Breastfeeding FAQs

Breastfeeding is a skill that takes time to master – especially for first-time mums. You may be wondering if your baby is getting enough milk, what to do about sore nipples and what on earth "expressing breastmilk" means. These questions are perfectly normal – especially when you and your baby are getting used to breastfeeding.

Hopefully, our breastfeeding FAQs below will answer some of your questions!

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1. How often should I breastfeed my baby?

Your newborn will want to breastfeed lots throughout the day. It might seem as though you're feeding them all the time, but this is totally normal. As they get better (and more efficient) at feeding, they'll need to do it less often. Let your baby guide you as to how often and how long they should feed.

Look out for signs and clues that your baby is hungry, including:

  • sucking their fists
  • licking their lips
  • wriggling and opening their mouths, as if they're searching for your breast

Don't worry about feeding your baby too often – it's impossible to breastfeed your baby too much. Newborns tend to breastfeed at least eight times a day (24 hours) for the first few weeks. And your baby may want to feed more and for longer at night – that's because you produce more prolactin (the hormone that produces milk) then.

2. Is my baby getting enough milk?

Lots of mums wonder if their baby is feeding well and getting as much milk as they need: if you're comfortable while breastfeeding and your baby seems content, they probably are.

Here's what to expect from your baby's feeding habits:

  • on day one, your baby will probably feed three or four times
  • after a few days, when they're less sleepy, they'll start to feed a lot more – this means at least eight times a day, but it can be much more
  • by the end of the first week, your baby might settle down to about six to eight feeds a day

If your baby is feeding properly and getting enough milk, you'll also notice:

  • your breasts feel softer and less full after feeds
  • you'll hear your baby swallowing while breastfeeding
  • your baby seems relaxed while feeding and satisfied after most feeds
  • there may be some moistness around your baby's mouth after feeds

Check your baby's nappy too, as this is also a good way of telling if they're getting enough milk.

  • in the first 48 hours, your baby will probably only have two or three wet nappies
  • from day five, expect at least six wet nappies (every 24 hours)
  • in the beginning, your baby will produce a black, tar-like poo called "meconium"
  • by day three, this should be changing to a lighter, runnier, greenish stool
  • from day four (and for the next four to six weeks), your baby should pass at least two yellow stools a day

The more your baby breastfeeds, the more milk you will make. If you give your baby formula milk (especially before breastfeeding is well established), they won't want to feed as often, as formula is very filling. The less you feed, the less milk you produce.

Weight gain:

Most babies lose 5–10% of their birthweight in the first few days. But they normally get back on track (getting back to birthweight and then gaining weight) within two weeks.

If you're worried that your baby isn't putting on weight, speak to your midwife or health visitor. They may check that your baby is breastfeeding properly.

Find out where to get more help

3. What can I do about nipple pain?

Nipple pain is most common seven days into breastfeeding and is usually caused by your baby not latching onto your breast properly (which means being properly attached).

Breastfeeding should not cause you any pain, so if you do experience sensitive nipples or pain from cracked, bleeding or sore nipples ask your health visitor or midwife for advice as soon as possible.

The first thing you should do is check that your baby is latching on properly. Have a look at our step-by-step latching-on-guide for help. If you need latching-on advice, talk to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding specialist – they'll be able to offer advice and guidance.

While it can be painful to breastfeed with sore nipples, please don't stop breastfeeding! Stopping breastfeeding altogether can make the pain worse and lead to your breasts becoming engorged which can lead to mastitis.

To soothe your nipples, there are a few things you can try at home:

  • some women find rubbing their own breastmilk onto their nipples can be soothing. Others find that products like Vaseline or lanolin can help with dry or cracked nipples
  • after each feed, let your nipples dry before getting dressed. Also, change your breast pads after every feed
  • avoid using soap, as this can dry out your skin
  • if possible, only wear cotton, non-underwired bras
  • it's best to avoid using nipple shields and breast shells, as these may stop your baby attaching properly
  • try not to shorten feeds – doing so won't ease the pain and may reduce your milk supply

Remember, there’s lots of help and support available. If you’re certain that your baby is latching on properly but you’re still experiencing nipple pain, talk to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding specialist as soon as possible – there may be another problem, such as thrush, which needs treatment.

4. What is the best breastfeeding position?

The best breastfeeding position is the one that works best for you and your baby.

In the beginning, you'll need to try a few out to figure out what's most comfortable.

