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How to Breastfeed

Babies use their lips, gums, and tongue to suckle (take milk from the breast). Your baby is born with an instinct for suckling. But it takes time for you and your baby to learn how to breastfeed. There are steps you can take to support your baby’s natural instincts.

How often should I feed my baby?

Newborns should nurse 8 to 12 times a day. You should feed your infant whenever he shows signs of hunger. When he is hungry, he will appear more awake and might root (turn his head toward you when you stroke his cheek). He might also make a sucking sound or suck on his hand. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Infants will often eat at irregular intervals. Sometimes they might eat several times in a row (called cluster feeding) and then take a break. If it has been 4 hours, wake your baby and offer to nurse him. If he seems sleepy, undress him and place him bare against your skin.

Alternate which breast you offer first with each feeding. For example, if you started nursing on the right side with the last feeding, offer the left side with this feeding. Always offer the other breast after your baby stops nursing on the first side.

Woman offering her breast to baby

Offering your breast

Hold your breast with your thumb on top and fingers underneath. Gently touch your nipple to your baby’s lips. When you see your baby open his mouth wide, quickly bring the baby to your breast. As you get ready for the baby to latch on, take slow, deep breaths. This will help the milk flow.


Baby latching onto breast

Latching on

The way your baby connects with the breast is called the latch. Be sure your baby’s tongue is under your nipple. The nipple and as much as possible of the areola (the dark ring around your nipple) should  be in your baby’s mouth. Turn the baby’s entire body toward you, with her nose and chin against the breast. If a latch pinches or hurts, gently slide one finger into your baby's mouth to release the latch and try again.


Mother gently releasing the latch

Releasing the latch

Slip your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth. You should feel the suction break. Only when the seal is broken, move your baby off your breast. Don’t take the baby off your breast until you’ve felt a decrease in suction.

Burping your baby

Try to burp your baby after each breast.

  • Hold the baby at your upper chest or slightly over your shoulder. Gently rub or pat the baby’s back.

  • Or hold the baby sitting up on your lap. Support her head and chest in front and in back. Slowly rock her back and forth.

Online Medical Reviewer: Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 5/23/2013
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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