Breastfeeding in the Early Weeks

Breastfeeding in the Early Weeks


How do I know if my baby is hungry?

Babies need to feed a lot in the early days. The more you feed your baby, the more milk your body makes. Your baby has many ways to tell you they are hungry.  These signs are called feeding cues. 

 Your baby is hungry when you see these feeding cues: 

  • Rapid eye movements 
  • Stretching, moving arms and legs
  • Bringing hands to mouth
  • Sticking out tongue and licking lips
  • Sucking motions or sounds
  • Rooting (opening the mouth, searching to suck, and sucking on contact)
  • Turning head back and forth
  • Soft cooing or sighing sounds

Your baby is full when:

  • Your baby closes their mouth 
  • Your baby turns away from your breast
  • Your baby looks relaxed and calm

Following your baby's feeding cues will: 

  • Help breastfeeding go well 
  • Help you get to know your baby
  • Allow your baby to build trust, and allow mom to gain confidence
  • Build a positive feeding relationship which supports child growth


  • Your baby should feed at least 8 times or more in a 24 hour day, until about 6 weeks of life.
  • It is normal for some babies to have many feedings in a short period. They may sleep longer between feeds at other times. This is called cluster feeding. This is more common in the later afternoon or evening. 
  • Skin-to-skin contact lets mom learn baby's feeding cues. 
  • Crying is a late sign of hunger. A baby crying from hunger may be too upset to settle down to feed.  Get to know your baby's early feeding cues. 
  • Your baby will have growth spurts. These happen at around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. Growth spurts typically last 2 to 3 days. Your baby may feed more often at these times and your breast milk will increase to meet your baby's needs.
Skin-to-Skin: Get to know your baby

What is Skin-to-Skin?

  • "Skin-to-skin" is when your naked baby (with or without a diaper) is placed tummy-down on your bare chest.
  • Your baby will smell, hear and feel you. This will help you get to know your baby, and your baby get to know you.

Skin-to-Skin Right after Birth

  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin right after birth, for at least 1 hour.
  • Skin-to-skin right after birth steadies your baby's temperature, breathing, heart rate and blood sugar. It will also help you heal from childbirth.
  • Skin-to-skin contact right after birth will help get breastfeeding off to a good start.
  • All mothers and babies can have skin-to-skin contact, even if you need stitches or have a caesarean birth. If you cannot hold your baby right after birth, your partner, or another person you are close to, can also do skin-to-skin. This will help them get to know and comfort your baby.
  • Premature babies also benefit from skin-to-skin. Many hospitals encourage this, and it is often called Kangaroo Care.
  • Let your health care provider know that you want to hold your baby skin-to-skin in the early time after birth.

Older Babies Enjoy Skin-to-Skin too

  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin even when you get home from the hospital. 
  • There are many benefits to holding your baby skin-to-skin in the months after birth:

    • Helps you learn your baby's feeding cues
    • Helps with breastfeeding and helps with mom's milk supply
    • Calms your baby and reduces crying
    • Lowers stress in mom and your baby
    • Helps with bonding between family and your baby
    • Helps your baby grow and develop well
How do I know my baby is getting enough milk?

Feeding your baby often will help increase your milk supply. The amount of milk a mother makes is based on supply and demand. The more your baby breastfeeds the more milk you will make. Most mothers will make as much milk as their baby wants. The amount of milk made depends on the amount of milk removed from the breast by feeding or expressing.

Is my baby getting enough milk?

Babies digest breast milk fast so they need to feed often. In the first few months, a baby who is feeding well:

  • Is feeding at least 8 times in 24 hours. Feeding more often is normal and good. Listen for swallowing or quiet "caw" sounds.
  • At 1 day old has at least 1 wet diaper and
    at least 1 to 2 sticky, dark green-black, soft stools.
  • At 2 days old has at least 2 wet diapers and
    at least 1 to 2 sticky, dark green/black, soft stools.
  • At 3 days old has at least 3 heavy wet diapers. Occasional "red, brick-coloured" staining (uric acid crystals) is normal until day 3. At 3 days old has at least 3 brown/green/yellow, soft stools.
  • At 4 days old has at least 4 heavy wet diapers and
    at least 3 brown/green/yellow, soft stools.
  • At 5 days and older, as the mother's milk supply increases, baby has at least 6 heavy wet diapers and at least 3 large, soft, yellow, stools which may have small seeds in them.
  • Is back to his or her birth weight by about 2 weeks of age.

Get help if any of the above signs are not present or:

  • Your baby is very sleepy and hard to wake for feedings.
  • Your baby is crying and will not settle after feedings.
  • Your nipples are sore and do not start to get better.
  • You have fever, chills, flu-like symptoms, or a red painful area on your breast.