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Here are three of the most popular breastfeeding positions:

  • cradle hold – sit in a comfy chair with plenty of support. Use lots of cushions and pillows to add support if you need to. Lie your baby across your lap, facing you. Place your baby's head inside the crook of your elbow and support the length of their body with your hand. Make sure your baby's ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line so that they're not twisted
  • lying on your side – get comfy on your side. Lie your baby so that they're facing you – you'll be tummy to tummy. Make sure your baby's ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line. If you need to, you can place a rolled-up blanket behind your baby to support them. Tuck the arm you're lying on under your head or pillow and use the other arm to support your baby's head. If you're breastfeeding a newborn, you may need to shape your breast and guide the nipple into their mouth
  • rugby hold – sit in a chair with a cushion along your side. Position your baby along the side you want to feed from, under your arm, with their hips close to yours. Your baby's nose should be level with your nipple. Support their head and neck with your palm and guide them to your nipple

For more details, read our guide to breastfeeding positions. Breastfeeding is a skill that can take time to get the hang of. If you're finding it difficult, ask your health visitor, midwife or a breastfeeding specialist for advice and support. They’re there to help.

5. How can I increase my breastmilk?

There are lots of ways to increase your breastmilk supply, but the main thing is to feed your baby as often as you, and they, want. Your baby's sucking stimulates your milk supply – so the more they feed, the more milk you'll produce.

If you think you've got a low milk supply, here are some things you can try to increase it:

  • breastfeed at night as well as in the daytime – you produce more of the hormone prolactin at night, which is responsible for increasing your milk supply
  • express a little extra milk after feeds – your body will start producing more milk because you're increasing demand for it
  • delay using formula or a dummy until breastfeeding is well established – it can interfere with your baby's feeding requirements

Things that can decrease your milk supply:

  • not latching on properly – if your baby isn't latching on properly, they won't be getting as much food as they want – and you will produce less milk
  • illness – if you or your baby are ill while you're breastfeeding, this may affect your supply
  • medication – Some medications may affect how much breastmilk you're producing – if you're worried this may be the case, speak to your GP
  • nipple shields – if you can, avoid using nipple shields – they may reduce your milk supply as they can affect how much milk your baby gets at each feed. If you're using nipple shields because your nipples are painful, read our tips on nipple pain
  • time away from your baby – if you had to spend time away from your baby after their birth – for example, if they were premature – this may also affect your milk supply. That's because your body didn't have to start producing milk straight away
  • tongue-tie – if your baby has tongue-tie, this may mean they can't latch onto your breast properly. They won't get as much milk as they need, and you'll produce less. Find out more about tongue-tie

Remember, there's lots of support available while you're breastfeeding. If you're worried about your baby not getting enough milk, chat to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

6. How do I express my milk?

You may want to express milk (which means squeezing it out of your breasts to store and use later) if your breasts feel full and uncomfortable, if you want to boost your milk supply or if you need to be away from your baby (for example, if you're going back to work or study).

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You can express your milk by hand, with a manual breast pump or with an electric pump.

How to express milk by hand

  • gently massage your breast to help let down your milk
  • cup your breast in one hand
  • make a "C" shape with your forefinger and thumb using your other hand – near the areola but not on it
  • squeeze gently, release the pressure and repeat, until you've built up a rhythm. Gradually your milk will start to flow
  • hold a sterilised bottle below your breast to catch the milk
  • when the flow slows down, you can move your fingers around to get milk from a different part of your breast, or swap to the other breast

Read more about expressing milk by hand.

How to express milk with a pump

You can get manual or electric pumps – manual breast pumps are cheaper, electric pumps can be a bit quicker. You can often hire electric breast pumps – speak to your midwife or health visitor, as they may know how you can get hold of one.

With electric pumps, you can usually change the suction strength. Try to build this up slowly to avoid hurting your breast. The pump should never cause bruising or pain.

Read more about expressing milk with a pump.

How to store expressed breastmilk

You can store breastmilk in the fridge or freezer.

  • fridge – you can store expressed milk for up to five days at 4C or lower. Your baby can drink this milk straight from the fridge, but if they prefer their milk slightly warmer, you can put it in a jug of warm water or run it under a warm tap
  • freezer – you can store your milk for up to six months. To use expressed milk from the freezer, defrost it slowly in the fridge. If you want to speed up the process, you can place the frozen milk in a jug of warm water or run it under a warm tap

Avoid using a microwave to warm up or defrost your milk, as this can create hot patches of milk that may burn your baby's mouth. Once you've warmed or defrosted your milk, it needs to be used straight away and can't be chilled or frozen again, so store it in one-portion sizes to avoid wasting any.

