How to breast feed - the first feed

It can take time for you and your baby to learn how to breastfeed, but with the right help almost all mothers can breastfeed. We share some advice from the Ministry of Health around breast feeding


Newborn babies are placed straight onto their mothers as soon as they are born. This 'skin-to-skin' contact with you after birth is good for your baby’s physical health and helps you to bond. Skin-to-skin contact is the best way to keep baby at the right temperature and it encourages the baby to start breastfeeding.

The first feed

Within an hour of being born, your baby will start to show interest in breastfeeding. Your baby will:

  • feel the warmth of your body
  • feel your body rhythms
  • recognise your voice
  • smell the breast
  • start to push upwards towards the breast
  • open their mouth
  • suck their tongue.

Your midwife will help you to position your baby for breastfeeding and make sure that baby has a good latch on your breast. 


It’s important in the first few days that your baby feeds whenever they need to, so that they get the first milk, called colostrum.

This special milk is yellow in colour and is thick and sticky. Colostrum protects baby from infections and gives your baby their first food. Your baby feeds on colostrum for the first few days until your milk ‘comes in’. This is when your breasts start making more milk and the milk changes from thick and sticky colostrum to the normal breast milk, which is thinner and whiter.Babies will show hunger signs when they are ready for a breastfeed. These may happen with eyes closed or open.

Hunger signs

The hunger signs are:

  • rooting around with the mouth – opening the mouth and moving the head as if looking for the breast
  • sucking movements and sucking sounds – often quite soft sounds
  • the tongue coming out of the mouth and almost licking the lips
  • hand-to-mouth movements
  • sucking the fingers or hand
  • opening the mouth and possibly turning the head in response to a touch around the mouth area.

These signs are often called early hunger signs. If you miss these early hunger signs your baby will cry. Crying is a late hunger sign. Try to not let this happen, or your baby may be too upset to feed well.

  • feed your baby from one breast for 20–30 minutes
  • change your baby’s nappy then feed your baby from the other breast
  • remember to start the next feed on the breast that you last fed from.

New babies need to feed about 8–12 times every 24 hours. This means that you will be feeding your baby during the night. Some days your baby will need more feeds. You will not run out of milk – if you feed your baby more, your breasts will make more milk.