100 Breastfeeding Tips for First-Time Mothers

There’s so much to know about breastfeeding! But don’t stress. I know you feel like you are flying in the dark. Or that your body is a stranger to you, doing things to you that you don’t understand. In this post, we’ve assembled 100 of the best tips out there about breastfeeding, to help guide you through this strange (but wonderful) time.

  • Read up on breastfeeding before baby arrives. Consider the Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins.

  • Tell the hospital what you want. If you want to nurse right away, tell them that in advance.

  • Be an advocate for yourself after birth. If the nurses want to take the baby away from you after delivery (without medical necessity), make it clear that you want the child returned to you for skin-to-skin time and for nursing.

  • Prime your baby’s father to advocate for you as well in the delivery room. You are stuck in a hospital bed delivering the placenta, and may not be able to do anything about the nurses or doctor, but your partner can help you.

  • Take advantage of as much skin-to-skin contact after the birth as possible. This will help your body sync up with the needs of your baby. (Really, it does)

  • Don’t hurry. Breastfeeding takes time. Don’t let pressure to make something happen make you anxious or upset.

  • Try and breastfeed as soon as possible after the birth, within the first hour if possible.

  • Don’t obsess about other’s people’s breastfeeding experiences. Every mother and every baby is different. It goes different for everyone. If your mom said she couldn’t breastfeed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t. And if it was easy peasy for your sister, that doesn’t mean it will be easy peasy for you.

  • Remember that it can take 4-6 weeks to get breastfeeding established. Stressing out in the first days or even weeks is counterproductive. Be persistent, and be patient.

  • Don’t give your baby water. Your baby’s stomach is small. If he is full of water, he won’t want to nurse. Water doesn’t have any of the nutrients he needs.

  • Work on baby’s latch from the first feeding and beyond until you and baby get it right. A good and comfortable latch is one of the primary keys to breastfeeding successfully.

  • Encourage the baby to open him mouth wide before putting him to the nipple. This will encourage a deeper latch (rather than shallow sucking on the nipple skin).

  • Try holding your breast like a hamburger. This helps the breast (and nipple) get into a good shape for the baby to latch onto it.

  • If your baby doesn’t seem to notice that the breast is in front of him, or doesn’t open his mouth, try expressing a little milk to get him interested. If there is milk on his lips or tongue, he is more likely to open up and seek the breast if he is hungry.

  • Aim to put the bottom of your areola in the baby’s mouth, and the nipple deep toward the back of her mouth.

  • Listen to your baby as she nurses. Do you hear a small clicking sound as she moves her mouth? That’s the sound of her swallowing, which is a good sign that baby is getting something out of your breast.

  • Anxious about whether your baby is actually getting any milk? Feel your breasts before and after nursing. If they feel less full, or softer, that milk is going somwhere.

  • Don’t worry if baby’s nose is touching your breast. The baby is not suffocating if the baby is nursing with her nose pushed up against your breast. The baby’s nose is actually made to nurse up close to your skin. If baby isn’t getting air, she’ll tip her head back and complain about it.

  • When baby starts to nurse, she is sending a signal to your breasts that it’s time to send down milk. As your body responds, this is called the “let-down.” Women experience the “let-down” differently. Some women don’t feel anything. Others feel a tugging in their breast, or even a sharp prick in the breast that feels a little painful. Others feel tingles, or a rushing feeling.

  • When you put baby to one breast, tuck a small town or rag down your shirt and place it over the nipple of the breast that baby is not nursing on yet. When the baby starts nurses and signals to y our body to let-down the milk, your body responds by letting the mil down in BOTH breasts. Having a towel there to catch the leaking milk will save you having to change clothes or walk around with wet spots on your shirt.

  • If your let-down is very strong or forceful, don’t be afraid to pop baby off the breast for a minute and press a clean towel to the nipple to absorb the initial rush. You can also stimulate the nipple before feeding to get past the initial rush before offering the breast to your infant. When my milk arrived with my first baby, I felt a bit like I was spraying a fire hose into the mouth of my son. He coughed and choked on the liquid. For a week or two, I expressed milk before letting him latch, and then after that either he grew up enough to handle the milk or my supply adjusted, and then it wasn’t a problem.

