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How do I breastfeed?

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There are many mothers' groups, health organizations, and health care provider associations that provide very detailed information and support on how to breastfeed. The following overview is provided for information only—it is not meant to take the place of a health care provider or lactation consultant's advice or recommendation. Visit the Resources and Publications section to find the names of some breastfeeding organizations.

Know When to Feed Your Infant
Breastfeeding Tips: How to Get Off to a Good Start
Bring Your Infant to Your Breast to Latch
Signs of a Good Latch
How to End a Breastfeeding Sessions
How Long Should a Breastfeeding Session Last?

Know When to Feed Your Infant

Infants who are hungry will nuzzle against their mother's breast and make sucking motions or will put their hands in their mouths. During the first weeks of an infant's life, you may nurse your infant often, perhaps as often as eight to 12 times in 24 hours.1

Breastfeeding Tips: How to Get Off to a Good Start

After your infant is born, follow these tips for getting started:2

  • Breastfeed your infant for the first time as soon as possible after the infant is born.
  • Ask at the hospital whether an on-site lactation consultant is available to assist you.
  • Request that the hospital staff not feed your infant any other foods or formula unless it is medically necessary.
  • Allow your infant to stay with you throughout the day and night at the hospital so that you can breastfeed often. If this is not possible, ask the nurses to bring your infant to you each time for breastfeeding.
  • Avoid giving your infant pacifiers or artificial nipples so that the infant gets used to latching on to just your breast.

Bring Your Infant to Your Breast to Latch

Infants will naturally move their head while looking and feeling for a breast to feed. There are many ways to start feeding your infant, and the best approach is the one that works for you and your infant. The steps below can help with getting your infant to "latch" on to the breast for feeding.3

  • Hold your infant against your bare chest. Dress your infant in only a diaper to ensure skin-to-skin contact.
  • Keep your infant upright, with his or her head directly under your chin.
  • Support your infant's neck and shoulders with one hand and his or her hips with your other hand. Your infant may try to move around to find your breast.
  • Your infant's head should be slightly tilted back to make nursing and swallowing easier. When his or her head is tilted back and the mouth is open, the tongue will naturally be down in the mouth to allow the breast to go on top of it.
  • At first, allow your breast to hang naturally. Your infant may open his or her mouth when your nipple is near his or her mouth. You also can gently guide the infant to latch on to your nipple.
  • While your infant is feeding, his or her nostrils may flare to breathe in air. Do not panic—this flaring is normal. Your infant can breathe normally while breastfeeding.
  • As your infant tilts backward, support his or her upper back and shoulders with the palm of your hand and gently pull your infant close.

Signs of a Good Latch

A good latch is important for both effective breastfeeding and your own comfort. Review the following signs to determine whether your infant has a good latch:4

  • The latch feels comfortable and does not hurt or pinch. How it feels is a more important sign of a good latch than how it looks.
  • Your infant does not need to turn his or her head while feeding. His or her chest is close to your body.
  • You see little or no areola (pronounced uh-REE-uh-luh), which is the dark-colored skin on the breast that surrounds the nipple. Depending on the size of your areola and the size of your infant's mouth, you may see a small amount of areola. If more areola is showing, it should seem that more is above your infant's lip and less is below.
  • Your infant's mouth will be filled with breast when in the best latch position.
  • Your infant's tongue is cupped under the breast, although you might not see it.
  • You can hear or see your infant swallowing. Because some babies swallow so quietly, the only way of knowing that they are swallowing is when you hear or see a pause in their breathing.
  • Your infant's ears "wiggle" slightly.
  • Your infant's lips turn outward, similar to fish lips, not inward. You may not even see your infant's bottom lip.  
  • Your infant's chin touches your breast.

How to End a Breastfeeding Session

To break the suction and end a breastfeeding session, insert a clean finger between your breast and your infant's gums. After you hear a soft pop, pull your nipple out of your infant's mouth.5

How long should a breastfeeding session last?

You should allow your infant to set his or her own nursing pattern. Many newborns will feed for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. If your infant wants to nurse for a much longer period—say 30 minutes or longer on each breast—he or she may not be getting enough milk.6

For more information on learning how to breastfeed your infant at the Office on Women's Health.


  1. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011, May). Breastfeeding your baby [FAQ029]. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from  http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq029.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120427T1112598029 External Web Site Policy (PDF - 542 KB) [top]
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Women's Health. (2010, August 1). Breastfeeding: Learning to breastfeed. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/learning-to-breastfeed [top]
  3. HHS Office on Women's Health. (2010, August 1). Breastfeeding: Learning to breastfeed. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/learning-to-breastfeed [top]
  4. HHS Office on Women's Health. (2010, August 1). Breastfeeding: Learning to breastfeed. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/learning-to-breastfeed/ [top]
  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). (2011, May). Breastfeeding your baby.  Retrieved April 27, 2012, from  http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq029.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120427T1112598029 External Web Site Policy (PDF - 542 KB)[top]
  6. ACOG. (2011, May). Breastfeeding your baby. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq029.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120427T1112598029 External Web Site Policy (PDF - 542 KB) [top]

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Last Updated Date: 04/14/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 12/19/2013
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