Breastfeeding for Beginners (weeks 1-6)

One of the most commonly asked questions on our Ask the Chicks forum is about breastfeeding, so I thought I’d ask Wendy from the 16 Minute Club to pull together a little Breastfeeding for Beginners post.

If you aren’t familiar with the 16 Minute Club, it’s a subscription service that sends a customized box of breastfeeding resources and goodies right to your doorstep just before you need it. Lord knows I could have used something like this when I started breastfeeding especially someone as knowledgeable and kind as Wendy (she isn’t a breastfeeding Nazi) to help me out.

I hope you’ll find it helpful too! – Amy



The early weeks for mom can be very painful, tiring, frustrating and yet, rewarding.  Many women will have set a breastfeeding goal:  three months, six months, one year.  During the first several weeks of breastfeeding those goals may seem impossible to accomplish.  How do women tolerate the pain, the frequency, the engorgement for six months or a year?  They don’t – if you can make it through the first six weeks or so,  you are well on your way to an easier and much more acceptable breastfeeding relationship.

The early weeks for baby are full of learning and development – let’s use baby’s current skills and reflexes to create breastfeeding success.

In terms of intellectual development – any intellectual stimulation is very tiring for babies at this stage – breastfeeding skin-to-skin will all prevent over stimulation and encourage brain development.  The overstimulated baby is hard to feed, mouth is tight, closed eyes can’t see mommy’s face – cut down on stimulation and breastfeed as much as possible to help baby transition to our noisy, cold, busy world.

  • Physically, babies can see 8 – 10 inches at this age, about the distance between baby’s eyes and mommy’s face when breastfeeding.  Babies see black, white and grey – notice how the areola is dark compared to the breast skin – babies use this color contrast to find the nipple.  Uncover and allow baby to see your bare chest, it will assist with latch.
  • The most prevalent reflex at this developmental stage is the sucking reflex.  Babies will suck vigorously anytime something is placed in their mouths – it is mom’s job to make sure that mouth is positioned correctly when the sucking begins to cut down on painful latch and potential damage.   Quick Note:  If you are offering bottles in addition to breast, be careful to measure all contents.  The sucking reflex overrides baby’s ability to stop sucking when full until about four months of age.  It is easy to overfeed babies younger than four months due to this reflex.
  • Socially your baby can communicate hunger to you from day one.  When your baby exhibits hunger cues (rooting, bringing hands to mouth, lip smacking) offer your breast as soon as you notice the cues.  Baby will be rewarded for “communicating” hunger and will relax into the feed easily.  If you miss hunger cues your baby will most likely begin to cry to communicate hunger.  In this case the feeding may not go as well, begin more slowly or baby may tire easily from crying.

Let’s explore some ways to take advantages of baby’s developmental milestones and get each and everyone of you through the first six weeks!


I know you have heard about this one million times but it really is that important.  Once you get a good latch going, everything else will follow nicely.  Work on each of these components of latch during each feeding until you are no longer feeling much pain – a little pain may be present because of engorgement or tenderness from previous poor latching.

  • Try the Breast Sandwich – pinch your breast behind the areola to form a longer version of your nipple, match the shape of your breast to baby’s mouth.  If baby’s mouth is wide side to side, compress your breast to also be wide side to side – when lined up correctly, the sucking reflex will pull a great amount of breast into baby’s mouth.
  • Focus on a wider mouth opening – developmentally babies can interact with you from birth – take advantage of this and get close (8 – 12 inches away) open your mouth really wide.  Pull gently on baby’s chin and practice frequently, be consistent and baby will improve their mouth opening skills.
  • Pull out those lips:  While latched, if your baby’s lips are not flared out, you will get sore.  It is okay to pull the lips out while baby nurses, this little difference will make you more comfortable and will provide baby with more milk.  Again taking advantage of the sucking reflex and latch on as soon as you observe baby’s cues.
  • Check out baby’s tongue – during breastfeeding your baby’s tongue should protrude over the lower gums – this will protect your nipple and help with milk supply. While nursing, pull baby’s lower lip back, you should see the tongue at the bottom of your breast.  If not, detatch and re-latch with baby’s mouth open even wider, this usually helps the tongue to fall into the right position.  If crying baby’s tongue may not fall into the correct position, reduce stimulation and watch for cues of hunger before baby begins to cry.