  • Monitor baby’s weight carefully. If baby isn’t gaining any weight, and is only losing, that can be a sign baby isn’t latching or getting enough.

  • Count dirty diapers. The number of wet/poopy diapers is a clear indicator of how much milk/colostrum the infant is actually swallowing. There are actually some really free and easy to use apps for smartphones that help keep track of this (such as Baby Tracker). You should be looking to at least 6-8 wet diapers a day.

  • Some babies fall asleep while nursing, or may continue to nurse while dozing. You can let them dream nurse as long as you like, or try switching them to the other breast to see if they latch on again.

  • Keep track of how long and how often baby nurses. At your first appointments with the pediatrician after birth, the doctor will ask you. Like counting dirty diapers, there are some cool apps for that.

  • Let others help with the house while you are getting used to breastfeeding. It can take several weeks to really get a handle on what to do and how to do, and you need that time to just focus on baby and not feel pulled to be doing other things in the house. Many doctors recommend that new moms take their new baby to bed when they go home and just stay there for one to two weeks, cuddling skin to skin, resting, and nursing as much as possible.

  • Wash your hands before feeding. You may be called to put your hands in baby’s mouth, or find yourself wiping the babies eyes and/or nose. After all, they are right there in front of you.

  • Create a peaceful, quiet, and comfortable place to nurse your baby before she arrives.

  • Make sure there is a table nearby, so that you have a place for your phone, books, or water cup.

  • Put some things for you to do within reach of your nursing spot (crosswords, laptop, tablet, books, phone, etc.

  • Get a water cup with a lid/straw, some mothers become very, very thirsty while nursing and stuck in one place.

  • Get all the gear you’ll need for your breasts before baby arrives. Think comfy and supportive nursing tanks, nursing bra, lanolin cream, nursing pads, gel nipple covers (my favorite)

  • Try various nursing positions to confirm the most comfortable position for you.

  • Pay close attention to the support of your back, neck, and arms while nursing. If you are in pain or uncomfortable, change your position.

  • Don’t try to hold your baby in your arms so she can reach the breast the entire time you nurse. It will trouble your back and neck. Instead, try putting a pillow on your lap and then lay baby on top of that pillow to give her access to your breasts, so you don’t have to leave over the entire time. You can purchase official “nursing pillows” like the Boppy. I used a regular pillow from my bed and adjusted it around my body.

  • Minimize your baby’s exposure to chemicals through your milk by avoiding the use of pesticides and chemicals in the home, avoid smoking and smokers, carefully wash and/or peel fruits/vegetables, and avoid fish known to have high levels of mercury.

  • Anticipate your baby’s need to nurse. Instead of waiting for a hungry wail, watch for the baby’s signs that she is hungry, such as turning her head from side to side, or towards you, frequently opening of the mouth (like a fish), sticking out her tongue, sucking on anything and everything, including her lips and tongue.

  • Let baby nurse as long as she likes and as often as she likes (at least in the first months). It might seem like baby takes forever at the breast, and you might have things to do. It is best to just relax about schedules and let them relax and do their thing. Some babies are efficient eaters (7-10 minutes at a breast) and others are on there for 45 minutes to an hour.

  • Get used to leakage. Leaky breasts are really common. Leakage will happen when it is near time for baby to nurse, when baby is nearby, when other babies cry, when you cry, and for 100s of other reasons.

  • Care for your skin religiously. Baby is hard on your nipples. They can become dry, irritated, and even cracked. Protect them. Don’t use soap on them. Let them dry out after baby nurses before stuffing them back in your shirt. Keep your shirt dry or change your bra/shirt often if you are struggling with leakage.

  • Don’t use regular hand or face lotion on your nipples. These lotions contain ingredients that are not appropriate for your baby to consume, or may make the nipple taste funny to her.

