Learning to Breastfeed

For some moms and babies, breastfeeding comes easily and naturally, for others it does not. The first few days or weeks can be hard, leading many moms to consider quitting. If you are having problems, ask for help and keep trying. Breastfeeding has a learning curve for both you and your baby. The best thing you can do is plan ahead and know there are many resources out there to help.

Tell your doctor or midwife that you are choosing to exclusively breastfeed and make sure they support your decision. Many hospitals in the state of Utah are taking steps to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment. Please see our STEPPING UP FOR UTAH BABIES program for a list of hospitals that are taking steps to support breastfeeding.

Take a breastfeeding class. Pregnant women who learn about breastfeeding before they give birth are more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals. Talk to your doctor or midwife about where to find a breastfeeding class near you.

Contact a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants can help you identify and correct breastfeeding problems, offer support, and help you and your baby learn to breastfeed. You can begin talking with a lactation consultant before your baby is born.

Talk to fathers, partners, and other family members about your decision to breastfeed. Tell your family about your breastfeeding goals and let them know they can show their support by:

  • Being kind and encouraging, even when breastfeeding is challenging and frustrating
  • Showing their love and appreciation for the work and time that goes into breastfeeding
  • Being good listeners if you need to talk about any breastfeeding concerns you might have
  • Helping make sure you have enough to drink and are getting enough rest
  • Helping around the house
  • Take care of any other children who are in the home

Get the items you will need for breastfeeding, such as nursing bras, covers, and nursing pillows.

After your baby is born, you can get off to a great start by:

Cuddling with your baby skin-to-skin for at least an hour immediately after birth. Babies who lie on their mother’s bare chest are shown to be:

  • More likely to latch onto the breast well
  • Better able to maintain their body temperature
  • Better able to maintain their heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure
  • More likely to have higher blood sugar
  • Less likely to cry
  • More likely to breastfeed longer and exclusively
  • Better able to let mom know when they want to breastfeed. Babies placed skin-to-skin with their mom will move, search for and find the nipple on their own, even attaching to the breast themselves. This is known as a “breast crawl.”

If delivering in a hospital, ask the staff not to give your baby a pacifier, sugar water, or formula unless it is necessary for your baby’s health. 

Let your baby stay in your hospital room all day and all night. This will help you learn the signs your baby will give you when they are hungry. Research has shown that when babies stay in the room with their mom, both actually get more and better sleep.

When you begin breastfeeding, you will feel when milk is released into the milk ducts, this is called the let-down reflex. Let-down happens a few seconds to several minutes after you start breastfeeding. It can also happen a few times during a feeding. You may feel a tingle in your breast, or you may feel a little uncomfortable. You may also not feel anything at all.

Let-down can happen at other times, too, such as when you hear your baby cry or when you are just thinking about your baby. If your milk lets down as more of a gush and it bothers your baby, try expressing some milk by hand before you start breastfeeding.

The biggest part of learning to breastfeed is getting a good “latch.” A good latch can take some practice and be a big source of frustration for you and your baby. Keep in mind that there is no one way to start breastfeeding, and what works for you and your baby is the right way.

The steps below can help your baby latch on and begin sucking. Knowing the signs your baby shows when they are hungry and letting them begin the process of searching for the nipple may help in breastfeeding success. This is called a “baby-led” approach. In this approach, you will want to:

  1. Create a calm environment. Recline on pillows or in a comfortable chair. Make sure you are relaxed and calm.
  2. Hold your baby skin-to-skin against your bare chest before you even try to breastfeed. Place your baby between your bare breasts and just enjoy this moment of closeness and bonding. Do not force your baby to latch. In the baby-led approach, your baby may latch on their own when they are ready.
  3. Let your baby lead. A hungry baby will bob their head against you, try to make eye contact, and squirm around as they search for the nipple. Once you notice these signs, move your baby into a hold that is comfortable for both of you.
  4. Allow your breast to hang naturally. When your baby’s chin hits your breast, the firm pressure will make his or her mouth open wide and reach up and over the nipple. As they press their chin into your breast and open their mouth, they should get a correct latch. Keep in mind that your baby can breathe while they are breastfeeding. Their nostrils flare to allow air in.

If after you have done these steps and your baby is still not latching correctly, try the following:

  1. Tickle your baby’s lips with your nipple. This should get them to open their mouth wide.
  2. Pull your baby close, so their chin and lower jaw move into your breast.
  3. Aim the lower lip away from the base of the nipple so your baby will get a large mouthful of breast.

latch1              latch2               latch3

When your baby is well latched, you should be able to tell. A good latch includes:

  • A latch that feels comfortable to you and does not hurt or pinch
  • You see the pink of your baby’s lips. Their lips should be turned outward like “fish lips.”
  • Much of the areola (the dark skin around your nipple) is inside the baby’s mouth. This creates a tight seal between your baby’s mouth and the breast. This seal should also prevent a large amount of milk from leaking out of your baby’s mouth as they feed.
  • The baby’s tongue forms a cup around the nipple and is between the lower gum and your breast.
  • Baby’s ears are wiggling.
  • You hear your baby swallowing. You should not hear a clicking sound. This suggests that the tongue is not in the right place and the baby is not latched on correctly.

How often and for how long should I breastfeed?

Many national organizations, like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to name a few, all agree that babies should be exclusively (only given breast milk) breastfed for the first 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as solid foods are introduced for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mom and baby.


When you begin breastfeeding, you should feed your baby when they want for how long they want – this is called on-demand feeding. You should try not to put your baby on a feeding schedule in the first couple of weeks after birth. Your baby will let you know when they are hungry and when they are full. As your baby gets older, they will develop their own feeding schedule and patterns that you can follow.

What is the best way to hold my baby while they are breastfeeding?

There is no one best way to hold your baby while they are feeding. You should find what works and is comfortable for you and your baby. Here are some of the most common ways to hold your baby:


Cradle hold. This common and easy hold is comfortable for most moms and babies. Hold your baby with their head on your forearm and their body facing yours.


Cross-cradle or transitional hold. This hold may be helpful for premature babies or babies with a weak suck because it gives extra head support and may help your baby stay latched. But, any mom can use this hold. Hold your baby along the area opposite from the breast you are using. Support your baby’s head at the base of their neck with the palm of your hand.


Clutch or “football” hold. Women who have had a C-section, have large breasts, flat or inverted nipples, or a strong let-down reflex may want to use this hold. This hold is also useful for babies that like to be held in an upright position. Hold your baby at your side with the baby lying on their back with their head at the level of your nipple. Support your baby’s head by placing the palm of your hand at the base of their head.


Side-lying position. This position is good for when you want to rest while breastfeeding. Lie on your side with your baby facing you. Pull your baby close so that your baby faces your body.