Hesperian Health Guides

How to Breastfeed

For the new baby

Babies want to suckle when they are hungry, thirsty, fighting off a sickness, growing a lot, or need comfort. If you are not sure what your baby wants, try breastfeeding.

After birth, a mother should breastfeed during the first hour. It will help her womb stop bleeding and return to normal. Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby, and the baby’s suckling, will help her milk to start flowing.

Newborn babies need the first yellow-colored breast milk (colostrum) that comes out of the breasts for the first 2 or 3 days after birth. Colostrum has all the nutrition that a new baby needs, and it protects against disease. Colostrum also cleans the baby’s gut. There is no need to give herbs, teas, or water to do this.

For any baby

a woman lying close to a baby in bed
Mothers who keep their babies close by at night can breastfeed more easily. If she sleeps with the baby, the mother can breastfeed and sleep at the same time.

Feed from both breasts, but let the baby finish one breast first before offering the other. The whiter milk that comes after the baby has been feeding for a few minutes is richer in fat than the first milk. The baby needs this fat, so it is important to let the baby finish one breast before offering the other. The baby will let go when it is ready to stop or switch. If the baby takes only one breast at a feeding, begin the next feeding on the other breast.

Feed your baby whenever it is hungry, day and night. Many new babies will suckle about every 1 to 3 hours, especially in the first months. Let the baby suckle as long and as often as it wants. The more it suckles, the more milk you will make.

You do not need to give cereals, other milk, or sugar water—even in hot climates. These can make the baby take less breast milk and may be harmful before 4 to 6 months.

How to hold the baby

Do not pinch the nipple when giving the breast to the baby.

When breastfeeding, it is important to hold the baby so it can suckle and swallow easily. The mother should also be in a relaxed, comfortable position so that her milk can flow well.

Support the baby’s head with your hand or arm. Its head and body should be in a straight line. Wait until its mouth is open wide. Bring the baby close to the breast and tickle its lower lip with the nipple. Then move the baby onto your breast. The baby should have a big mouthful of the breast, with the nipple deep inside its mouth.

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This baby has a good
mouthful of breast.
This baby does not have
enough breast in its mouth.

If you are having trouble breastfeeding, get help from a woman who has experience. She can often help more than some health workers. Do not use a bottle. It will teach the baby a different kind of sucking. Keep trying. Sometimes it takes practice for you to find good positions for your baby, or for a baby to learn to suckle well.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019