There are many terms for feeding your baby directly from your body. Breastfeeding or chestfeeding is also called nursing. Your milk has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, proteins, and fat to feed your baby. Breastfeeding/chestfeeding takes practice. It does not always happen right away like it does with animals. However, nursing your baby has many rewards.
Benefits of Breast/Chestfeeding
- Breast/chestfeeding helps develop a close bond between you and your baby and provides the best nutrition.
- Human milk has substances that protect your baby from illnesses. These are called antibodies. For a sick or fragile baby, it is a medicine that only their parent can give. Babies who are breast/chestfed have fewer ear infections, digestive problems, and allergy problems, like eczema and asthma. They are also hospitalized less than those fed formula.
- Nursing your baby can also protect against Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUIDs), formerly known as SIDS.
How to Breastfeed/Chestfeeding
- Sit in a comfortable chair, and try to be as relaxed as possible. If you are tense and nervous, it can keep the milk from “letting-down” and letting the milk flow.
- Hold your baby so their tummy touches yours. Baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip should be in a straight line (Picture 1).
- Press in on the darker outer part of your nipple (areola) with your fingers and let go a few times. This will help start the flow of milk.
- Stroke your baby’s upper lip with your nipple. This will cause your baby to open their mouth wide to find the nipple.
- Teach your baby to latch on with their tongue down and mouth wide open. This can take time. Once they learn, they will press on the areola with
their tongue and lips, while sucking on the nipple. This action will make the milk flow.
- Let your baby nurse on one side as long as they are actively sucking. After the first side, you should always offer the second side in case your baby is still hungry. Some babies may finish feeding in 15 minutes. Others may need 30 minutes. Some babies nurse from one side at some feedings, and both sides at other times. Every baby has their own style.
- For the next feeding, start on the side that was not used before. If your baby is fed from both sides, use the one you ended with, first.
- Positioning: You may need to change your baby’s position to make sure they get all of your milk and prevent problems with engorgement. To use the football hold, position the baby under your arm on the side where your baby will nurse. Support the head with your hand. It is easier to do the football hold if the baby lies on a pillow (Picture 2).
Burping Your Baby
Your baby may swallow air while feeding. This should be brought up (burped) to prevent stomach pain. Babies may need to be burped halfway through and at the end of feeding.
To burp your baby, sit them on your lap and support their head with your hand. With your other hand, gently pat or rub their back. A little milk may come out with the burp. Have a clean cloth ready.
Feeding Schedule and Nutrition
- Babies who nurse may eat more often than babies fed with formula. This is because human milk is easier for babies to digest. Your baby will need to be fed every 1 to 3 hours at first.
- Night feedings must be given during the first few months of life, even if fed formula. Remember, your baby will outgrow this.
- Your baby will start to let you know how often and how long they need to nurse over time. Signs of hunger include bringing hands to the mouth, rooting, lip smacking, sticking tongue out, and crying. Crying is a late sign of hunger.
- Your baby is getting the right amount of milk if they gain 4 to 7 ounces per week for the first few months. Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you are concerned about your child’s weight. There should be at least six wet diapers and three bowel movements each day after the first week.
- You will give your baby a vitamin supplement with at least 400 IU of vitamin D. The doctor or health care provider may also suggest giving iron or fluoride.
If possible, do not bottle feed during the first 3 to 4 weeks or until breastfeeding/chestfeeding is well-established. When you need to be away from your baby for a few hours, you may need to use a bottle. Your human milk in the bottle is best. Ask your nurse or health care provider for more information about using a hospital-grade electric pump and expressing milk.
When you cannot feed your own milk, your baby may be fed formula. Doctors recommend babies be fed only human milk during the first 6 months, and nursing for as long as the parent or baby wants.
How to Care for Your Body
You do not need to wash your breasts/chest before or after nursing. You can let the milk dry on your nipples.
However, wash your breasts/chest with clear, warm water once a day, when you shower. Ask your nurse or health care provider for more information about breast/chest care.
- Parents who breastfeed must eat more calories and protein each day than they normally would. Add an extra meal or snacks each day, such as a sandwich, a piece of fruit, or a glass of milk, to add calories and protein. Good sources of protein include chicken, meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, beans, and nuts.
- Eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of liquids gives you energy and helps you stay strong. Limit drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, sodas/pop, and energy drinks. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of liquids without caffeine each day, so your pee (urine) stays pale yellow.
Menstruation and Birth Control
Your menstrual periods may stop while you’re either nursing or expressing milk. This doesn’t mean you cannot get pregnant while providing milk. If you do not want to become pregnant, ask your doctor or health care provider to suggest the birth control method that is best for you. Tell them you are providing milk. Some birth control medicines can reduce your milk production.
Medicines, Alcohol, Drugs
- Most prescription medicines are safe to use. Check with your doctor, health care provider, pharmacist, or lactation specialist to be sure.
- Check with your doctor, health care provider, pharmacist, or lactation specialist before taking any new medicines, including over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
- Avoid alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco while providing milk. Other street drugs can also get into your milk and harm your baby. If you are taking anything not prescribed to you, speak to a pharmacist or lactation specialist before giving your baby your milk to make sure it is safe.
Smoking in the same room with your baby can harm them. It increases the risk of your child having colds, respiratory problems, and possibly Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUIDs). Smoking more than 10 cigarettes a day decreases a parent’s milk production. Ask your nurse or health care provider for more information on quitting smoking.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the doctor or health care provider if:
- Your breasts/chest stay swollen or painfully engorged after expressing milk several times.
- Your breasts/chest feel hot or sore when you touch them.
- Your breast/chest is reddened.
- Your nipples are sore, cracked, or bleeding.
- You develop a fever over 101° Fahrenheit (F) or 38.3° Celsius (C).
If you have any questions, ask your doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant.
HH-IV-6 • ©1983, revised 2023 • Nationwide Children's Hospital