7. Has my baby got tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) happens in 4-11% of newborn babies. It means the strip of skin connecting your baby's tongue to the floor of their mouth is slightly shorter than it should be.

For some babies it's not a problem, but for others it can make breastfeeding harder because they can't move their tongue as much as they need to.

Signs of tongue-tie in your baby:

  • they have difficulty latching onto your breast and staying there for the full feed
  • they are not putting on weight as quickly as they should (they should be back to their birthweight within two weeks)
  • they're unsettled and appear hungry lots of the time
  • they find it difficult to lift their tongue, move it around or stick it out
  • their tongue may look heart-shaped when they stick it out

Tongue-tie can be hard to spot, and lots of the symptoms above may be caused by something else. If you think your baby could have tongue-tie, ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist for advice.

Read more about tongue-tie.

8. What are the signs of mastitis?

Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue. It can make your breast painful, red and swollen. It's most common in breastfeeding women within the first three months of giving birth and often affects only one breast at a time.

Mastitis is usually quick and easy to treat, so it's good to know the early signs and get it seen to as soon as possible.

The symptoms of mastitis include:

  • a red, swollen breast that's hot and painful to the touch
  • a lump or hard area on your breast
  • a burning pain in your breast
  • nipple discharge that's white or contains streaks of blood
  • flu-like symptoms, including aches, a high temperature, fatigue and chills

There are some home remedies that can help you deal with non-infectious mastitis. But if your mastitis becomes infectious, your GP may need to prescribe you antibiotics.

Find out more about the causes of mastitis, how to prevent it and how it's treated.

9. What birth control can I use while breastfeeding?

There are four methods of birth control you can use while you're breastfeeding:

  • male condoms and female condoms – as soon you feel ready to have sex
  • any progestogen-only method, including the progestogen-only pill, the implant and the injection. They can be started immediately after birth
  • intrauterine methods (coils) – your midwife or doctor can advise you about the best times to have these put in
  • the LAM (lactational amenorrhoea method)

How does LAM work?

If you’re only breastfeeding (not giving your baby anything other than breastmilk), you stop ovulating (releasing an egg), which means you’re temporarily infertile.

When you're breastfeeding and not having periods, your breastmilk production causes lactational amenorrhea (in other words, it pauses your periods). It's known as the "natural birth control method", and is safe for you to have sex without getting pregnant.

As your baby gets older, or you start to breastfeed less frequently, your ovaries will start working again and your periods should return.

You can use LAM if you're fully breastfeeding for the first six months after your baby is born, as long as you:

  • have no periods at all (complete amenorrhoea)
  • are fully breastfeeding (meaning your baby is only having breastmilk, and is feeding at least once at night)
  • your baby is less than six months old

For more information on contraception while breastfeeding, talk to your midwife, health visitor or family planning nurse.

10. Can I breastfeed with breast implants?

Yes, it's totally possible for you to breastfeed with implants – but it does depend on the size and placement of the implants, and the type of surgery you've had. If the incisions are under the fold of the breast or through your armpit, you shouldn't have any problems breastfeeding. But if the incision is around the areola, you may have problems as there’s a chance the milk ducts have been cut.

There's no real way of knowing until you try breastfeeding. You might be able to produce some of the milk your baby needs and then supplement with formula milk.

Let your GP or health visitor know if you have breast implants, so they can keep an eye on your baby's weight and make sure they're getting enough milk.

You may have a couple of side effects because of your implants, including more intense breast engorgement (when your breast is hard, swollen and feels full). If you get mastitis, the pain and fever may be slightly worse than for other women.

If you're worried about any of these symptoms, speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

11. What foods should I avoid while breastfeeding?

While you're breastfeeding, it's really important to have a healthy, balanced diet. Beyond that, there's nothing in particular you should or shouldn't be eating because your body does a great job of producing breastmilk that's just right for your baby.

However, there are a few foods you should be aware of:

Fish

Avoid eating oily fish like mackerel, sardines, trout and fresh tuna more than twice a week. Tinned tuna is fine – you can eat as much as you want. If you like shark, swordfish or marlin, don't eat more than one portion of these a week (that goes for all adults, as they may contain traces of mercury). Find out more about eating fish while breastfeeding.

Caffeine

Caffeine can pass through your breastmilk into your baby. This can make them restless and struggle to sleep, so it's best to keep your intake as low as possible.

