Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers

While making milk is natural, breastfeeding is a skill that mothers and babies learn. It is helpful for parents to know that it is not always easy, but that help is available. Mothers often benefit from knowing techniques and strategies such as how to position the baby, signs of a good latch, infant feeding patterns, etc. As women learn to breastfeed their babies, they often have many questions and concerns. They need individualized support.

Early Head Start programs are required to arrange for health staff to visit a newborn baby within two weeks of birth. Sometimes, families need earlier support with breastfeeding. The first two weeks of breastfeeding are critical for success. Make sure that families know who and how to call on staff or community experts if they have questions or concerns.

In your relationship with families, you may get many of those questions. The resource below outlines common questions about breastfeeding. You can provide families with answers to some of these questions. Others should be answered by a health care provider. Use the resources below to support families as they breastfeed their children.

Again, when necessary, please refer families to their health provider or a lactation consultant. The International Lactation Consultants Association keeps a directory of internationally board certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) on its website. Type in your zip code to identify a lactation consultant near you.

Refer to:

Breastfeeding Triage Tool for Head Start and Early Head Start Staff

The information below is meant as an "At-a-Glance" guide. It is not a complete list of questions or answers that you need in order to help mothers breastfeed. Encourage families to keep their well-baby check-up appointments with their health providers who will track babies' weights. When necessary, it is essential that you refer women to a health provider or specialist when needed.

Concern: Mother's Question/Concerns: What to say or do: Links for more information on this topic for parents:
Appearance of Human Milk
  • Why is my milk "yellowish?"
  • Why is my milk "watery?"

The first milk a woman makes after giving birth is called colostrum. Colostrum is "yellowish" because it contains a lot of a vitamin called beta-carotene. It is normal for breastmilk to look "watery."

Colostrum (Mother's First Breast Milk) [PDF, 263KB]

Bowel Movements
  • My baby has diarrhea or is constipated.

Breastfed babies usually have three or more stools a day for the first three days, and four or more stools a day for the next four weeks. After the first month, a baby may have as few as one large stool every three–10 days. If a family is concerned about a baby's stool pattern, refer to health provider or IBCLC.


Breast Refusal
  • My baby refuses to take the breast.
  • My baby doesn't like the breast.

If mom is using a bottle, encourage her to stop. Make sure baby is positioned correctly. If baby still refuses, refer to health provider or IBCLC.

How Do I Position My Baby to Breastfeed? (in English and Spanish)

What to Expect in the First Weeks (in English)

Getting Started
  • How do I begin to breastfeed?

1. Feed baby as soon after birth as possible.
2. Do not use a bottle for the first three to four weeks after birth.
3. Use correct positioning and latch-on.
4. Make sure to break suction before taking baby off the breast!

Difficult Latch-on During Breastfeeding (in English and Spanish

Hunger and Satiery
  • How do I know if my baby is hungry?
  • How do I know when she/he is full?

Some breastfed babies need to feed more often than formula fed babies, because breastmilk is digested so easily. Watch your baby, when they are hungry they often begin to suck on their fingers, turn their face towards whatever touches their cheek, and make sucking sounds. When they are very hungry, they cry. Babies are full when they stop eating, fall asleep and look "full" and happy. Work with your health provider to monitor your baby's weight. Remember that breastfed babies grow differently than formula fed babies.

What to Expect in the First Weeks (in English)

World Health Organization Growth Charts

Painful Nipples
  • My nipples hurt.
  • My nipples are cracked.
  • My nipples are bleeding.

Refer to health provider or IBCLC.

Sore Nipples During Breastfeeding (in English [PDF, 45KB] and Spanish [PDF, 45KB])

Painful Breasts
  • The inside of my breast/s hurts (engorgement, etc.).

Refer to health provider or IBCLC.

Engorgement During Breastfeeding (in English [PDF, 45KB] and Spanish [PDF, 45.1KB])

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
  • I'm pregnant, is it okay to continue breastfeeding my toddler?
  • Can I breastfeed my newborn and my toddler at the same time?

Yes, to both questions. A woman can breastfeed while pregnant and continue breastfeeding both her toddler and infant. This is called "tandem" breastfeeding.

Coping with Breastfeeding Challenges: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy

  • How and when do I use a pump?

Breast pumps can be used to relieve engorged breasts, and to express milk when a mother cannot breastfeed her baby.

Breast Pumps

Illness or medication and breastfeeding

  • I have __________(illness) or take _______(medication), can I breastfeed?

Refer to health provider or IBCLC.

Can I Breastfeed My Baby If I Am Sick?

Can I Breastfeed While on Medication?

Milk Supply & Nutrition
  • What can I eat to make more milk?

It is important that breastfeeding mothers drink enough water and eat a balanced diet. To make plenty of milk, feed the baby often. The more you feed the baby, the more milk you will make.

Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy

MyPlate: Tips for Breastfeeding Moms

Mixed Feeding
  • Can I give both the breast and the bottle?

If a mother wants to leave her baby with someone and need to use a bottle, it is best to wait until the baby is breastfeeding well, at about 4 weeks old. Use pumped milk if possible. Giving formula will decrease the mother's milk supply.

When You Need to be Away (in English)

  • I don't have enough milk!

The more a mother breastfeeds, the more milk she will make. The baby is getting enough milk when she/he is wetting more than six diapers and having several mostly yellow stools each day (see Bowel Movements, above, for more information). Work with a health provider to ensure that the baby is growing well.


Low Milk Supply

  • How do I wean baby from the breast?

Encourage mom to wean gradually by eliminating one breastfeeding a day and waiting three–five days before eliminating another feeding. This reduces the risk of engorgement. If abrupt weaning is necessary, refer to health provider or IBCLC.


Weaning from the Breast [PDF, 2.9MB]

Wet Diapers
  • My baby hasn't had many wet diapers.

If less than six in 24 hours refer to Lactation Consultant or MD.