How to Get Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start

8 Tips for Success Right from the Beginning

When it comes to breastfeeding, getting off to a good start is so important. A good beginning leads to a healthy supply of breast milk, fewer breast problems for you, and a happy, satisfied, healthy baby. It could also mean greater breastfeeding success and a longer duration of breastfeeding. Here are eight tips for getting off to a good start.


Try to Have a Natural, Unmedicated Birth

Mixed race mother admiring newborn baby son
A natural birth can help get breastfeeding off to a good start. KidStock/Getty Images

The induction of labor, a scheduled C-section, or the use of a lot of medications during birth, can interfere with breastfeeding and cause a delay in the onset of breast milk production. A C-section is surgery, and once it's over, it may take a while before a mom and baby can breastfeed. And, drugs given to bring on labor or relieve pain during childbirth can cause latch-on difficulties and sleepiness in newborns. These birth situations can make it harder to get breastfeeding started right away.

Now, sometimes these types of deliveries are necessary. But, if it's possible for you to have a natural, unmedicated birth, you should consider it. Not only is healing from a natural birth often easier, but you can usually start breastfeeding very soon afterward.


Ask for Immediate Skin-to-Skin Contact

First minutes.
Early skin-to-skin contact promotes breastfeeding. Layland Masuda / Getty Images

As long as your baby is born healthy and full-term, your doctor should be able to place the baby directly on your bare chest with his stomach facing down on your body. Your newborn can be dried and initially examined right there on your chest.

Newborns tend to be awake and alert right after they're born. So, within an hour of birth, many newborns will instinctively crawl up to the breast, find the nipple, and begin breastfeeding all on their own. Sometimes a little help is needed, but this is an excellent way to get breastfeeding started naturally. If you have a C-section, this won't be an option, but you can start placing your baby skin-to-skin as soon as you feel comfortable.


Breastfeed Your Baby as Soon as Possible After Delivery

Mother holding newborn infant in hospital.
Begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after you have your baby. Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

If you can, breastfeed your baby while you're still in the delivery room during the first hour after the birth. If this isn't possible because your baby needs to go to the special care nursery or you have to have a C-section, then put the baby to the breast as soon as it's safe. If you have to be away from your baby for a while, ask for a breast pump and help with pumping. The earlier you can start stimulating your breasts, the better.


Make Sure Your Baby Latches on Well from the First Breastfeeding

Newborn baby breastfeeding.
It's important to learn how to latch your baby on correctly from the first breastfeeding. IvanJekic / Getty Images

When you breastfeed your baby for the first time, have a doctor, nurse, doula, or lactation professional check your baby's latch. If the baby is not latching on correctly, these health care providers can show you how to latch your baby on the right way. A proper latch right from the beginning is one of the keys to successful breastfeeding.

A good latch ensures that your baby will be able to draw the breast milk out of your breast, and it sends a signal to your body to make a healthy supply of breast milk. A good latch also helps to prevent some of the painful and common problems of breastfeeding such as sore nipples, breast engorgement and plugged milk ducts.


Breastfeed Your Newborn Very Often

Caucasian mother nursing newborn daughter in hospital bed
Breastfeed your baby at least every 2 to 3 hours and whenever she shows signs of hunger. Shestock / Getty Images

Breastfeed your newborn on demand, whenever he or she shows signs of hunger. That means you should be putting your baby to the breast at least every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day and night. As long as your baby is latching on to your breast correctly, the frequent feedings will tell your body to make breast milk. During these first few days, breastfeeding very often can also help to prevent some of the problems that newborns sometimes encounter such as jaundice and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). So, for the most success, it's best to breastfeed early and often. 


Keep Your Baby with You as Much as Possible

Couple holding newborn baby in hospital.
Rooming-in allows you to breastfeed more frequently. Chris Ryan / Getty Images

If you deliver in a hospital, many maternity units encourage rooming-in. As long as it is safe, rooming-in lets you keep your baby with you in your room instead of having him spend a lot of time in the newborn nursery. If you've had a C-section, and you're worried about caring for your child on your own, ask your partner, a family member, or a friend to stay with you to help you with the baby. The more time you and your child get to spend together, the more you can breastfeed. 


Delay the Use of a Pacifier

A newborn at the maternity ward with pacifier
The early introduction of a pacifier can interfere with successful breastfeeding. Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

It's OK for a breastfed baby to use a pacifier, and there are even some advantages to pacifier use. However, in the first few weeks after your baby is born, when you're trying to get breastfeeding off to a good start, it's better to put the baby to the breast and skip the pacifier. Even though many babies can go back and forth between the pacifier and the breast without any issues, some babies may develop nipple confusion or they'll tire out from sucking on the pacifier and not nurse as well. 

Breastfeeding often during the first few weeks of breastfeeding is what stimulates your body to produce a healthy supply of breast milk, and pacifier use can interfere with the amount of time your baby spends at the breast. Therefore, try to hold off on the pacifier until your baby is about four weeks old. By this time, your baby will be breastfeeding well, and your milk supply should be established. Of course, only you, your partner, and your child's doctor will know what's best for you and your baby. There are some children such as preemies or those who suffer from colic that may benefit from early pacifier use, so if you do decide to use one, you don't have to feel guilty.


Don't Give Your Baby Supplemental Feedings or Formula

Nurse feeding a newborn formula.
Unless it's medically necessary, don't give your baby formula. Juanmonino / Getty Images

Unless it is necessary, don't give your baby formula between nursing sessions. If your child continues to show signs of hunger, put her back to the breast as often as you have to. During the first few days, your newborn is only getting a small amount of colostrum, but that's really all she needs. If you give your baby formula in addition to breastfeeding, she will not breastfeed as much. And, if you skip feedings and have the nursery staff give your baby a bottle instead, you're missing an opportunity to build a stronger supply of breast milk for your baby.

Like pacifiers, the early introduction of a bottle can cause nipple confusion, and sometimes a baby will prefer the bottle to the breast. You can prevent these issues by avoiding the bottle for the first few weeks. Of course, sometimes it's medically necessary to give your child a formula supplement, and you can't help that. But, as long as your baby is healthy and doing well, continue to breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed.

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  • Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol# 5: Peripartum breastfeeding management for the healthy mother and infant at term revision, June 2008.
  • Eidelman, A. I., Schanler, R. J., Johnston, M., Landers, S., Noble, L., Szucs, K., & Viehmann, L. Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Section on Breastfeeding. Pediatrics. 2012, 129(3), e827-e841.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.