  • Wash bras and shirts with the purpose of killing or reducing any yeast or bacteria that wants to live in them. Thrush is a real annoying and painful problem. Wearing your most comfortable bra every day without washing it if you are struggling with leakage is a recipe for a yeast bloom.

  • Avoid engorgement. Engorgement is the swelling and hardening of your breasts when there is too much milk. This happens mostly when your milk comes in after birth, but it can also happen if you miss a feeding or supplement your milk with formula.

  • Treat clogged milk ducts quickly. This can happen to any mom. Ducts get clogged, preventing milk from flowing out. This is very painful. The treatment for clogged ducts is actually more nursing, perhaps as often as every two hours to get the milk moving freely again. You can also take hot showers and use cool compresses.

  • Wear a tank top under your shirt. For new moms, it may feel awkward of exposing to pull down a shirt to expose the breast (and all the skin of the chest, or to pull up the shirt and expose the new mom belly. If you wear a tank top layer underneath, you can pull up the top shirt, and pull down the tank top to expose the breast, without exposing much else.

  • Don’t free pressure to cover up in you are nursing in public. Cover-ups work when baby is small, but if it is warm at all, baby can get pretty uncomfortable under the cover. Most babies swat at them and pull them off anyway.

  • Get as much rest as possible with a new nursing baby. Sleep while the baby sleeps in the first month if you can to avoid over-taxing yourself.

  • Try to avoid having too much salt. There is a correlation between salt intake and breast infections, especially when your menstrual cycle returns.

  • Eat foods that are high in calcium. If you don’t eat enough calcium while breastfeeding, your body will pull the mineral from your bones to give it to your baby. (Ever hear the term, “give a tooth for a baby.”) A good prenatal vitamin should take care of this.

  • Eat enough calories to breastfeed. You might be concerned with getting your pre-baby body back. This is a fine goal, but know that your body will stop producing breastmilk if you do not consume enough calories to produce milk and sustain you. The recommendation is to eat 500 extra calories a day.

  • Drink lots of fluids while breastfeeding. If you don’t drink enough, you won’t produce much milk.

  • Keep an eye on what you eat, and how baby seems to act. Certain foods you eat might cause your baby to fuss or pass gas. Some mothers have a lot of issues with this, and others have none.

  • Talk to your doctor before taking medications, as some of them can get into your breastmilk and impact your baby.

  • Don’t smoke if you are breastfeeding.

  • Avoid bras that are lined in plastic. This can keep moisture up against your breast and encourage growth of yeast or bacteria on your nipples.

  • Call your doctor if you have a fever or feel achy. As a breastfeeding mother, this could be a sign of mastitis, a breast infection that could be very dangerous for the nursing mother.

  • Call your doctor if you feel like you have the flu or one of your breasts is red. This could also be a sign of mastitis.

  • Keep breastfeeding if you suspect you have mastitis, even if it hurts.

  • If you receive antibiotics for mastitis, make sure to take a probiotic or eat live culture yogurt to combat thrush.

  • Call your pediatrician if both your breasts (instead of just one) appear to be infected with mastitis. Generally mastitis does not affect your baby, but an infection in both breasts could be a sign of B-streptococcal infection, which an be transmitted to baby.

  • Try to avoid introducing bottles or pacifiers until nursing has been well-established.

  • If you can’t remember which breast you nursed baby on last, put a bracelet on the hand to indicate which breast you should start on next time.

  • Check your baby’s mouth regularly for little white spots. This is a sign of thrush.

  • Keep track of diaper rash. A diaper rash that won’t go away in infants is also a sign of thrush.

  • Don’t feel the need to scrub your nipples with a brush or towel before the birth to toughen up your nipples. It won’t help.

  • Cluster feedings are a good thing, and nothing to worry about. You will find that the amount a baby wants to nurse fluctuates, usually along with his natural growth and development spurts. Sometimes this means that your baby wants to nurse non-stop for hours. Yes, that does happen. And it’s nothing to worry about.

