37 Breastfeeding Secrets Every New Parent Should Know

Nursing a baby is no easy feat. Luckily, we've rounded up the best breastfeeding tips from experts who've figured out tricks, shortcuts, and solutions.

mother breastfeeding newborn
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Nursing may be "natural," but it's also very difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 84 percent of lactating parents breastfeed soon after birth but only 58 percent are still nursing six months later. That's low when you consider that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months—and suggests some form of breastfeeding for two years. (They also recommend paid parental leave to support these efforts, but to date, there is no national standard. The United States is one of only seven countries without a government-mandated policy or plan.)

Of course, the benefits of breastfeeding are well-known, and range from prevention of childhood obesity to decreased risk of infection, SIDS, and allergies. So if you decide to give breastfeeding a try, rest assured that with a little bit of patience, some smart planning, and a firm resolution, you have increased chance of success. Read on for some simple, proven tips to help you make it through those early days.

Breastfeeding Tips

  • Get professional support
  • Observe other parents breastfeeding
  • Create a "nursing station"
  • At the hospital, room-in with your baby
  • Breastfeed soon after your baby is born
  • Get support from your partner
  • Ensure a good latch every time
  • Avoid pacifiers and bottles in the early weeks
  • Try different positions
  • Eat enough and stay hydrated
  • Get the right breast pump

Pre-Baby Breastfeeding Tips

Line up help. "Consider meeting with a lactation consultant or another nursing expert before you have the baby. They can share tips that will help in the beginning, and you'll know whom to call if you have a problem. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, or IBCLCs, have had the most intensive training." – Dee Kassing, IBCLC, a lactation consultant in the St. Louis, Missouri, area

See the real thing. "If you have a friend who's nursing, ask if you can watch. If not, attend a La Leche League meeting or another breastfeeding support group where you can see parents feeding their babies." – Jessica Claire, IBCLC, a lactation consultant in Los Angeles

Create a space for breastfeeding. Before baby arrives, create a "nursing station"— an area with a comfortable chair, a breastfeeding pillow, and a side table for snacks, water, nursing pads, burp cloths, your phone, and a good book. You'll spend a lot of time there!

Tell the hospital what you want. "Ask whether you can keep your baby in the room with you at all times if possible. Rooming in will help you bond with your baby, learn feeding cues, and better establish breastfeeding." – Laurie Jones, M.D., IBCLC, a pediatrician in Phoenix and founder of DrMilk.org

Breastfeeding Tips for the Hospital

Don't wait to get help. "If the nurse in the hospital says your latch 'looks great' but it still hurts, call a lactation expert (IBCLC). If your doctor says your baby is not gaining enough weight, call. If your nipple is injured, call. If your gut says something isn't right, speak up. You can save yourself weeks and weeks of pain and trouble." – Jaye Simpson, IBCLC, lactation consultant in Sacramento, California

Try to nurse within the first hour after delivery. "Two hours later, many babies will be hard to rouse. It may seem like you're producing very little at first—maybe just a few drops of colostrum—but a 1- or 2-day-old baby's stomach is only the size of a marble." – Jenny Thomas, M.D., IBCLC, a pediatrician in Franklin, Wisconsin, and author of Dr. Jen's Guide to Breastfeeding

Enlist the help of a loved one or partner. "If possible, your partner should be there when you meet with the lactation consultant, both in the hospital and afterward. Loved ones can be a great support system and good problem-solvers, particularly if and when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and sleep-deprived." – Jan Ellen Brown, IBCLC, lactation consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina, and coauthor of 25 Things Every Nursing Mother Needs to Know

Focus on those little feet. "Babies always seem to nurse better when their feet are touching something, like your leg, the arm of the chair, or a pillow tucked next to you. It makes them feel more secure." – Veronica Jacobsen, a doula and lactation counselor in Richfield, Minnesota

How to Get a Deep Latch

Position yourself nose to nipple, belly to belly. "Make sure that your baby's stomach is touching yours, so they do not have to turn their head to latch. And point your nipple at their nose, not at their mouth, so they'll lift their head up, open their mouth wide, and latch on deeply." – Jacobsen

Encourage a mouthful. "If you're breastfeeding sitting upright, bring your baby to your breast once their mouth is completely open. Press between their shoulders firmly to bring them to you, while you support your breast. Your nipple will fill the roof of their mouth. If it still hurts after the first few sucks, de-latch and reposition." – Brown

Don't push the back of your baby's head. "That triggers their instinct to resist and chomp down. Instead, put your hands at the nape of your baby's neck, and bring them swiftly to your breast." – Leigh Anne O'Connor, IBCLC, lactation consultant in New York City

Breastfeeding in the First Few Weeks

Don't count minutes. "You can leave your baby on the first breast until they come off on their own and then offer the second breast. It's typical for some babies to take one breast at some feedings and both breasts at some." – Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, lactation consultant in the Chicago area and author of Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple

Avoid pacifiers at first. "The AAP recommends delaying the pacifier for the first month because it can suppress hunger cues and steal time from the breast during a critical period. After that, offering a pacifier shouldn't hurt." – Dr. Jones

