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Expert answers to your pressing breastfeeding questions
While breastfeeding may be the most natural way to feed your baby, it doesn’t always come easily. We built the nation’s largest network of Board Certified Lactation Consultants to provide breastfeeding families with the resources they need to succeed. To make sure all moms have the information they need when they need it, we asked those experts to weigh in on the 10 most common breastfeeding questions.
1. How much colostrum does a newborn need?
Packed with protein, low in fat and easy to digest, colostrum is the nutrient-rich ideal first meal for your newborn. This thick yellow milk comes in small amounts at first but is just right for your newborn—during the first 24 hours, your little one’s stomach is about the size of a pea and can only take in five to seven milliliters (or a tenth of an ounce) per feeding.
Your body begins producing colostrum before your baby is born. The transition from nutrient-dense colostrum to mature milk begins two to five days after birth. During this time, the consistency of your breast milk will also change—though not all at once—from the golden-yellow color of colostrum to thinner, whiter milk as it comes in.
2. When will my breast milk come in?
Many moms will be able to produce some colostrum right after delivery, although the timing can be affected by a cesarean birth or a traumatic delivery. To stimulate your milk supply right away, engage in skin-to-skin contact with your newborn during the “golden hour,” or the first hour after delivery. This critical time will activate your lactation hormones and promote early breastfeeding. Nurse your baby every two to three hours, or about eight to 10 times per day, and engage in skin-to skin-contact in between feedings. Keeping your baby at the breast will help to stimulate milk supply, so feed early and often.
If you feel like you aren’t producing enough milk in the first few days postpartum, try to trust that your body will produce exactly what your baby needs. Remind yourself that it takes about three days before a newborn can hold even one ounce of breast milk per feeding and seven days before they can take in double that amount. Dirty diapers are a great indication that baby is getting enough nutrients; however, if you are concerned, there is nothing stronger than a mother’s intuition, so contact an IBCLC if you have any concerns.
3. Does breastfeeding hurt?
The good news is that breastfeeding should not be painful. So if you are experiencing pain during breastfeeding, an IBCLC can help troubleshoot the issues. Common issues such as sore or tender nipples are usually the result of a poor latch. If you are experiencing pain while breastfeeding, connect with a lactation consultant or your doctor who can evaluate the latch and provide guidance. In the meantime, take care of your nipples using lanolin. If you have cracked nipples, you can wear a breast shield while they heal.
4. How long should I breastfeed my baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months of life.
Despite those recommendations, only about 25.6% of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months, and only 35.3% are breastfed throughout one year. Challenges including perceived insufficient milk, difficulty nursing and pain while breastfeeding all contribute to these low numbers.
If breastfeeding is important to you, then set shorter milestones to help reach your goals—and then celebrate the milestones. Whether you’re breastfeeding your first or fourth child, and reach the one-month or one-year mark, celebrate the small wins and benefits you’re giving yourself and your baby. From reducing your baby’s risks for allergies, asthma, SIDS, childhood leukemia and obesity to lowering mom’s risk of postpartum depression and breast cancer, the health benefits you and your baby will reap make the experience that much better.
5. Should I wake my newborn to eat?
While it may seem counterintuitive to wake a sleeping baby when you’re already sleep-deprived, it’s recommended for the first few days after birth. During that time, it’s crucial to feed your baby frequently to ensure steady weight gain and stimulate your milk production. That means you may have to wake your baby from a nap if they sleep longer than four hours. Once your baby reaches a healthy weight and weight-gain pattern, about 5.5 to 8.5 ounces per week in the first four months of life, you can feel better about hitting the snooze button for both of you.
6. What medication is safe to use while breastfeeding?
Before taking any medications while breastfeeding, make sure to first talk to your doctor. Some medications do transfer from the mother’s body to her breast milk. However, most do so at low levels and don’t pose a risk to infants. It’s important to also be mindful of the possibility that some decongestants could impact your supply, so consider all of the factors before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication. Weighing the risks and benefits of a particular medication with your doctor is important!