  • Watch the color of your nipples after breastfeeding. If your nipples are pale and white or light colored after nursing, you may need to adjust the baby’s position.

  • Avoid constrictive clothing, or anything that is tight across your breasts for extended periods of time, as this can cause plugged milk ducts.

  • Feel your breasts regularly, and look for lumps that persist and do not soften after nursing. Lumps in the breast are common while nursing, but they should soften and disappear in time. Lumps that do not change can be a sign of a breast abscess or cyst.

  • Try to nurse on both breasts equally. You may notice that baby nurses on one breast more or longer than the other, or develops a preference for one breast. If you do not nurse both breasts, you may find that one of them stops producing milk almost entirely. Try offering the “bad” breast first at each feeding to encourage your baby to stimulate that breast to produce more milk.

  • Listen to yourself and how you feel. Do you find yourself feeling sad, blue, fatigued, or just generally bad? Hormonal changes after delivery can be pretty awful, but you should start feeling better . If you don’t, this may be a sign of postpartum depression or anxiety.

  • Talk to your partner, mother, or friends about how you are feeling about the new baby and about breastfeeding.

  • If your baby pulls away from the breast or refuses to nurse, don’t make assumptions. You might wonder if your baby is ready to wean (if she is older). Babies refuse to nurse for lots of reasons. They might not like the taste of your milk because of something you ate. Or perhaps their ear is hurting, or they have a stuffy nose and they can’t breath while latched. Babies with reflux problems will refuse to nurse. Thrush can also be the culprit. Sometimes it is because of perfume or deodorant you are wearing.

  • Keep an eye on your consumption of chocolate and how baby acts after you eat it. This is a common culprit for infant fussiness.

  • If your baby struggles with gassiness, burp frequently. Definitely burp her right after feeding. But you can also pop her off the breast during feeding to bur her, and then put her back on the breast to continue feeding.

  • Try to let baby nurse on one breast until he pops off himself. There is “foremilk” and “hindmilk.” The foremilk (meaning the milk that comes out first) is a thinner milk, which has more sugars in it. The hindmilk comes out after the foremilk, and tends be thicker and to have more of the fat. A baby will be more satisfied is she gets more of the hindmilk, and struggle less with colic symptoms.

  • If you pump breastmilk and store it in the fridge, plan to use it within 72 hours.

  • There’s no need to microwave or heat up breastmilk. Just take the bottle out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature, or place it in a warm water bath for a few minutes.

  • If you freeze milk and store it in the freezer of your fridge, plan to try and use it within three months.

  • If you freeze milk and store it in a deep freezer (separate and apart from the fridge), you can store it for six months or longer.

  • When you are ready to use frozen milk, thaw it in the refrigerator, where it can hang out for 24 hours or so. Or you can put it in warm water.

  • Do not refreeze breastmilk. Discard whatever the baby does not eat instead of putting it back in the fridge for another feeding.

  • If your baby pinches your skin or tugs on your nipple while nursing, give him something to hold like small stuffed animal or his blanket.

  • A baby is most likely to bite when she is no longer that hungry. Not all babies bite. But if yours experiments with biting you, avoid letting the baby snack or play with your breast. Keep on eye on your baby as feeding comes to an end, because you’ll be able to catch the glint of mischief in her eyes as she considers whether to try out her teeth.

  • Does your baby seem restless while nursing? Sometimes they will nurse better when their feet are touching something. Your arm, leg, the chair, or a pillow. Maybe they feel more secure.

  • Nursing stools are pretty cool. They can help you adjust your baby to the right position and take pressure off your hips and back.

  • Take care of your babies fingernails and toenails during breastfeeding. Baby will be focused on nursing, and will not pay attention to what you are doing to her hands and feet.

  • Have your baby sleep in your room. Moms and doctors argue about whether co-sleeping is dangerous or not, right, or wrong. Either way, at night, your baby should be in the same room with you. This will encourage the relationship between you, and help you become attuned to his needs to eat in the middle of the night.

