Breastfeeding basics

Breastfeeding basics

How your breasts produce milk

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

Your body makes two hormones that help you to produce milk: 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."

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

Your nurse will help you get started breastfeeding. Ask questions.

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 don't need to give your baby water.

labeling of different breast parts

The more milk your baby takes, the more milk you body makes. All shapes and sizes of breasts produce milk. You can breastfeed if you have had either a vaginal or a Cesarean birth.

Normal breast changes

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

  • are soft
  • don't feel full
  • produce colostrum ("liquid gold")

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

  • feel fuller (Feeding or hand expressing often will reduce the swelling.)
  • produce milk that is thinner and whiter

Normal newborn behavior and feeding patterns

Milk Production

The following conditions may affect your milk production.

  • retained placenta (all or part of the placenta stays in the womb after delivery)
  • increased blood loss at delivery
  • breast surgery (reduction or augmentation)
  • thyroid disease
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • insufficient glandular tissue
  • ·obesity
  • diabetes or gestational diabetes
  • infertility.
If you have low milk production, please talk with your health care provider or lactation consultant.

Birth day:

  • Your baby will be calm and alert for a couple of hours after birth. They may be tired for the next 12 to 24 hours.
  • The goal is for your baby to feed every two to three hours.
  • If your baby isn't interested, you can hand express some colostrum into a spoon and give your baby what you collected in the spoon. That will help get things started for you both.

Next day:

  • You will probably see a big change in your baby's behavior the second night after birth. They 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. This response is your baby's sudden awareness that your womb is no longer home and the most comforting place is skin-to-skin at your breast.
  • After feeding, snuggle with your baby until they fall into a deep sleep before putting them down.

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

Sometimes, in the first two weeks, your baby will not wake up on their own to eat. You need to wake your baby every three hours to feed until they are back to their birth weight.

What you and your partner can do

Sleep when your baby sleeps. Limit visitors. Try calming techniques such as rocking, humming or playing soothing music. Keep baby skin-to-skin when you or your partner are awake and available. Stay calm and call for help if you need it.

Getting ready to breastfeed

Your partner can help you with any of these:

  • 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 they are unsettled.

Skin-to-skin contact keeps your baby warm. You can cover your 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
  • your baby becomes relaxed
  • swallowing occurs less often
  • your baby comes off your breast

Burp your baby and offer the second breast. Your baby may or may not feed more on the second breast.

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

  • 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.

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:

Laid-back hold

  • Lie on your back, supported by pillows.
  • Position your baby so they are tummy-to-tummy on your stomach. Gently guide your baby to your breast while supporting their bottom with your hand.

Cross-cradle hold

  • Position your baby so they are tummy-to-tummy and lying across your lap.
  • Support your baby's back with your forearm and gently cup the base of their head in your hand.
  • Hold your breast with your free hand until your baby 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 if your baby can maintain an effective latch.

Football hold

  • Place a pillow or two at your side to support your arm and raise your baby to breast level.
  • Support your baby's back with your forearm and gently cup the base of their head and neck with your hand. Use your forearm to hold your baby's 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 their side, facing you. Your baby should be close to you with their face at breast level.
  • Support your baby's back with your forearm and gently cup the base of their head and neck with your hand. Use your forearm to hold your baby's tummy against your stomach.

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 your baby to breast level.
  • Place your baby's head on the crook of your arm.
  • Keep your elbow close to your body to help your baby keep their chin up.
  • Turn your baby's tummy and hips to face yours. Don't have your baby rest on their back and just turn their head.

Breastfeeding positions photos

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022