Getting started with breastfeeding/chestfeeding

by Kaiser Permanente |
Mother breastfeeding newborn daughter.

Getting the hang of breastfeeding/chestfeeding takes patience and practice. Plan on feeding your new baby whenever they’re hungry—usually at least 8 to 12 times a day.

You’ll notice certain cues when your baby is ready for a feeding. Crying is often a late sign of hunger, so pay attention when your baby:

  • Licks or smacks their lips
  • Repeatedly opens and closes their mouth
  • Searches with their mouth for something to latch on to
  • Sucks on their own fingers, tongues, or blankets

It’s likely you’ve already had a lot of skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Keep it up while breastfeeding! Skin-to-skin contact helps your baby feed better, cry less, and bond more strongly with you.

Feed the baby, not the clock!

Most babies should feed on demand. This means you let your baby feed for as long as they want to. You’ll notice your baby taking long sucks followed by swallowing. This usually takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

Your baby may feed from both sides or just one side at a time. It’s important to let your baby feed until they stop. That’s how you’ll know they’re full.

Sometimes babies need to be put on a schedule for feeding, often because they can’t be trusted to wake up and feed well on their own. Those babies are usually woken to feed every 2-3 hours so that they can be sure to get enough calories. These types of schedules are for usually for babies that are having trouble gaining weight or have other medical concerns. Usually, these scheduled feedings involve placing the baby on one breast/chest for about 15 minutes. Then you’ll switch sides and feed for another 15 minutes.

Tips for breastfeeding

Think of successful breastfeeding as a 10-step process:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair while supporting your baby with a pillow on your lap.
  2. Using the “U hold” or the “C hold,” support and narrow your breast/chest.
  3. Position your baby properly. Wrap one arm around your baby’s back and support the base of their head with your hand. Your thumb and fingers should be pointed toward your baby’s ears.
  4. Touch your nipple to your baby’s lower lip. This encourages your baby to open their mouth widely.
  5. Quickly bring the baby to your breast/chest when they open their mouth wide.
  6. Guide your breast into your baby’s mouth. Your baby’s lips should be flared out around your nipple.
  7. Pay attention for regular sucking and swallowing sounds. Your baby’s ears will wiggle a little when they swallow.
  8. To break the latch, gently put a clean finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth.
  9. Push your finger gently between your baby’s gums to open their mouth.
  10. If you’re switching to the other side, be sure to hold your baby upright against your chest before they resume feeding. You can burp your baby during this break.

For some people, a breastfeeding log or app can help keep track of how often their baby feeds.

Expressing milk by hand

Hand expression of milk can help increase your milk supply and relieve engorgement. It can also help if your baby’s having trouble getting the hang of breastfeeding.

To hand express milk, place your clean fingers on either side of your breast/chest. Your fingers should be about an inch away from your areola (the darker skin around your nipple). Your thumb and fingers should form a “C” shape.

Press backward toward your chest while drawing your fingers together toward your nipple. Your fingers shouldn’t slide over your skin. Breast milk may not appear right away, but with some practice you’ll get some.

Supporting your own nutritional needs

You should continue to take your prenatal vitamins while you’re breastfeeding. Be sure to eat a nutritious diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. This helps ensure you get enough calories throughout the day to support breastfeeding. Most people need about 500 extra calories every day.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.