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How Breastfeeding Works

Every time you breastfeed, your baby's suckling causes your body to release milk. As your milk is released, the hormone that makes milk increase and produces more.

Changes in the Body

familyAfter the delivery of your baby and placenta, the hormones that were maintaining your pregnancy decrease, and the hormones of lactation increase.

For about the first three days after birth, you will produce colostrum, which is the newborn’s first milk. You probably will not notice a big change in the fullness of your breast. Don’t be alarmed -- that is typical.

Colostrum is thick and rich in nutrients and is designed to provide your baby the nutrition he or she needs right after birth. It also helps coat the gut and assist the baby in passing the first stools. Colostrum is also very high in immune factors, which protect your newborn from getting sick.

Every time you breastfeed, your baby’s suckling causes your body to release milk. As your milk is released, the hormone that makes milk increase and produces more.

Milk production relies on supply and demand – the more you nurse, the more you will stimulate good milk production that will last for the duration of your breastfeeding journey. Around 72 hours after birth, your breasts will begin to feel heavier and your milk volume will increase.

The Golden Hour After Delivery

The first hour after delivery, your baby and your body are primed to get breastfeeding off to the best start.

Babies that breastfeed within the first hour of life tend to breastfeed more successfully and for a longer duration.

Your amazing newborn has reflexes designed to help him or her find and attach to the breast. Your body is ready to feed your baby with the first milk colostrum present and the milk-making hormones increasing.

Plan to make the first hour after birth a special bonding time with your baby – it’s a very precious hour that goes by quickly!

During that time, place your infant skin-to-skin and breastfeed as soon as possible, if you and your baby are healthy post-birth. The skilled staff will be present to help you with your first breastfeeding experience.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

woman breastfeeding her babyBreastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. You and your baby may need practice – and almost all moms need a little help, especially in the beginning. But it does get easier with time.


  • Promotes bonding.
  • Reduces an infant’s risk of becoming ill with respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other illnesses by providing immune factors in the milk.
  • Decreases the risk of developing allergies, asthma, and eczema.
  • Reduces the risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • Reduces the risk of childhood obesity and diabetes.
  • Is free, always available, and always the correct temperature.
  • Helps control postpartum bleeding and returns the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly.
  • Helps delay the return of menstruation and can help with pregnancy spacing.
  • Decreases a mother’s risk of developing ovarian, uterine, and breast cancer.
  • Reduces a mother’s risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
  • Can help a mother return to her pre-pregnancy weight more quickly.

Getting to Know Your Breastfeeding Baby

Breastfed babies need to eat at least 8 times in 24 hours. Many times they eat closer to 10-12 times in 24 hours.

Breastfed babies will wake up frequently to nurse, even during the night. This is good for your baby and good for increasing and maintaining your milk production.

Click here to view the newborn stomach size chart

The first 24 hours after birth some babies are very sleepy. If it has been longer than 3 hours since you last fed your baby, place your baby skin-to-skin, and ask the nursing staff for help with latching. Take advantage of this sleepy time to get extra rest. Your baby may need to nurse more frequently in the day and night to come.

woman smiling with babyOn the second day of life, some babies may want to nurse very frequently. This can be quite normal and is good stimulation for your breasts. If your nipples are becoming sore make sure to ask for help.

Feed your baby on demand, or whenever they show signs of hunger. There is no time limit for how long a healthy baby can nurse. It is typically 15-30 minutes per breast.

You will quickly learn cues that your baby is hungry. Try to feed your baby before they are crying, it’s a late sign of hunger and can make latching more difficult.

Is Your Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk?

In the Hospital

  • Your baby should have good breastfeeding at least 8-12 times in 24 hours
  • Your baby should seem sleepy and satisfied after a majority of feedings. It is common that some babies may have a period of day or night when they want to breastfeed more frequently.
  • Your baby should pee and poop every day and the poop should become more frequent and easier to wipe as the days go on.
  • • Your baby may lose up to 7% of their birth weight in the first few days after birth. They should gain this back by 10-14 days.

At Home

  • Most moms notice fullness in their breast and an increase in their milk volume by 3-4 days after birth.
  • By day 4, the baby should have at least 3 yellow stools in 24 hours and 6 wet diapers.

What goes in must come out!

  • Your baby should be back to birth weight by 2 weeks. On average, breastfed babies gain about 1 oz. per day, or 6 oz. per week.
  • Your baby should be sleepy and satisfied after a majority of feedings. It is common for babies to cluster feed, or eat more frequently, during a period each day. They may also go through growth spurts where they increase their feeding frequency for 3-4 days during the rapid growth.

Hand Expression

woman breastfeedingBreastfeeding women have expressed (removed) milk by hand for generations. Hand expression may take a few sessions to learn. Once you know how to hand expressing gets easier.

When you remove milk from your breasts (either by breastfeeding or expressing), you are telling your body to make more milk. In the first few days after birth, you may express only a few drops. The amount will increase with practice and with time as your body produces more milk. Mothers who hand express in the first few days are shown to significantly increase their milk supply.

Why Hand Express?

  • To soften your breasts if they are too full for your baby to latch on
  • To relieve painful engorgement
  • To maintain or increase milk production
  • To collect milk if your baby is unable to breastfeed or if you are unavailable
  • To remove milk when a breast pump is not available

How Do I Hand Express My Milk?

There are many ways to hand express, and with time, you will find what works best for you. The steps below are one suggested way to hand express your milk.

Supplies: To capture your milk and store for later use, use a clean feeding bottle, wide-mouthed jar, or bowl.

Click here to view hand expression diagram.

  1. Use moist heat, such as a basin of warm water, a warm washcloth, or a shower, to promote milk release (letdown). Another way to help with letdown is to gently massage your breasts in circles and toward your areola (Figure 1).
  2. Shape your hand in a “C.” Place the thumb in the 12:00 position and the first two fingers in the 6:00 position about one to two inches behind the nipple (Figure 2).
  3. Press your fingers and thumb back against the chest wall, trying not to stretch the skin around the nipple and areola (Figure 3).
  4. Squeeze your breast gently by bringing your thumb and fingers together (Figure 4). Avoid pulling or sliding on the breast surface.
  5. Compress your breast several times in this position.
  6. Rhythmically repeat compressions, moving your thumb and fingers all the way around the breast, including areas near your chest and armpits.
  7. Repeat procedure with the other breast.
  8. Stop when the milk slows down.