What to Know About Breastfeeding Before You Start

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Terri Major-Kincade, M.D.
February 22, 2023

For the text version of this infographic, read on:

What to Know About Breastfeeding Before You Start

Most babies start life being fed breast milk.

83% of infants born in the United States in 2019 were fed some breast milk in the beginning.

By age 6 months, 56% of babies were receiving some breast milk, according to the CDC.

Experts recommend exclusively chest/breastfeeding a baby for the first 6 months

…and continuing to chest/breastfeed for 1 year or more while also feeding the baby solid foods.

Why Chest/Breastfeeding?

“Breastfeeding” is a common term used for feeding a baby milk from your body (breast milk). It’s often called nursing, as well. Some people prefer to use the term “chestfeeding.”

Anyone can call it chestfeeding if they want to, but it’s most commonly used by transgender or nonbinary parents. We use all 3 terms to include all parents who feed their babies milk from their bodies.

Why Breastfeeding Is Recommended

Breast milk, sometimes referred to as “liquid gold,” is very nutritious. It adapts to meet a growing baby’s needs.

Chest/breastfeeding helps protect babies from health issues such as:

  • Asthma
  • Illness and infection
  • Obesity
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

It also reduces the nursing parent’s risk of:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes

Chest/breastfeeding helps promote parent-baby bonding.

Breastfeeding Basics: How to Prepare for Breastfeeding

There are some things you can do before your baby arrives to help set yourself up for chest/breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Essentials

You don’t need anything to start chest/breastfeeding. But there are some breastfeeding supplies that can help make things easier:

  • Nursing bra. The undergarment opens quickly for feedings.
  • Loose, comfortable clothing. This allows you to move around and switch positions easily.
  • Nursing cover. It’s only needed if you want to cover up for public feedings.
  • Nursing pads. Use these to absorb leaks. There are washable and disposable options.
  • Nipple cream. Soothe dry or sore nipples.
  • Nursing pillow. Any pillow can give your arms some rest during feedings. Some are shaped to curve around your body.

Pumping Supplies

If you want or need to express milk for your baby, you may need the following:

  • Breast pump (may be covered by your insurance)
  • Extra pump parts (such as flanges, valves, and connectors)
  • Milk storage bags or bottles
  • Bottles and nipples (to feed the baby expressed milk)
  • A cooler bag with cold packs (to keep milk cold while on the go)

Line Up Help

Tell your doctor you plan to chest/breastfeed and ask what resources may be available to you.

Sign up for a breastfeeding class to help you learn more about nursing your baby. Your hospital or birthing center may offer one.

Consider meeting with a lactation consultant before your baby’s arrival. This type of expert can help you establish successful nursing in the early days and weeks with your baby.

The first 2 weeks can be the most challenging, so plan to check in then! They can also help if you experience any problems, like low milk supply, your baby seeming like they’re not getting enough to eat, or cracked nipples.

Let your partner, friends, or family members know you plan to nurse and ask them for their support.

Breastfeeding 101: How to Feed the Baby

Babies are born with the natural instinct to chest/breastfeed. However, it can take some time to get the hang of it.

These steps can help you get started with breastfeeding:

1. Find a calm, quiet place to nurse.

2. Get in a comfortable position (see suggestions below).

3. Place your baby at your breast, facing you. They shouldn’t have to turn their head.

4. Tickle your baby’s lips to get them to open wide.

5. Let the baby’s chin hit your breast first and then guide your nipple toward the roof of the baby’s mouth.

6. Check for signs of a good latch.

  • It should feel comfortable.
  • You should see little or no areola.
  • The baby’s lips should turn out like a fish.

7. Make sure you can see (or hear) the baby sucking and swallowing milk.

5 Breastfeeding Positions to Try

Experiment with different holds to see which works best for you and your baby.

1. Cradle hold

2. Cross-cradle hold

3. Side-lying

4. Laid back

5. Football hold

Feed your baby on demand at first. This means anytime they want to nurse.

Many parents are surprised to find that some newborns nurse every 2 hours in the early days!

It will seem like a lot, but over time they’ll feed less often and have a more predictable routine.

What Breastfeeding Feels Like

Exactly what chest/breastfeeding feels like can vary from person to person.

During a feeding, you’ll likely feel the baby gently tug on your nipple.

When your milk is released, or “lets down,” it is sometimes described as a warm, tingling feeling in the breast.

Many nursing parents find feedings to be relaxing or enjoyable. That’s because a suckling baby stimulates the release of oxytocin, the “happy hormone.”

You may also experience:

  • Leaking
  • Engorgement, which is when breasts are uncomfortably full
  • Sensitive or sore nipples

Call your doctor or lactation consultant if you experience pain. Nursing shouldn’t hurt, so this can be a sign of:

  • A poor latch
  • A clogged milk duct
  • Mastitis, which is a breast infection

What If I’m Chestfeeding?

Talk with your doctor or lactation consultant about your specific needs. Some chestfeeding people may need extra help with latch and positioning, and some may need to use an assistive device, like a nipple shield or supplemental feeding tube.

Breastfeeding Tips for Success

Feed early and often. Frequent feedings help you both get the hang of it and establish your milk supply.

Have skin-to-skin contact. Holding your baby against your bare skin can help promote chest/breastfeeding success.

Learn your baby’s hunger cues. A hungry baby is typically alert, brings their fists to their mouth, makes sucking motions, and/or turns their head searching for food.

Wait before introducing a pacifier or bottle. Don’t use bottles or pacifiers (unless medically necessary) until after you have established a chest/breastfeeding rhythm.

Eat nutritious food. Follow a healthy diet and stay hydrated. This is important to keep your energy up, maintain your milk supply, and promote healing from birth. You’ll need to eat about 330 to 400 extra calories a day!

Don’t give up. Any breast milk you provide gives benefits to your baby, so stick with it if you can!

Ask for help. Nursing issues can often be fixed. Talk to your doctor, the baby’s pediatrician, or a lactation consultant if you experience a problem. Regular check-ins can help reassure you that everything is going well.

Feel good about pumping. If you have difficulty with latching, have to go back to work, or prefer to pump, that’s okay. The most important thing is that your baby receives the milk!


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cleveland Clinic

Ferri, R. L. et al. (2020) ABM Clinical Protocol #33: Lactation Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Plus Patients. Breastfeeding Medicine.

Healthtalk. Breastfeeding: The sensation of breastfeeding. Accessed February 2, 2023.

Mayo Clinic. (2022) Breastfeeding positions.

National Health Service (UK). How to breastfeed. Accessed February 2, 2023.

Office on Women’s Health. (Last updated February 2021) Getting a good latch. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Office on Women’s Health. (2022) Your Guide to Breastfeeding. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Pitman, T. (Updated January 2016) What Your Baby Knows About Breastfeeding. La Leche League. Adapted from “Preparing to Breastfeed: A Pregnant Woman’s Guide.”

WIC Breastfeeding Support. Breastfeeding Supplies. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed February 2, 2023.