  • Check with your doctor about vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium and phosphorus.

  • If you have to pump milk, consider pumping on one breast while baby is nursing on the other. The let-down reflex triggers milk in both breasts. Some moms say that they are able to pump more milk that way.

  • You generally produce the most milk in the middle of the night or in the morning. If you are moving to solid foods, and looking to drop a few feedings, aim to have baby nurse in the morning and then drop early afternoon feedings.

  • If baby is struggling to get a good nursing session in, try changing her diaper before you get started. She may not like the feel of the diaper against her skin while trying to relax into a feeding.

  • Sterilize all of your breastfeeding/pumping equipment on a regular basis (pump equipment, shields, etc).

  • Keep an eye on your iron levels. You may not realize it, but with all the hormones and the delivery of your baby, your iron might be a bit low.

  • Nursing can cause belly cramps. Don’t freak out if you feel something a little akin to menstrual cramps when nursing. its just the Oxycontin.

  • Your milk might not look like cow’s milk. It can change from day to day. It might be white, or it might be yellow-ish. It can look a little blue even. Thick and creamy, or watery and thin.

  • Go easy on coffee/caffeine. Small amounts of caffeine can get through breastmilk to baby, within a few hours of you consuming it. These trace amounts probably won’t hurt her, but you might struggle with fussiness or naptime troubles.

  • Check out the Wonder Weeks chart. Breastfeeding moms will be astounded to see how closely their baby’s cluster feedings and fussiness correspond to the Wonder Weeks developmental leaps.

  • Check to see if your insurance will cover the cost of any of your breastfeeding or pumping supplies (many will pay for a breastpump).

  • If baby seems to be really gassy or fussy after eating, try nursing him in a position where he is sitting up to avoid trapping as much air in his belly.

For more information about breastfeeding, check out the Mom Advice Line breastfeeding knowledge base page.

Other FAQs about Breastfeeding

What are the foods breastfeeding moms can’t eat?

There’s a long list of foods that moms shouldn’t eat when they are pregnant, but there isn’t a hard and fast rule about what women should or shouldn’t eat when breastfeeding. That being said, there are some foods that can affect a woman’s milk supply as well as their child’s health, so these need to be consumed in smaller amounts, if at all.

Alcohol and caffeine are off the table for a lot of breastfeeding moms, but if you do want a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, then you need to make sure that you wait an appropriate amount of time after drinking them to nurse your child. Fish that’s high in mercury should also be avoided, as should certain herbs. Sage, parsley, and peppermint, when eaten in large quantities, can actually decrease a woman’s milk supply.

Other foods may need to be avoided depending on the health of the child. Spicy foods can sometimes cause a baby to be fussy, and even strong flavors, such as garlic and onion, may need to be avoided. When breastfeeding a baby who has a food allergy, the mother will need to avoid those foods as well, such as dairy, eggs, gluten, soy, peanuts, and shellfish.

Can breastfeeding cause hives?

Hives are an allergic reaction that can occur because of a number of different triggers in the environment. These itchy welts are raised and are generally white or pink and they can occur anywhere on the body. There are many different triggers that can cause hives, including stress, medical or hormone conditions, physical conditions, and reactions to certain foods.

When a woman is breastfeeding, then she is releasing a lot of hormones that cause the milk in her breasts to produce and to let down for the baby to suck. When this happens these hormones can sometimes react in the body and cause hives. This is not very common and can generally be easily controlled with meds prescribed by a doctor. Additionally, some women will have hives due to stress, and the stress of breastfeeding or not being able to produce enough milk can cause hives in some women.

If a woman does suffer from hives while breastfeeding, then that is not a reason to stop breastfeeding, as this will not pass on to the child or harm them in any way. This is an unfortunate problem that will need to be treated so that the mother can be comfortable when breastfeeding, but will not bother the nursing child.

Other Questions Answered by Mom Advice Line Contributors: