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The Most Commonly Asked Breastfeeding Questions - Answered

Bea King from Melton Breastfriends & The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers has kindly volunteered to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about breastfeeding exclusively for Inspirique Baby Photography and for all of you Mummy's reading this.

You can also watch myself & Bea in a live Q&A about breastfeeding here.

Bea feeding her own daughter

1. How do I know when my baby has finished feeding?

If your baby has finished feeding, they will fall off the breast by themselves, try not to take them off when they flutter suck (lots of people like to say baby is using you as a dummy here), as this is when they get the fattiest milk so it really aids their weight gain and your milk supply. You could offer them the other breast, some babies will take it and some won’t, it’s absolutely okay either way and that is just what your baby needs.

2. How long should I feed my baby for?

There is no set time that you must feed your baby for. The average time varies between 5-45 minutes and can differ between each baby and each woman; neither of these times shows anything on your supply. Some believe you need to give a certain amount of time on each breast to ensure they get enough, but this is not true. You just need to follow your baby’s lead and let them feed for however long they need to.

3. How can I tell that my baby is drinking?

When baby is feeding, it can be a good idea to look out for a couple of key signs that your baby is drawing milk from the breast. One sign is that baby will have puffed out cheeks, like a hamster, we need hamster cheeks and not sucked in cheeks like a fish. You will also be able to see swallows, and that will vary on where in the feed baby is. At the start of the feed, baby with do hard and rapid sucks to encourage a let-down, where they may have lots of little swallows, and when the let-down occurs, their sucks will change and be long, drawn out sucks where they may suck 2-3 times then do a big swallow. When baby starts flutter sucking at the end of a feed, they’ll do little tiny sucks on and off and have the odd swallow every minute or two.

4. How do I know how much my baby is getting?

With breastfeeding, many Mums can feel some anxiety about not knowing how much their baby is getting, whereas you can see the exact volume with bottle feeding, so being aware of knowing that your milk is enough will help your confidence. Keeping track of nappy output and baby’s steady weight gain along their centile are the most accurate representation of milk supply. Keeping track of weight gain is a bit harder with the current coronavirus and lack of face to face weighing facilities so nappy output works perfectly. I’ll break it down a little:

- On day one we want to see – at least 1-2 wet nappies and 1 black poo, which is the meconium.

- On day two/three we want to see – at least 2-3 wet nappies and 1-2 poos, which will start to turn more of a green colour and will be looser.

- On day four/five we want to see – at least 4-5 wet nappies and at least 2 poos the size of a £2 coin, which will be a yellow/mustard colour and be loose. This is when your mature milk comes in.

- From day six, we want to see – at least 6 wet nappies in 24 hours and 2 poos the size of a £2 coin.

Baby should poo at least once (preferably twice) daily until 6 weeks old. If your baby goes more than 24 hours without a bowel movement, it would be recommended to speak to a health care professional, it may be absolutely nothing, but it is best to get this checked out, just to be safe.

Another great way of tracking weight gain is by taking photos of your baby (which will be lots of photos!) and putting them side by side each week, and you will be able to physically see the difference.

5. How do I know when to feed my baby?

A lot of people tend to say that if your baby cries, they need feeding, but that is actually a very late feeding cue. Watch out for their early feeding cues, which are turning their head, opening their mouth a bit, pulling their fingers up towards their mouth. These will make it much easier for you to get baby to feed as they’ll still be very calm, whereas if you wait until they cry, you’ll need to calm them down first and then feed, which could be a little stressful for you both.

6. How often should I feed my baby?

Babies need feeding a minimum of 8-12 times in 24 hours, however, they tend to feed more than this, especially in the first week. Keep an eye out for the early feeding cues and offer them the breast, try not to wait until they’re crying as it makes it a bit harder to get them latched on. It is never a bad thing to offer the breast, as they cannot be overfed on the breast, so if you’re ever unsure about what baby needs, offer them the breast and, in my experience, nine times out of ten, it will work!

7. Do I need anything special to breastfeed?

There is nothing you *need* to breastfeed, as your breasts are attached to you! However, some things may be useful help a little bit. Something that I found useful were breast pads were that you put in your bra to soak up the milk that may leak, as you can guarantee your top will be soaked with milk at the worst time! Nursing bras were also really helpful, as it enables you to get the breast out easily ready to feed, and no parts of the bra would be digging in to the breast, possibly causing damage.

There are also a few things marketed for breastfed babies, which aren’t necessarily needed, and can also interfere with breastfeeding:

- Nipple shields are said to help baby to latch, but really they should be used as a last resort after qualified support has been given, as it can impact the transfer of milk in to baby, and also make it very difficult for Mum to wean off them (as many report them being quite a faff). Nipple shields can be used sometimes if baby has a tongue tie and cannot latch (after support being given), until the tongue tie has been released.

- A breast pump is very much personal preference. If you are someone who would like to pump and bottle feed at points during breastfeeding, we would suggest waiting until around 6 weeks to do this to allow your supply and breastfeeding to establish.

- A dummy can interfere with breastfeeding more than anything, from my experience as a peer supporter, as it can mask feeding cues, meaning baby could miss out on feeds and not gain weight sufficiently. If you are dead set on introducing a dummy, we would suggest again waiting until around 6 weeks, and ensure to always offer the breast before the dummy to try to prevent any issues.

- Nipple cream can be useful if your nipples are cracked, to moist heal the damage, but if you are in pain while feeding, reach out for support to check positioning and attachment. Cream won’t stop the soreness, but they will help to heal cracked skin.

- A feeding pillow can be useful to some, but it can cause issues such as blocked ducts and mastitis due to how the breast will sit on the pillow and can cause a blockage. It can also stop you being able to get in to a nice position, as a pillow is likely to stop you from being able to hold baby close.

8. When will my milk come in?

It usually comes in on day 4, but can be between 2-5 days. Before this, you will produce colostrum, which is very thick, yellow milk, full of antibodies. This is absolutely plenty for your baby in those early days, as their stomachs are so small that they just need drops of milk. There is no need to supplement with formula until your milk comes in.

9. Will I sleep less?

No - studies have been done on the sleep of breastfeeding and bottle feeding Mums and it was found that breastfeeding Mums get 7 minutes more sleep per night. This is due to the hormone (oxytocin) that is released while feeding, which helps baby get back to sleep quickly, but also does the same for Mum.

10. Will breastfeeding make my boobs sag?

No – lots of different variables go in to your breasts sagging, such as pregnancy (being the main one), getting older, weight loss etc.

11. Is there anything I should eat to make me produce more?

Nothing you eat or drink will make you produce more milk or change the quality of your milk. Lots of things claim to (such as water, oats, fenugreek – which actually has evidence of lowering supply) but there is no evidence to support this. The quality of your milk is also not determined on what you eat. Those that have reported a change in their supply is usually down to a placebo effect, as Mum may relax more and do things slightly differently without noticing and her supply increases. You could have an extremely unhealthy diet and your milk will still be perfect for your baby, albeit not great for your health! If you believe you have low milk supply, reach out to a peer supporter, and we will be more than happy to help you and guide you through it.

12. What about if my medication says ‘not to take while breastfeeding’?

Lots of medication state that on the box, simply because we cannot test them on breastfeeding women as it would be unethical. We would suggest going to to see if it may be safe for you to take while breastfeeding. Wendy Jones is pharmacist who has an MBE for her website. You can also contact her on Facebook via ‘The Breastfeeding Network’.

13. Should I take formula with me to the hospital?

If you are planning on breastfeeding, I would suggest not getting anything formula/ bottle related. This is simply because having everything in ready to bottle feed tends to cause many breastfeeding journeys to end prematurely. Try to trust your body, it can do this. If you feel like you would prefer to have these things, you could either put some money aside so that you can purchase the items if needed – if you don’t need it, treat yourself! Or you could buy the things you may need and drop it at a friend’s/ family’s house to keep safe, so that it isn’t in your house at 2am when you’re a tired new Mummy. In hospital, if you are struggling, ask for help, and ask for help as many times as you need to. If things really are not going well and baby in unable to feed, and you are unable to get any milk hand expressing (this should be the first option – make sure you tell this to your midwife), then your hospital will provide formula in this case of an emergency. But support is always offered first.

14. Can I drink alcohol?

The great news of this is yes! The amount of alcohol that goes is to breastmilk is very tiny, so it would not affect baby at all. In fact, you would need to be almost dead from alcohol poisoning for it to affect baby. Therefore, there is no need to pump and dump. The general rule is that if you feel safe to hold and care for your baby, you are safe to feed your baby, and this is the same information I would give to a parent who is bottle feeding, as the safety aspect comes from if they are safe to look after the baby. If you do not feel safe to do this, it would be suggested to express and ask someone else to feed baby. If you do decide to drink alcohol, it wouldn’t be advised to share a bed with your baby until this is out of your system – which we usually say is around 1 hour per unit plus an extra hour to be safe. So Mumma's, enjoy a glass of vino!

