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How to breastfeed

8-minute read

Breastfeeding is a partnership between you and your baby and it takes time to establish breastfeeding successfully. It may take up to 6 weeks for you to feel confident. This page covers some practical information about how to breastfeed.

How soon after birth can you start breastfeeding?

Ideally, your baby's first feed will be as soon as they show they are ready after their birth, usually within the first hour. A newborn baby is usually very alert and responsive at this time and has a strong urge to suck.

As soon as your baby is born, have your baby placed on your chest, skin-to-skin, while they begin to get to know you and the outside world. Skin-to-skin contact is important for babies and it helps to keep them warm, regulates their heart rate and may reduce a need for oxygen.

If you and your baby are well, it is a good time to give your baby the first breastfeed while you are still in the birthing or delivery room.

  • Some babies will latch on and suckle straight away.
  • The instincts of a newborn baby can result in a baby crawling and wriggling to find the breast and self-attaching. This can be an amazing experience.
  • Others may take a little longer and some may need help.
  • All mothers and babies are different. This is something that you and your baby will learn to do together.

The midwives will be there to guide you if you need them as you learn to breastfeed. They will also want you to let them know every time you are about to feed your baby in the first day or 2. This is so they can help you and your baby learn the correct position and attachment technique.

For the first few days after the birth, your breasts produce colostrum.

  • Colostrum is yellow and thicker than the milk you produce later.
  • You will only produce a small amount but it is enough for a normal baby and is exactly what your baby needs for the first few days of life.
  • Colostrum contains antibodies that protect your baby against germs and sickness.

After a few days, your milk 'comes in'. This is when the breasts start to produce lots of milk. This milk looks different from colostrum and is perfect for the growing baby.

How often should you feed?

You can breastfeed your newborn baby whenever they seem to want to. As you get to know your baby, you will learn the signs that your baby is ready for a breastfeed. When your baby is very young, this will be quite often.

  • Frequent feeding is good for you and your baby. It helps your milk to come in sooner and can prevent some problems occurring.
  • A young baby will want between 8 and 12 feeds over a 24-hour period.
  • There may not be a pattern to your baby's feeds, especially in the first few weeks.
  • During the first few days at home, your milk supply may appear to lessen and your baby may demand feeds more frequently.
  • Short frequent feeds will stimulate your breasts and increase your supply.
  • By 6 to 12 weeks, your baby may start to have a bigger gap between feeds and a feeding pattern may become more predictable.
  • Your baby may sometimes want to breastfeed again, only a short time after a feed.

Take your cues from your baby. Babies may want a breastfeed because they are hungry, thirsty or need comfort and closeness.

Attaching to the breast

You will not get sore nipples from feeding your baby often, but your nipples can become very sore if your baby is not properly attached to your breast during feeds.

It is important to learn how to position and attach your baby on the breast properly right from the start. Ask your midwife to help you if your nipples are getting sore. Once your baby is attaching well and emptying your breasts, there is much less chance of developing nipple and breast problems.

Watch this video for more advice on good attachment.

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

Positioning your baby

  • Unwrap your baby so you can hold them close with their whole body facing you and their nose level with your nipple.
  • Support their head with a hand behind their shoulders. Use your other hand to support your breast.
  • Make sure you support your baby’s neck and shoulders with your hand, but don’t hold your baby’s head — allow him or her to find the best position for attaching to your breast.
  • Bring your baby to your breast, not your breast to your baby.
  • Make sure your baby is opening their mouth widely with their tongue down and forward. The nipple needs to be aimed at the roof of your baby's mouth. You will need to have your fingers well back, away from the nipple.
  • The first contact point, when you bring your baby to the breast, should be the chin on to the areola or below the areola, well away from the nipple.
  • Once attached:
    • Your baby needs to be able to draw all of the nipple and much of the areola (the coloured skin around your nipple) into their mouth.
    • Their tongue will be out, over their gums, their lower lip rolled out and their chin against your breast.
    • Their jaws will be positioned over the ends of the ducts and will be able to compress them well.
  • After a few rapid sucks, they should start to suck and swallow in a regular rhythm, as they start to get milk.
  • After a few minutes, they may stop for a little rest before sucking again.
  • If your nipples hurt, the baby may not be attached correctly. Put your finger in the corner of their mouth to break the suction. Take them off and try again.

Ask your midwife if you need help with attaching your baby.

Even though it may take a while to get the hang of breastfeeding, most mothers find it a very enjoyable experience. The more you breastfeed the easier and quicker it is.

Are complementary feeds needed?

Complementary feeding means giving baby formula in addition to breast milk.

  • Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, meaning the more you breastfeed, the more milk your breasts produce.
  • When your baby has a complementary feed (of formula) your breasts will make less milk.

Complementary feeds are not recommended when you are breastfeeding since they can reduce your chances of establishing successful breastfeeding habits.

Complementary feeds should only be given if you have been advised to by your midwife, child health nurse or your doctor.

Breastfeeding help and support

Breastfeeding support and advice can be sought from other mothers and from a range of health professionals, including midwives, baby health nurses, Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) counsellors, lactation consultants and doctors.

The ABA offers mother-to-mother support and encouragement to breastfeed. It also provides counselling from trained ABA counsellors, a newsletter, a library and other activities. ABA support is available in all states and territories of Australia.

The website is an excellent source of useful hints and information. One feature is information for fathers. It provides an email counselling service and links to other breastfeeding sites.

You can get more information from:

  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.
  • The Australian Breastfeeding Association's National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.
  • Child and family health services provided by your state or territory's government.
  • Parent helplines in your state or territory.
  • Chat to a Tresilian nurse online.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2020

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