Sore Nipples

If you get them, we must take care of them. No one wants to be in pain and let’s face it, nipple pain sounds really bad. In most cases, sore nipples mean something is not working right.  With a good latch, pain will diminish.  Will breastfeeding be 100% pain free?  Usually not, tender skin, used frequently will be sensitive.  Sensitive is different than pain and with time and experience, even the sensitivity will decline.  Try not to associate long nursing sessions with pain – again if the latch is right, let the baby feed as long as possible to increase your milk supply.  If you experience sore nipples here are some tips:

  • Vary your nursing position – this prevents the baby from putting pressure on the exact same spot on the nipple at every single feeding.
  • Nipple ointments and gel pads can be very useful in healing.
  • Breast milk is also a great remedy – express a bit after each feeding, rub on nipples and allow to air dry.
  • A little ice or heat just before feeding can ease you into the next session.

Repeat after me:  My baby and I will figure out breastfeeding together.  My baby and I will figure out breastfeeding together.  My baby and I will figure out breastfeeding together.

You can do this!

Breastfeeding+baby+girl+or+by+boy+can+be+SO+tough+those+first+few+weeks16-minute-club16 Minute Club is the one-and-only breastfeeding subscription box and lactation support program rolled into one. Every six-weeks you’ll receive your subscription box tailored to your baby’s breastfeeding stage. Inside each box is a Breast Practices Newsletter filled with tips from a certified lactation consultant as well as generous sample and full-size products from brands like ChewBeads, Motherlove, Itsy Ritzy and more.

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  • Referring to what the article says…how much is a 0-4 month old supposed to drink? I will be headed back to work after 6 weeks so baby will have to use a bottle while with the sitter. I definitely don’t want her overfeeding the baby!

    Quick Note: If you are offering bottles in addition to breast, be careful to measure all contents. The sucking reflex overrides baby’s ability to stop sucking when full until about four months of age. It is easy to overfeed babies younger than four months due to this reflex.

  • Another issue that is very rarely mentioned is the D-MER effect (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) that some mothers get. It’s a negative feeling that can occur just before letdown. This happens because the dopamine needed to trigger milk let down happens too fast in some moms. The feelings can be described as ‘homesickness, anxiety, sadness, empty stomach, anger’ or anything in between. You can learn more at

  • [email protected] says:

    The biggest things I learned about nursing (my little is almost 3 months): nurses in the hospital will tell you that you HAVE to nurse for 30 minutes every 3 hours. No! Some babies are more efficient and will get what they need quicker and some eat slower.

    Don’t touch the back of baby’s head to keep them on. I did this and didn’t get why he kept coming off my nipple until I saw a public health nurse. This is instinct with newborns.

    Lastly, "nose to nipple". Expose your nipple and out it to the baby’s nose. By instinct they will open their mouth because they can smell the milk.

    Great article!!

  • I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t see information regarding lip and tongue ties. They’re very common and cause a lot of pain, and if not treated, a mother’s supply can go down resulting in the need for formula supplementation and potentially the end of a breastfeeding relationship.

  • Completely agree with you. Setting that breast feeding goal is important and it is also about taking it one day at a time and enjoying the connection with the little one. I breastfed exclusively for 5 months, joined work, pumped and continued to feed till 9 month. Infact I wrote about it on my blog –

  • [email protected] says:

    Thanks! but what to do if you have inverted or flat nipples?

  • [email protected] says:

    This is so helpful! I’m nervous about breastfeeding, and am happy to have read this now for future reference.

  • [email protected] says:

    This is such a neat idea! Embarking on breastfeeding journey again with number 2! 8wks and going strong!

  • [email protected] says:

    would love to have one!

  • [email protected] says:

    Hope I win! We’re going on 11 months soon!

  • [email protected] says:

    what an awesome idea!!!

  • [email protected] says:

    I wish I had seen this before I had my first baby

  • [email protected] says:

    This looks so helpful!

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