15. How soon can I feed my baby after birth?

You can feed your baby straight after birth, have some skin to skin and let baby find their own way to the breast (this is called the breast crawl). Of course, sometimes there may be medical problems arise, meaning you cannot feed your baby immediately, but this is very unlikely to affect you being able to breastfeed. C-section babies can also have skin to skin straight away and be breastfed.

16. Does the size of my nipple matter?

Nipple size does not matter when it comes to breastfeeding, you could have tiny nipples, or larger ones. Your baby will have their lips on the areola rather than the nipple, the nipple just goes into the back of their throat.

17. Can I go back to breastfeeding after stopping for a few days/ weeks?

It is absolutely possible. Make sure that the bottles are being pace fed, so holding you baby up a bit rather than laying down and taking breaks during the feed regularly – this will help to prevent bottle preference. Get in to bed with your baby and get some skin to skin together and allow baby to explore the breast. You will both have a release of lovely milk making hormones while you are having some skin to skin so this will encourage them to feed. Try doing this for as much as the day as possible.

18. Do I have to burp my baby if they're breastfed?

If your baby’s positioning and attachment is good, in theory, you should not need to burp your baby as they won’t be getting any air in as they feed. If they have a fussy period while latching or in the middle of a feed, or if their positioning and attachment is not quite right, they may get some air in. So, you may find that you do need to burp your baby, and you may find that you don’t. I would suggest trying and if they don’t burp, they just don’t need to.

19. If the baby feeds on one breast and is full, do I need to express the other or can I wait until they need feeding again?

Unless you are feeling engorged, there is no need to express on the other breast if your baby doesn’t need that side, as this will help your supply to regulate. If you are feeling very full and a bit sore, you can try to hand express a little bit, just to relieve that pressure.

20. What sort of snacks should I have while breastfeeding?

Anything that you enjoy! As mentioned, nothing you eat will affect your supply, so just make sure you keep yourself healthy and energy levels high with whatever you like to eat and drink. Biscuits and tea were my daily (10 times a day) snack.

21. What do I do if my milk takes a long while to come in and my baby is finding it hard to latch? Should I pump to keep the stimulation regular?

Any pumping is great to stimulate the breasts, but really try to aim for 8-12 pumping sessions per day with at least one in the night (between 12am and 5am), as the more you pump, the more milk you will make. To help baby latch on, you could definitely try some skin to skin to encourage this. If baby will latch on, you could look in to getting a supplementing nursing system. This is a little tube that sits next to your nipple and will be sitting in a bottle of milk, so as your baby suckles at the breast, they will be getting milk from the bottle, but also stimulating your breasts to increase your supply. Your body will be a bit confused with receiving formula so it will be unsure of how much milk to make, but breastfeeding is all about supply and demand, so the more milk you remove from the breast, the more milk your body will make.

22. How long can I store my breastmilk for?

If you decide to express to store, you only need to express once or twice every few days, try not to do it lots in one day unless necessary as it could lead to oversupply and mastitis. You can add breast milk together once they’re at the same temperature, just make sure to label it as the earlier date expressed. Breast milk can be stored in a variety of ways and for different lengths of time: in a warm room for 4-6 hours, in a cool bag with ice packs for 24 hours-3 days, at the back of the fridge freshly expressed for 3-8 days, defrosted milk at the back of the fridge for up to 24 hours, in a freezer up to -18 degrees for 3-6 months and in a freezer below -18 degrees for 6-12 months. Always give it a little sniff before using just to check.

It’s important not to warm up breast milk in the microwave as it can cause hot spots, so heat it up under the warm tap for a minute or two or even in a jug of hot water. If you decide to express a store, it would be helpful to store in small amounts up to 3-4oz, this way, you can defrost or heat up what you need and can easily heat up a little bit more if baby needs it, rather than throwing away hard workers expressed milk if baby doesn’t drink the whole bottle (trust me it’s like throwing away part of your soul - heartbreaking!). In the freezer, you can lie the storage bags down flat while freezing and can then pop them upright when frozen, as it will take up less space and is also quicker to defrost.


If you found this helpful, you can also watch myself & Bea in a live Q&A about breastfeeding here.

Thank you so much to Bea for answering these common breastfeeding questions, and if you have any more you'd like answering, please do pop them in the comments or contact us.


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