If you have a fever, chills, flu symptoms or a red painful area on your breast:

  • Breastfeed often
  • Put warm wet towels on your breasts
  • Get lots of rest
  • Call your health care provider if you do not feel better in 6 to 8 hours 
How long is a feeding?
  • The length of time your baby feeds at the breast depends on your baby.
  • If your baby has a good latch and is actively sucking and swallowing they can feed for as long as they want.
  • Your breasts are never empty of milk. You will make more milk as your baby breastfeeds.
  • Feed your baby on the first breast until your baby seems satisfied. When satisfied your baby may slow down or stop their sucking and swallowing or come off the breast.
  • Offer both breasts at each feeding. Your baby may not be as interested in the second breast.
  • At the next feeding start breastfeeding on the side that your baby finished on.
How often will my baby feed?

Feed your baby whenever they seem hungry. In the early weeks this is at least 8 times in 24hrs. Night feeds are important too. In the early days you may need to wake your baby up to feed.

  • At 6 to 12 weeks, babies will feed at least 6 times or more per 24hrs
  • At 3 to 6 months, babies will feed at least 5 times or more per 24hrs

Feeding cues are signs your baby uses to tell you they are hungry. They include:

  • Bringing hands to mouth
  • Sticking out tongue and licking lips
  • Sucking motions or sounds
  • Rooting (opening mouth and searching for the nipple)

Try to feed your baby before they are crying.  Crying is a late sign of hunger

Many babies have periods, especially in the evening, when they cluster feed. Cluster feeding is when babies have many short feedings over a few hours. It is normal and can occur at any time. Many mothers feel that babies are fussier and not satisfied but it does not mean that you don't have enough milk.

During a growth spurt, babies grow quickly.  They will feed more often to increase their mother's milk supply. These growth spurts commonly occur at 3 and 6 weeks, and at 3 and 6 months.  These periods of increased feedings will last from 24 to 72 hours.

How much weight will my baby gain?

Babies usually lose some weight during the first few days.

  • Early and frequent feedings will reduce the amount of weight your baby loses.
  • Most babies are back to their birth weight by 2 weeks of age.
  • In the first 4 months, babies gain about 170 to 240 grams (6 to 8.5 oz) per week. They usually double their birth weight by 3 to 6 months. 
  • From 4 to 6 months, babies gain about 95 to 140 grams (3.4 to 5 oz) per week.
  • From 6 to 12 months, babies gain about 55 to 90 grams (2 to 3.2 oz) per week.
  • Between 9 and 18 months, babies usually triple their birth weight.
Getting Started

Check for the following each time you are getting ready to breastfeed:

  • You are comfortable and relaxed with good posture and correct body alignment.
  • Your back and arms are well supported. Use a pillow at your back if needed. 
  • You baby's head and body are supported.
  • Your baby's head is at the level of your breast.
  • Your baby's ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line.
  • You and your baby are chest-to-chest.
  • Your baby's nose is facing your nipple and chin is touching your breast.

Supporting your breast 

First, place your fingers flat on your ribs under your breast tissue where your breast and ribs meet. Then move your middle and index fingers forward a bit to support the underside of your breast. Make sure fingers are well back from your areola. Your thumb rests on top of your breast well back from your areola.

Baby-Led Latching

"Baby-led latching is a natural and simple way for your baby to find your breast..." (Best Start, 2011). Once latched, mother and baby can move to a more comfortable position.

  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin with your naked baby, placed tummy-down on your bare chest.
  • Your baby will start to move their head up and down in search of your breast.
  • Support your baby's neck and shoulders with one hand and their bottom with the other while they move towards your breast.
  • Your baby will find and latch on to your nipple.
Latching Baby On

Latching technique for breastfeeding - shows baby latching on to breast

  • When your baby is well positioned, gently touch your baby's lips with your nipple. 
  • Aim your baby's bottom lip as far from the nipple as possible. When they open their mouth widely, they'll scoop in lots of breast tissue. 
  • Push the heel of your hand gently on their shoulders so that their head is slightly tilted back as you bring them to the breast. 
  • Once your baby opens their mouth as wide as a yawn, quickly bring them onto the breast. 
  • Their chin and lower jaw reach the breast first. 

How can I tell if my baby has a good latch?

  • Your baby takes more areola on the underside of your breast than on top. The nipple is NOT centered. 
  • Some of the areola shows above the top lip
  • Your baby's lips roll outward
  • Your baby's nose and chin touch the breast
  • The whole jaw will move
  • Your baby is calm while feeding, sucks rhythmically and you can see and hear swallowing
  • The only sound you should hear is your baby swallowing (a quiet "caw" sound)

When your baby is not well latched:

  • Persistent pain with latching can be a sign of an incorrect latch.
  • Remove your baby from the breast and re-latch.
  • To interrupt the latch break suction by trying one of these ideas:

    • Slip your finger into corner of your baby's mouth and between the gums
    • Press down on the area of your breast closest to your baby's mouth
    • Bring your baby in closer to the breast so that the nose is covered with breast tissue
    • Pull down on your baby's chin

Do you need help with latching? Find out where you can get free breastfeeding support.


Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.
September 2019

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