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Breastfeeding basics

How your breasts produce milk

labeling of different breast parts

Your body makes two hormones that are important to breastfeeding: prolactin and oxytocin.

  • Prolactin makes the cells in the alveoli (little sacs) produce the milk.
  • Oxytocin causes cells in the alveoli to tighten and squeeze the milk down through the milk ducts and out the nipple. The process is known as “let-down.”

Milk production is based on supply and demand. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body will make.

Did you know?

  • All shapes and sizes of breasts produce milk.
  • You can breastfeed if you have had either a vaginal or a Cesarean birth.

The first milk you produce is called colostrum. This is low in volume but packed with antibodies (to protect your baby from diseases).

Colostrum is thick and concentrated. Known as “liquid gold,” it is very high in protein and nutrients. It is the perfect food given in the perfect amount.

Over the first week, your milk gradually increases. Breastmilk has all the nutrition your baby needs. You do not need to give your baby water.

Normal breast changes

The first few days after birth you will notice that your breasts:

  • are soft
  • produce colostrum
  • do not feel full

Between the second and sixth days after birth you will notice that your breasts:

  • produce milk that is thinner and whiter
  • swell because of the extra fluid. (Nursing or hand expressing often will reduce the swelling.)

Normal newborn behavior and feeding patterns

Day one


Sometimes, in the first two weeks, your baby will not wake up on his own to eat. You need to wake your baby every two to three hours to feed.

Your baby will be calm and alert for a couple of hours after birth. He may be tired for the next 12 to 24 hours. The goal is for your baby to feed every two to three hours.

Day two

You will see a big change in your baby’s behavior the second night after birth. He may want to feed more often than one to three hours. Your baby may be unsettled unless at your breast or cuddling skin-to-skin.

Your baby will regulate your milk supply. Together, you and your baby will develop your own rhythm.

What you and your partner can do

Sleep when your baby sleeps. Limit visitors. Try calming techniques. Swaddle your baby in a blanket. Stay calm and call for help if you need it.

Getting ready to breastfeed

Your partner can help you with any of these:

Did you know?

  • Babies are most interested in feeding between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. This is a great time to practice breastfeeding, which will boost your milk supply
  • Breastfeed at least every three to four hours at night.
  • Get the room ready.
    • Adjust lighting (if needed).
    • Ask visitors to step out of the room.
    • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV or phone.
  • Get yourself ready.
    • Wash your hands.
    • Get a glass of water.
    • Get comfortable.
    • Massage your breasts to get the milk flowing.
  • Get your baby ready.
    • Enjoy skin-to-skin contact.
    • Help watch for feeding cues.
    • Help calm your baby if he is unsettled.

Skin-to-skin contact keeps your baby warm. You can cover the baby with a blanket.


Alternate which breast you start with at each feeding. Allow your baby to drain the first breast well. You will know your breast is draining well when:

  • your breast softens
  • Tip

    Choose a well-fitting nursing bra that wicks away moisture. If your nursing bra becomes wet, change it.

  • your baby becomes relaxed
  • swallowing occurs less often
  • your baby comes off your breast

Burp your baby and offer the second breast if you see feeding cues.

Remember, you cannot breastfeed too often. Feeding often keeps your breasts soft and easier to latch onto.

Breastfeeding positions

There is no “one” right way to breastfeed. Choose the position(s) that work best for you and your baby.

Regardless of the position that you use, it is important to keep your baby’s head, shoulders, and hips in a straight line. The correct positioning is tummy to tummy and nose to nipple.

It is also important to bring your baby to your breast rather than your breast to your baby. This will prevent you from getting a sore back from leaning over.

Here are some positions you can try:

  • Recline hold
    • Lie on your back, supported by pillows.
    • Position your baby so she is tummy-to-tummy on your stomach. Her head should be between your breasts. Gently guide her to your breast while supporting her bottom with your hand.
  • Cross-cradle hold
    • Position your baby so she is tummy-to-tummy and she is lying across your lap.
    • Support her back with your forearm and hold the base of her head in your hand.
    • Hold your breast with your free hand until she has latched on to your nipple. You may need to hold your breast for the entire feeding.
    • When your baby starts to nurse, you may want to switch your arms to the cradle hold position.
  • Clutch hold or football hold
    • Place a pillow or two at your side to support your arm and raise your baby to breast level.
    • Support her back with your forearm and hold the base of her head and neck with your hand. Use your forearm to hold her tummy against your side.
    • Hold your breast with your free hand.
  • Lying-down hold
    • Lie on your side with pillows supporting your back. Bend the knee of your top leg so that you are comfortably turned on your side.
    • Place your baby on her side, facing you. She should be close to you with her face at breast level.
  • Cradle hold
  • This works best for babies who are latching well.

    • Place a pillow or two in your lap to support your baby and get her to breast level.
    • Place her head on the crook of your arm.
    • Keep your elbow close to your body to help your baby keep her chin up.
    • Turn her tummy and hips to face yours. Don’t have her rest on her back and just turn her head.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5 Years Old, fifth edition

To avoid awkward sentences, instead of referring to your child as "he/she" or "him/her," this guide will alternate between "he" or she" and "him" or "her."

First published: 02/01/2010
Last updated: 01/01/2014

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including the Pediatric Department of Allina Health Coon Rapids Clinic