How to Breastfeed
Proper cradle hold positioning and latching-on help
Position Yourself Properly
It’s easiest to get started breastfeeding the first few times if you are sitting up.
- Sit up in bed, in a comfortable armchair, or in a rocking chair.
- Pillows are a must: Use them behind your back, under your elbow, and on your lap to support the baby.
- Use a footstool to bring your knees up or use pillows under your knees if you are sitting up in bed.
You should be relaxed with none of your muscles straining.
Position Your Baby Properly
Baby should be lying on his side with his whole body facing you and his knees pulled in close to your body.
Hold Baby at the Level of Your Nipple
You and your baby will be more comfortable if you are not leaning forward to reach him and he is not straining to latch on. Using a pillow on your lap will help.
Offer Your Breast to Your Baby
Your thumb and index fingers should form a “C” or “U.” Be sure your fingers are well behind the areola.
Support the breast as close to its natural height as possible while the baby latches on and throughout the feeding, with your thumb in line with the baby’s nose and four fingers on the other side of the breast.
Keep fingers and thumb well back from the nipple so they don’t get in the way as baby latches on.
Encourage Baby to Latch on Properly
If Baby turns his head away, gently stroke his cheek on the side nearest you. The rooting reflex will make him turn his head toward you.
- Encourage the baby to open his mouth wide by moving him toward and away from the breast, touching his lips lightly and repeating until Baby opens wide.
- Baby’s mouth should be open really wide, like a yawn, as he latches on.
- Talk to him and encourage him to open his mouth.
Move Baby on to the Breast Quickly and Firmly
When your baby opens his mouth wide, pull him onto the breast chin first, so that his lower jaw (which does all the work during feedings) is as far back on the breast as possible. You want him to take the breast deeply in his mouth.
Once he is latched onto the breast, keep him pulled in very close, so his chin is pressed up into the breast. If his nose seems blocked by the breast, pull his hips and legs in closer to you to angle out his nose.
Learn the 3-Step Latch
Here, again, is what successful latching on should look like:
- First, Baby should open his mouth wide.
- Next, Baby goes onto the breast, chin first.
- Finally, Baby is latched on well.
If Baby is latched on well, it should not hurt to breastfeed.
Encourage Baby to Suck Effectively
In order to suck effectively, Baby must take a large portion of your areola into his mouth along with the nipple. Why? The milk sinuses that must be compressed in order to release the milk are located under the areola.
Again, these pointers can help ensure successful sucking:
- Baby’s gums should completely bypass the nipple and should cover all or most of the areola behind the nipple.
- Be sure your nipple is above his tongue.
- Baby should be pulled in so close that his chin is pressed into your breast.
- If Baby’s nose seems blocked by your breast, try lifting up your breast or pulling Baby’s body in closer to you rather than pressing down on the top of your breast.
Avoid Nipple Soreness or Pain
If your baby is latching on and sucking correctly, you should not feel any painful pressure on your nipple. If Baby seems to be sucking incorrectly or you feel pain as he nurses, you will need to remove the baby from your breast and start over again.
Break the suction by putting your finger in the side of Baby’s mouth and either pressing on your breast or gently pulling on Baby’s cheek.
Solve Simple Nursing Problems
Don’t let your baby continue to suck incorrectly because it can lead to nipple soreness; poor sucking patterns can be hard to correct later on.
Common problems to consider include:
- Baby’s mouth needs to be open wider.
- You need to adjust the angle so that his lower jaw is farther back on your breast.
- Baby needs to be pulled in closer to you.
Watch for Effective Sucking Patterns
Many babies know exactly how to suck correctly from the moment they are born. Others take a few days to learn and need specific guidance.
But once Baby is sucking properly, you will take great satisfaction in watching him. As Baby sucks vigorously, the muscles in his face work so hard that even his ears wiggle. You can see the strong action of his jaw muscles and hear him swallowing.
Then once his initial hunger is satisfied, he becomes relaxed, sucking less vigorously, with fewer swallows, as he enjoys the closeness and comfort of being at his mother’s breast.
Let Baby Finish One Breast, Then Offer the Other
In the early days of breastfeeding, it is a good idea to offer both breasts at each feeding. If the baby is latched on and positioned well, there is no reason to limit a feeding.
Once Baby is nursing actively, let him nurse from the first breast until he comes off on his own, either by letting go or by falling asleep, and then offer the second breast. Sometimes he will take the other breast, and sometimes he will not, which is fine. If a baby falls asleep or stops nursing actively within a few minutes, he may need to be latched on again and encouraged to continue.
Keep track of Baby’s feeding schedule with this handy Breastfeeding Log.
When it comes to latching on, some babies catch on quickly, while others may need more time. For some babies, it may take many tries at feeding before breastfeeding feels comfortable.
You need to coordinate your actions with Baby’s reactions so that it all goes smoothly. If Baby gets frustrated, you may have to stop and soothe him a bit before starting again.
But taking the time to get a good latch-on during the early weeks is well worth the effort: Not only does it prevent sore nipples, but it also makes sure Baby gets the most milk for his efforts and stimulates a healthy milk supply.
Breastfeeding a baby is simple and natural—if you know how to do it and what to expect.
La Leche League International offers breastfeeding answer pages, support groups, help hotlines, even podcasts and nursing wear.
Click here to find a chapter in your area.
And check out their two well-loved nursing guides:
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