To breastfeed properly and prevent problems, you will need to learn the basics of breastfeeding. You will want to get ready before each feeding and find a position that is comfortable for you and your baby. Doing this will help you get your baby to latch on, so that you can provide a complete feeding each time. If you do have trouble with breastfeeding, get support from family, friends, your doctor, or a lactation consultant.
Get ready for a feeding
Being ready for a feeding will help you relax. And being relaxed will help your let-down reflex, which occurs just before or soon after feeding begins. It's helpful to wear a loose blouse or a shirt that can be raised easily. If you want more privacy, use a lightweight blanket over your shoulder and chest to cover your breasts and your baby.
It is likely that you will have to breastfeed around other people, even strangers, when you are feeding your baby on demand. In many states and on federal property, your right to breastfeed in public is protected by law.
To get ready, you can also do things like:
- Make sure the room is quiet and warm. Keep the room darkened. Bright light makes it hard for newborns to open their eyes.
- Keep something to drink nearby. Most women get thirsty as they breastfeed. Drink enough to satisfy your thirst.
- Use one or more pillows to support your arms and the baby. Support your back with a pillow, and use a stool to raise your feet. This will help you and your baby be more comfortable during feeding.
- Make sure your baby is alert. This will help you get your baby to latch on. You may need to wake your baby.
Find a position
Breastfeeding in the proper position will help your baby latch on and breastfeed correctly. There are several breastfeeding positions, such as the cradle hold, the football hold, and the side-lying position.
As you start to breastfeed, try different positions to find those that are most comfortable for you and your baby. For example, use the cross-cradle hold at one feeding, and then use the football hold at the next. Feeding in different positions may reduce nipple soreness. Also, start each new feeding with the opposite breast you started with at the last feeding. This routine helps you to empty each breast completely.
For more help with finding the best position, see the topic Breastfeeding Positions.
Get your baby latched on
A proper latch helps prevent problems such as sore nipples, blocked milk ducts, breast infections, and poor infant weight gain. An improper latch is painful and frustrating. It causes some women to stop breastfeeding.
The steps to get your baby latched on are about the same for all breastfeeding positions. Latching on in the cross-cradle position is an easy one to start with.
- Make sure the baby's head and body are lined up straight, not turned to one side or tilted up or down while breastfeeding. For this position, you and your baby should be tummy to tummy. Your baby's nose should be right in front of your nipple.
- Support and narrow your breast with one hand using a "U hold," with your thumb on the outer side of your breast and your fingers on the inner side. You can also use a "C hold," with all your fingers below the nipple and your thumb above it. Try the different holds to get the deepest latch for whichever breastfeeding position you use. Your other arm is behind your baby's back, with your hand supporting the base of the baby's head. Position your fingers and thumb to point toward your baby's ears.
- You can touch your baby's lower lip with your nipple to get your baby to open his or her mouth. Wait until your baby opens up really wide, like a big yawn. Then be sure to bring the baby quickly to your breast-not your breast to the baby. As you bring your baby toward your breast, use your other hand to support the breast and guide it into his or her mouth.
- Both the nipple and a large portion of the darker area around the nipple (areola) should be in the baby's mouth. The baby's lips should be flared outward, not folded in (inverted).
- Listen for a regular sucking and swallowing pattern while the baby is feeding. If you cannot see or hear a swallowing pattern, watch the baby's ears, which will wiggle slightly when the baby swallows. If the baby's nose appears to be blocked by your breast, tilt the baby's head back slightly, so just the edge of one nostril is clear for breathing.
- When your baby is latched, you can usually remove your hand from supporting your breast and bring it under your baby to cradle him or her. Now just relax and breastfeed your baby.
When your baby is done breastfeeding, you can break the latch by using your pinky finger. Place one finger into the corner of your baby's mouth. This will gently break the seal. You can also use your pinky to break the latch if you experience pain after your baby first latches on. Then you can start again. If you don't break the latch before you remove the baby from your breast, your nipples may become sore, cracked, or bruised.
Provide a complete feeding
Let your baby feed until he or she is satisfied.
- Offer the other breast when the first breast feels empty and your baby sucks more slowly, pulls off, or loses interest. Usually your baby will continue breastfeeding but for less time than on the first breast.
- To burp your baby, gently pat your baby's back to help him or her let out any swallowed air. After the baby burps, offer the breast again. Sometimes a baby will want to continue feeding after being burped.
- If your baby falls asleep before finishing breastfeeding, you may need to stimulate him or her to finish the feeding. After a while, you will learn your baby's patterns and will know whether he or she needs rousing or has fed long enough.
To learn more about your baby's feeding needs, see Feeding Patterns.
The first two weeks of breastfeeding usually are the most challenging. You may have other times when you need extra help. Know who you can contact, such as friends and family who have breastfed or a lactation consultant. Other support is available through local hospitals or clinics and support organizations, such as La Leche League.