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Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

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Newborn feeding: Breastfeeding basics

How your breasts produce milk

breast diagram

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.

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:

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.
  • 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 or she 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 or she 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?

  • Your milk-making hormones are higher at night.
  • Babies are most interested in feeding between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.
  • 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 she 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:


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

  • your breast softens
  • 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.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, sixth edition, preg-ahc-90026, ISBN 1-931876-25-8

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 01/29/2013

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts