Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months, and at least partially for the remainder of the first year. This is because there are certain benefits for both mom and baby that go along with breastfeeding.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for baby?
Breastfeeding provides the best mix of nutrition to help your baby grow, and it can be easier for her to digest than infant formula. Your breast milk contains antibodies that support your baby’s immune system. The physical closeness that comes with breastfeeding is also a natural way to bond with your baby.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for mom?
Breastfeeding burns calories and can help you lose pregnancy weight. When you breastfeed, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin that helps reduce stress and promote uterine contractions to help shrink your uterus after pregnancy. Breastfeeding also saves time and money because you won’t need to buy and prepare formula.
Breastfeeding requires even more energy and nutrients than pregnancy. So it’s important that you eat a healthy diet and continue taking your prenatal vitamins.
Most breastfeeding moms should consume a total of 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day or about an additional 500 calories. This will give you enough energy to help with breast milk production.
Foods to eat while breastfeeding
What you eat and drink can affect the quality of your breast milk. So, proper nutrition plays a critical role in your health and the health of your baby.
Here’s a guide for what to eat each day while breastfeeding:
- Grains (at least half as whole grains)—8 oz
- Vegetables (choose a variety)—3 cups
- Fruit (whole or cut up)—2 cups
- Dairy (low-fat or fat-free)—3 cups
- Protein (lean meats and beans)—6.5 oz
For 3 or 4 days after your baby is born, your breasts produce what is called colostrum. It’s yellow and is thicker than breast milk that is produced beyond these initial days. Colostrum is packed with nutrients your new baby needs, so make sure she gets this precious milk.
The flow of colostrum is slow and encourages your little one to practice sucking, swallowing, and breathing at the same time. At approximately day 5, your milk supply will likely increase to match her growing appetite and she will have likely mastered the rhythm required for breastfeeding.
If she’s still getting used to things after 5 days, that’s okay. Ask your doctor or lactation consultant for help until the two of you settle in at your own pace.
Crying is a late sign of hunger. Try to pick up on her hunger cues before she reaches this moment, and you may have a better breastfeeding experience. When your baby makes sucking movements or puts her fingers to her mouth—even while sleeping—she might be telling you she is ready to eat.
It is best to feed her when she is fully awake. You can help wake her by gently playing with her, changing her diaper, or talking to her before she eats.
During the daytime, if 3 hours have passed since your baby’s last feeding or if your breasts are full, you might want to wake her to feed. It could take 5 to 10 minutes to wake her completely, but it usually will result in a better feeding. Talking, rubbing, patting, or undressing her will help.
If she shows signs of hunger—even if she just ate an hour ago—it’s OK to feed her again. Sometimes infants do what’s called cluster feeding—lots of short feeds over a few hours to satisfy their hunger. It does not mean your milk supply is low. This is normal breastfeeding behavior.
It’s possible that one or both of your breasts will get uncomfortably full between feedings. If this happens, you can use a breast pump or hand express to help relieve the pressure.
Your milk supply is created based on your baby’s demands. As she grows, her need for breast milk or formula increases and may double during the first 6 months.
Cluster feeding is common when babies have growth spurts. During your baby’s first few months of life, this may happen several times. Frequent feedings, like cluster feeding, encourage your body to produce even more milk, so you'll have enough to meet baby’s growing appetite.
When you first start to breastfeed, you’ll know your newborn is getting enough milk when she stops passing stool called meconium, which are thick and black or dark green. After this, she should start to pass yellow, seedy, runny stools three or more times a day.
Check out our Diaper Decoder to help answer questions about your baby’s stools.
Once breastfeeding is established, your baby may have six to eight wet diapers per day and two or more bowel movements per day. Your baby’s doctor will monitor your baby’s weight gain, which is another sign she’s fed frequently enough.
Signs that your baby is getting enough breast milk
- She sleeps for a couple of hours after feeding
- She breastfeeds every 2 to 3 hours, at least eight times in a 24-hour period
- She usually breastfeeds for 15 minutes or longer per breast
- You may hear a rhythmic suck/swallow/breathe pattern during feedings
- Your baby usually breastfeeds at both breasts
- Your breasts feel full before a feeding and softer afterward
- She appears settled and no longer hungry after feedings
It’s easy to track your baby's feedings with our Feeding Tracker.
Have more questions about feeding? Check out our Feeding Tools page.
There is no "best" position for breastfeeding. But feeding is always easiest when both you and your baby are comfortable and relaxed.
Because every mom and baby are different, some positions may work better for you than others. Another reason to try different positions: It can help reduce breast tenderness, if your baby isn’t latching on and applying pressure to the same spot every time.
Nursing position #1: the cradle hold
Sit in a comfortable chair that supports your arms and back. Try not to hunch your shoulders. Support your breast with your hand in a cupped C-shape. Place your baby across your stomach, tummy to tummy.
Your baby's head should be in the bend of your elbow, and her mouth should be directly in front of your nipple. Use a pillow to support your arm. Tuck her lower arm around your waist, out of the way.
If correctly positioned, your baby's body should form a straight line from her ear to shoulder to hip.
Nursing position #2: the football hold
Like a football player cradles a football, cradle your baby over your arm while you’re seated in a chair. This lets you see if he is latching on properly. Place pillows at your side to support your elbow and your baby’s bottom. Then tuck him into the side of your waist and place his head in the palm of your hand, supporting the base of his head between your thumb and forefinger.
Moms like this position best if they:
- Have large breasts
- Are concerned about latch on
- Have a small or premature baby
- Are sore from a cesarean birth
Nursing position #3: the cross-cradle hold
This is a good position for moms with premature babies or who have trouble getting their little one to latch on. It makes it easier to see her latch on compared to the traditional cradle hold.
Hold your baby across your body in the arm opposite the breast from which she will be feeding. Her position will be the same as in the cradle hold, but you will use your other arm to hold her. Your baby should be level with your breast, with her body turned toward you. Some mothers find they can tuck baby's bottom into the crook of their arm. When she opens her mouth wide, pull her onto the breast far enough that the tip of her nose, her cheeks, and her chin are all touching your breast.
Nursing position #4: side lying
This is a comfortable alternative position, when sitting is uncomfortable.
Lie on your side, using one pillow to support your head and another along your back. Your head and neck should be comfortably propped up with pillows.
You can also lie on your side with one arm bent under your head and the other hand supporting your breast. Lay your baby next to you on the bed so her mouth is aligned with your nipple. Put a pillow or rolled-up blanket behind your baby's back.
Your breastfeeding position might change over time. Even if one position works at first, many moms find different positions work better for older babies than for newborns. You might find that as your baby grows, changing your breastfeeding position helps to relieve strains put on your body by repetitive motions. Using a footstool under your feet may also help to relieve back strain and support you better during breastfeeding.