7. Should I wear a bra while breastfeeding? If so, how many nursing bras do I need?
Nursing bras are a must for breastfeeding moms. To start, they are more comfortable and better sized to meet breastfeeding needs compared to normal bras. With snaps that allow you to expose your breast while keeping your bra on, they are super convenient and designed for your comfort. Nursing tanks are also pretty amazing for easy access when nursing your baby.
La Leche League recommends having at least three nursing bras. This way, you have one to wear, one in the wash and an extra—because, let’s face it, babies are messy. Plus, one breast may leak while the baby is feeding, so wearing a nursing bra with a nursing pad can help keep your tops from getting the dreaded milk spot. Whether you wear a nursing bra while breastfeeding is totally up to you—there are no “rules” for breastfeeding. Just do whatever feels the most comfortable for you and your baby.
8. How can I get my baby to latch?
Babies are born to latch, even minutes after delivery. But it’s also super common for women to have a great “golden-hour” latch and then have trouble.
Latching is essential for effective nursing, so getting a good latch is important to starting breastfeeding off strong. With a good latch, your baby’s “flanged” or puckered lips will encircle the nipple and surrounding areola (the darker circle surrounding the nipple), pressing down on the milk sinuses beneath the areola in what we call a “deep latch.” This helps trigger let down and release the flow of milk. Your baby should also be positioned comfortably against you so that they don’t have to turn their head to nurse. Connect with an IBCLC on day one to check your latch or help you find a position where your baby can get a deeper latch if needed.
Issues like tongue-tie and lip-tie may restrict your newborn’s oral movement and latch, affecting breastfeeding. If you notice that your baby doesn’t wake up on their own to nurse or nurses longer than 45 minutes but doesn’t seem satisfied, or if you experience sore, cracked or otherwise misshapen nipples among other issues, it might be an indication of poor latching. Meet with an IBCLC as soon as possible to troubleshoot the problem. They will be able to diagnose the condition and help you achieve an effective latch. Plus, three visits are typically covered by most insurance plans.
9. How long does it take to get your period after having a baby?
Moms who choose not to breastfeed can expect Aunt Flo to return six to eight weeks after baby is born. But for breastfeeding moms, especially those who are exclusively breastfeeding, your period may not come back until breastfeeding stops. One thing to note: even if your period has not returned, it is still possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding. That’s because ovulation precedes menstruation during your monthly cycle. Once it’s safe for sex (often four to six weeks postpartum with vaginal delivery), be sure to talk with your doctor about birth control options that are safe for breastfeeding moms—unless you’re ready for another baby!
10. How can I even out milk supply in both breasts?
It’s normal to have a “slacker boob,” or one that produces less milk than the other breast. Sometimes, babies have a breast preference or moms have a more comfortable position when breastfeeding or using a breast pump on one side. This is usually nothing to worry about—and as long as you and your little one are comfortable, nothing needs to change.
However, if you’re looking to level out uneven milk supply, there are a few techniques to try. First, stay hydrated. Then, try starting your breastfeeding sessions—when your baby is hungriest and suckling with the most force—on the “lazy boob” to stimulate milk production. If your baby has a true boob preference, try breastfeeding with the high-performing breast and pumping with the other.
Even if the difference is dramatic, you can still bring a “slacker boob” up to equal. Power pumping, a technique that mimics cluster feeding using a breast pump, helps and can show improvement as soon as two to three days. Like cluster feeding, power pumping signals your body to increase milk supply. To get started, add one power pumping session to your day. The usual format is to pump for twenty minutes, rest for ten, and then pump twice more for ten minutes each time with ten minutes rest in between each session.
For more answers to common breastfeeding questions and for one-on-one support, make an appointment with a certified lactation consultant through the Lactation Network. Our IBCLCs are here to provide accurate, helpful information and support to breastfeeding families. We’ll handle the insurance billing process so you can get the care you deserve with no hassle.