're born, often within the first few hours. At first, your milk supply will be made up of something called colostrum. This is a protein-rich, often thick liquid that helps your baby stay hydrated. It’s full of antibodies that also help guard your newborn against infections. Your colostrum will change into mature milk after the first few days (usually three to five days) of breastfeeding. During this time your baby will lose a bit of weight. This is normal. They will regain it once your milk “comes in”.
There are many natural benefits of breastfeeding that both you and your baby can enjoy. Your breast milk is not only a nutritious choice for your baby, it also can help protect them from certain illnesses. When you’re sick, your body creates antibodies. These antibodies are passed from you to your baby through your breast milk. This helps protect your baby. Breastfed babies have a lower risk for developing certain medical conditions, including:
Breastfed infants also have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). New moms can benefit from breastfeeding too. Many mothers say that breastfeeding helped them get back to their pre-pregnancy weight faster. It can also help you with blood pressure issues, reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and even reduce your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding can actually start in the hours right after your baby is born. After your baby is born, you might be encouraged to hold your baby against your skin – called skin-to-skin contact. This close contact encourages your baby to bond and breastfeed. Once you’re ready, place your baby to your breast in a position that’s comfortable for both of you. Guide your baby’s mouth to your nipple. When your baby is properly latched on your breast, their mouth should cover most of your areola (the darker area that encircles your nipple). Typically, you’ll feel your baby pull on your nipple as they feed. You might hear small noises as your baby eats. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. If it is, your baby might not be latched on to your breast correctly.
There is a learning curve to breastfeeding. You will need to try different holds with your baby and learn what works best for both of you. You’ll also need to learn your baby’s schedule. This can vary depending on each child. It’s important to not be too attached to a schedule — your baby will make their own schedule and you will adapt to it over time. There’s no set amount of times your baby will eat each day. Feed your baby when they are hungry. For many babies, this is every two to three hours. A part of early breastfeeding also involves learning your baby’s cues. Your baby will do certain things when he or she is hungry. Cues of hunger can include:
Once a baby starts crying, it might be a late stage of hunger. Try to feed your baby before they start to cry. Once your baby starts crying, it might be harder to get them to feed properly.
How long you breastfeed your baby is up to you, but healthcare providers recommend using breast milk for the first six months of your child’s life, either by breastfeeding or pumping your milk and using a bottle. If you can, you should continue to use breast milk throughout your baby’s first year, even as you add new foods to their diet. After that, the benefits are less significant for your baby and they will be transitioning to a solid food diet. Always remember that you need to do what works best for you. Some moms really enjoy breastfeeding and feel comfortable continuing past their baby’s first birthday, and some moms have a great deal of difficulty breastfeeding. Other new mothers might be ready to stop after a shorter period. Remember that the first six months are the most important and talk to your healthcare team about the pros and cons of your breastfeeding timeline.
If you’re breastfeeding, you might not get your period for a while after your baby is born. This typically isn’t something to worry about. Talk to your healthcare provider about when your period should return and when to let them know if it’s a concern. However, just because you aren’t having a monthly period doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. There are many different types of birth control you can use during this time to prevent pregnancy. These options include:
For many women, there are concerns and worries about specific aspects of breastfeeding. It’s important to remember that there are no stupid questions when it comes to caring for your child. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider all of your questions. It’s best that you get the correct information before you make important decisions about breastfeeding.Some common questions and answers include:
Are my breasts too small to breastfeed?
Will breastfeeding hurt?
Is breastfeeding hard to do?
How do I breastfeed if I’m shy and worry that it will be embarrassing?
Do I have to drink milk if I choose to breastfeed?
What if I need to go out?
How can I breastfeed when I go back to work?
Will breastfeeding take too much time?
Similarly to when you were pregnant, you should pay attention to what you eat and drink when you’re breastfeeding. There aren’t as many restrictions when you’re breastfeeding as there are when you are pregnant, but a few things to keep in mind include:
It’s also good to quit smoking if you haven’t already. Secondhand smoke is dangerous to children. Smoking is not only harmful to your children and your own health, but it can also decrease your milk supply. You shouldn’t smoke — or use any other type of drug — around your baby.
Yes. If your baby won’t latch on your breast, you can still give your baby breast milk. Pumping, or expressing, your milk with a breast pump machine allows you to feed your baby your own breast milk without your baby being attached to your breast. When you pump milk, the machine creates suction – which pulls the milk from your breast and into bottles or bags. You can then store the milk in your fridge, freezer or give it directly to your baby in a bottle. There are many different types of pumps available on the market. You can get pumps that are electric, battery-operated or even hand-operated. There are also newer models that are cordless and fit inside your bra, allowing you to move around freely while you pump. Research and read about the different types of pumps to decide what works best for you.
If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, remember that there are resources available to help you. You can bring up any concerns about breastfeeding to your healthcare provider or your child’s pediatrician. They might direct you to a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant is specially trained to help you achieve your goals with breastfeeding and can help you learn new techniques and tricks for breastfeeding. What is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby. In this method of feeding your baby, they latch on or attach their mouth onto your breast and, through a sucking motion, drink milk made by your body.
Your baby will likely start breastfeeding not long after they're born, often within the first few hours. At first, your milk supply will be made up of something called colostrum. This is a protein-rich, often thick liquid that helps your baby stay hydrated. It’s full of antibodies that also help guard your newborn against infections. Your colostrum will change into mature milk after the first few days (usually three to five days) of breastfeeding. During this time your baby will lose a bit of weight. This is normal. They will regain it once your milk “comes in”.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/07/2021.