Lie on your side. "It lets you rest your shoulders and lower back if you tend to hunch over, and it's good for moms who've had a C-section, who have carpal tunnel syndrome, or who are just exhausted. Put a pillow between your knees and your arm under your head, and bring the baby in facing you. Have someone help you at first." – Brown

Try a nursing stool. "It can help give you more of a lap, especially if you're short, and it takes the pressure off if you've had an episiotomy." – Brown

Offer the first bottle at 4 to 6 weeks. "If you wait until 8 weeks, you risk bottle refusal. Have someone other than you give the first one—and get out of the house so you're not tempted to help out." – Dr. Jones

Don't buy a whole nursing wardrobe. "It can be easier to just lift up your shirt. If you wear a blouse over a camisole, you'll have a lot of coverage." – Brown

Lose the snooze. "If your infant keeps falling asleep on your breast, try tickling the bottom of their feet, stroking then under the chin, or touching them with a wet washcloth." – O'Connor

Pay attention to your diet. You'll need even more calories when breastfeeding than while pregnant— about 300 more per day than in the last trimester, even more if you're exercising or have multiples. But don't go overboard; three well-balanced meals a day plus healthful snacks should cover it.

Step Up Your Milk Supply

Look at your baby, not at the scale. "I've seen so many parents whose baby looks healthy, nurses well, and meets milestones, but they've lost confidence in breastfeeding because their doctor told them that their baby's weight was not on the charts. If you received a lot of IV fluids during labor, your baby could be artificially 'heavier' at birth. If they have low weight gain, but they're smiling, has linear growth and head circumference and neurological development are notably okay, get a second opinion." – Jay Gordon, M.D., pediatrician in Santa Monica, California

Try a stronger pump. "Some hands-free pumps and the ones covered through insurance aren't as powerful as you need when you're establishing your milk supply, so you may want to rent a hospital-grade one, at least at first." – O'Connor

Don't get a used pump. "A good electric pump has a limited number of hours of motor life before the suction starts to die." – Simpson

Returning to Work While Nursing

Ease in. "Consider starting back on a Thursday rather than a Monday, so you have only two days away from your baby at first." – Claire

Understand how much milk babies actually drink. "Unlike those on formula, breast milk-fed babies need the same amount of milk per day when they're 6 months old as they did when they were 1 month old. Really! By about 1 month, a baby has established how much breast milk they'll need and you don't have to keep increasing how much they eat as they grow... all you have to do is maintain your current supply." – Dr. Jones

Feed the baby, not the freezer. "You don't need to pump like a maniac on parental leave. You may end up with clogged ducts, mastitis, letdown that's too fast, and exhaustion. You need only a small reserve." – Dr. Jones

Pump Up Your Pumping

Get the right fit. "Many lactating parents don't realize that pump flanges come in different sizes. If the standard shields that come with your pump are too tight or too big, you won't pump as much milk and you could even cause damage. A lactation consultant can help you choose the right ones." – Claire

Make your own DIY hands-free bra. "You don't have to spend a fortune on a fancy bra designed for pumping. Instead, buy a sports bra that's snug, cut little slits in it, and stick the breast shields in there." – Claire

Get in the mood. "To help encourage letdown, download a galactogogue, a relaxation recording designed to stimulate milk production. Search 'podcasts for breastfeeding' on iTunes for a free one." – Dr. Jones

Make cleaning a breeze. "As long as your baby is healthy, you really don't have to clean your pump parts every time you've finished pumping. You can simply put all the parts in a plastic bag, store them in a fridge or a cooler, and pull them out to use again a few hours later." – Dr. Jones

Fixing Common Breastfeeding Problems

Heal damaged nipples. "Use water-based hydrogel pads or apply enough purified lanolin to keep nipples moist between feedings. – Mohrbacher

Resolve tongue-tie. "If you're having pain even though your latch looks great, ask a lactation consultant whether your baby may have tongue-tie. A specialist can treat the problem." – Jacobsen

Prevent blocked ducts. "Avoid anything that puts pressure on part of your breasts. That includes baby carriers, diaper-bag straps, even sleeping on the same side every night." – Dr. Jones

The Tools Every Breastfeeding Mom Needs

Nursing pillow. Unlike other pillows, it wraps around your body and helps with positioning. It can also relieve stress on your back, neck, and shoulders.

Sore-nipple soother. Lanolin-based creams are a proven remedy, but some consultants prefer organic coconut oil or Motherlove nipple cream, which are not animal products. (Lanolin comes from sheep, which can occasionally cause an allergic reaction.) All are considered safe for babies. Water-based hydrogels can also promote healing. But your nipples won't heal unless you first solve any underlying latch problems.

Tracking system. Download an app from iTunes or Google Play to record feedings and diaper counts and track doctor's visits during those foggy first weeks.

Expert access. Have the number of someone you can call for help (a local lactation consultant or a La Leche League leader) programmed into your phone.

Double electric pump. It's a must-have if you're going back to work; look for one with graduated suction-level settings (rather than just high, medium, and low) and several sizes of flanges (or breast shields) available.

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