Feeding Baby

Starting your breastfeeding journey

Placing your baby on your bare skin encourages baby to feed as soon as possible after the birth. Newborn babies are placed straight onto their mothers as soon as they are born. This skin-to-skin contact with you after birth is good for your baby’s physical health and helps you to bond with each other. It is also the best way to keep baby at the right temperature and it encourages the baby to start breastfeeding.

The first feed

You and baby will spend some time recovering from the birth. Within an hour, your baby will normally start to show interest in breastfeeding. Baby will:

  • „feel the warmth of your body and your body rhythms„
  • recognise your voice„
  • smell the breast and start to push upwards towards the breast„
  • open their mouth and suck their tongue.

Your midwife will help you to position your baby for breastfeeding and make sure that baby has a good latch on your breast.

Miracle milk – colostrum

It’s important in the first few days that your baby feeds whenever they need to, so that they get plenty of the first milk, or colostrum.

Colostrum is the first food your baby gets – this special milk is yellow in colour and is thick and sticky and protects baby from infections. Your baby feeds on colostrum for the first few days until your milk ‘comes in’. This is when your breasts start making more milk and the milk changes from thick and sticky colostrum to the normal breast milk, which is thinner and whiter.

How to breastfeed

A good latch is the key to successful breastfeeding. Babies should be breastfed ‘tummy to tummy’. If you can see your baby’s tummy button, they’re not turned close enough to latch well. Make sure that:„

  • you snuggle baby in close„
  • baby’s head is tilted back„
  • baby’s mouth is wide open„
  • baby’s tongue is forward and right down
  • „baby’s chin touches your breast and baby’s nose lines up with your nipple.

Gently tickle the top part of baby’s lip with your areola (the darker area around the nipple). Bring your baby to your breast quickly so the bottom lip is pushed back to form a suction cup. Let your baby take in a large mouthful of breast, not just the nipple.

Breastfeeding should feel comfortable

If it doesn’t feel comfortable – start again. Slip your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth between their gums, with the soft side (not the nail) next to the lip so that you gently break the suction. If you let your baby suck the wrong way it can cause problems. If you feel pain in your nipples or breasts,ask your midwife for help or talk to a lactation consultant.

You will know if baby has a good latch if their chin is touching your breast but their nose should be reasonably clear. Baby’s bottom lip will be turned outwards and not turned inwards. To start with, they’ll be sucking quite quickly, but once the milk starts to flow they’ll change to rhythmic, longer sucks with some short pauses. You’ll also start to hear baby swallowing – this will happen more as your milk comes in and flows more. Your baby’s cheeks should stay rounded when sucking.

Baby’s hunger signs

Babies will let you know when they are ready for a breastfeed. These hunger signs may happen with their eyes closed or open:„

  • rooting around with the mouth – opening the mouth and turning their head as if looking for the breast
  • „sucking movements and sucking sounds – often quite soft sounds„
  • the tongue coming out of the mouth and almost licking the lips
  • „hand-to-mouth movements„
  • sucking the fingers or hand
  • „opening the mouth and possibly turning the head in response to a touch around the mouth area.

These are often called early hunger signs and if you miss these early signs your baby will start to cry. Crying is a late hunger sign. Try to not let this happen, or your baby may be too upset to feed well and then you will both become stressed and anxious.

How long on each side?

Different women find different ways to breastfeed, but as a general guide:„

  • feed your baby from one breast for 20 to 30 minutes
  • „change your baby’s nappy
  • then feed your baby from the other breast„
  • remember to start the next feed on the breast that you last fed from.

New babies need to feed about eight to twelve times every 24 hours. This means that you will be feeding your baby during the night. As your baby is quickly growing and developing, some days they will need to feed more often. Don’t worry though, you will not run out of milk – if you feed your baby more, your miraculous breasts will simply make more milk.

Getting the position right

Just as every mum and baby are unique, there are different ways that you can hold your baby to breastfeed – find the ones that are comfortable for you.


It’s often easier to start breastfeeding by holding the baby in the cross-cradle position. This means that the baby’s head is supported with your hand at the base of their neck. The position of your hand is important as the baby needs to be able to tilt their head back slightly. Make sure that your arm or hand is not behind the baby’s head, or they might not be able to tilt it back. Your other hand is supporting your breast.

Cradle hold

Once baby is latched well, you can change to a cradle hold, which might be more comfortable. Release your hold on your breast (unless it is very heavy and full, in which case you may need to support it during the feed) and move your arm gently around the baby.

Other positions

The underarm or rugby hold can also be useful if your breasts are heavy, as the weight is partially supported by the baby. Some women find that using a lying-down position or the underarm or rugby hold can be useful if they’ve had a caesarean.

Support a breastfeeding mum with a babymoon

Breastfeeding can be challenging – and it can be tiring. Support from dads/partners, whānau and friends can make all the difference. There are many things that can be done to support mothers to breastfeed.„

  • offer to help with the other children – read them a story or play with them„
  • help around the house – do the dishes or the grocery shopping. Hang out the washing, do some cleaning or make the school/preschool lunches „
  • if mum is finding breastfeeding hard going, encourage her to keep at it. Breastfeeding may not be easy for every mother at first, but it’s worth the effort„
  • help mum to get the rest she needs by spending time with the baby. As an added bonus, helping out by caring for an infant gives dads/partners and support people a chance to bond with baby as well. You could bath baby, burp them after a feed, or cuddle and soothe them. And don’t forget to help with nappy changing!„
  • aim to make at least the first ten days after the birth a ‘babymoon’ for the new mother – free from cooking, cleaning and childcare, unless she chooses.

If mum is acting out of character or obviously not coping, it could be normal ups and downs in adjusting to a new baby, sometimes called the ‘baby blues’, or it could be postnatal depression. Get help early – talk to her and her midwife, nurse or doctor.

Make sure you get enough energy

Eat regularly, starting the day with breakfast. Make sure to eat a variety of healthy foods every day from each of the four main food groups:

  1. vegetables and fruit
  2. breads and cereals (wholegrain if possible)
  3. milk and milk products (reduced or low-fat milk)
  4. lean meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Follow these common sense guides when you’re breastfeeding:

  • „limit your intake of foods that are high in fat (especially saturated fat), salt and sugar
  • „if using salt, choose iodised salt„take care when buying, preparing, cooking and storing food so that it is as safe as possible to eat – especially in the warmer months„
  • drink plenty of fluids each day – water and reduced or low-fat milk are good choices
  • „drinking alcohol is not recommended for mums who are breastfeeding„
  • keep a healthy weight by eating well and being physically active each day (unless your midwife advises you differently).

Some women may need special advice from a dietitian about eating. Ask your midwife to arrange for you to see a dietitian if you:

  • find that certain foods that you eat are affecting your baby„have a medical condition that affects what you eat, such as diabetes„
  • eat very little or have a history of eating problems
  • „are vegetarian or vegan„are 18 years old or younger.

What about the baby weight?

Breastfeeding can help you lose some of the weight you gained during pregnancy. A slow weight loss over the time of breastfeeding is best but remember, your body needs more energy (kilojoules or calories) when you are breastfeeding, so your appetite will increase.

Dieting is not recommended.

This article was prepared with support from the Ministry of Health and La Leche League.


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