The NHS advises that you have less than 300mg a day. Caffeine can also be found in chocolate, so it's wise to watch how much you eat. Find out how much caffeine is in the things you regularly eat and drink.

Alcohol

Alcohol also passes through your breastmilk to your baby. Babies' livers are delicate when they're so young, which means alcohol can harm them. It's best to avoid drinking more than two units of alcohol, more than once or twice a week. If you can, try to completely avoid drinking while breastfeeding for the first three months.

Peanuts

Don't worry – there's very little evidence to suggest that eating peanuts while you're breastfeeding increases your baby's risk of getting a peanut allergy.

Allergies

Your breastmilk contains traces of the foods you eat. If you eat something your baby is sensitive to, it might affect them. For example, some babies react to a protein found in cows’ milk. Some of the symptoms of food sensitivity include:

  • not feeding well or putting on weight
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • red, itchy lumps
  • swollen eyes, face or lips
  • vomiting
  • reflux
  • eczema

If you're worried your baby might have an allergy, speak to your health visitor or a GP. They might advise you to cut out cows’ milk for a few weeks to see if it makes your baby any better. If it does, you may have to avoid cows’ milk until you've finished breastfeeding.

12. Can I breastfeed in public?

Yes, you can breastfeed in public spaces across the UK (you're protected by the Equalities Act 2010). This includes communal spaces like parks, public services like transport and libraries, and businesses like cafés and restaurants.

It's normal to feel nervous about breastfeeding in public, especially if you're not used to it – lots of women feel this way to begin with. So, the first time you try, perhaps take a friend or family member with you for a bit of moral support.

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Did you know that in a Start4Life survey, 72% of people asked support women breastfeeding in public. The more women breastfeed in public, the more it becomes normal and expected.

Never feel like you should feed your baby in a public toilet – you wouldn't eat in a public loo, so your baby shouldn't have to either.

What should I wear to breastfeed in public?

You should wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable, this might mean trying a few different outfits. Here are some options that other women have found work for them:

  • wearing a loose top that's easy to lift up
  • wearing two stretchy tops so that you can lift one up and pull one down
  • a soft, underwired bra that's easy to pull up or down
  • using a baby sling
  • laying a scarf over your shoulder so that it covers your baby's head and your breast

13. Which medicines can I take while breastfeeding?

If you're taking regular medication, speak to your GP or healthcare professional, ideally before your baby is born.

Most medicines, including medication for postnatal depression, can be taken while you're breastfeeding without harming your baby. Medicines you can take while breastfeeding include:

  • most antibiotics
  • common painkillers (such as paracetamol and ibuprofen) but not aspirin
  • asthma inhalers
  • vitamins at the recommended dose. If you're breastfeeding, it's good to take a daily supplement containing vitamin D (10mcg). If you're eligible for Healthy Start, you may be able to get free vitamin supplements (without a prescription)
  • some cold remedies but not all (check with your GP, health visitor or pharmacist)
  • local anaesthetics, vaccinations (including MMR, tetanus, whooping cough and flu injections) and most operations

Always check with your GP, midwife, health visitor or pharmacist, they can help you make an informed decision.

It's fine to have dental treatments. You don't have to pay for NHS dental treatment if it starts within 12 months of your baby's birth.

For more information about breastfeeding and medicines:

  • talk to your midwife, health visitor, pharmacist or GP
  • go to The Breastfeeding Network for information on drugs and breastfeeding
  • call The Breastfeeding Network's Drugs In Breast Milk helpline: 0844 412 4665

Illegal drugs and breastfeeding

It's dangerous to take illegal drugs or non-psychoactive drugs ("legal highs") while you're breastfeeding. Not only can they affect your ability to look after your baby safely, but they can also be passed on to your baby through your breastmilk.

The long-term effects of taking illegal drugs while breastfeeding are still unknown. But if you are using them, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP – they won't judge you and will be able to help you access the services you need to stop using drugs.

You can also contact FRANK (0300 123 6600) for supportive and confidential drugs advice. The helpline is available 24 hours a day.

14. What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is usually most frequent during the first three to four months.

It's when your baby wants to feed even more frequently (sometimes constantly) over a period of time. It's very normal and nothing to be concerned about. Your baby may want to cluster feed during the day or night (or a bit of both).

Your baby may cluster feed for a few days when they’re going through a growth spurt, but once your supply catches up with demand, things should be back to normal.

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