22 breastfeeding questions answered

Not sure how to get your baby to latch? Are your nipples sore from nursing? Uncertain if you're baby's getting enough milk or putting on enough weight? Our experts answer all these questions and more...

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While breastfeeding’s the most natural thing in the world, it can also be a knack, and there’s probably a lot you don’t actually know about doing it before you get started.

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Here we’ve got expert answers on some really common breastfeeding questions including: how often to feed your baby, how to help them to latch on, what to do about night feeds, expressing, moving to the bottle and more…

22 questions about breastfeeding answered

1. How often should I feed my baby?

 Newborn babies have tiny tummies and can’t take in much milk at any one time – so you may feel as though you’re doing nothing but feeding in the early days!

Six to eight feeds a day is perfectly normal. As your baby grows, she’ll get more efficient at emptying your breast and will be able to take more milk, and as a result, she’ll go longer between feeds.

2. What if my breasts hurt?

 Lots of mums experience sore nipples when they first breastfeed, but they will harden up over the next few days and weeks. An incorrect latch is the most common reason for sore nipples, so don’t be afraid to take your baby off the breast and try again.

Using a nipple cream after each feed may help, as will exposing your nipples to the air. If one or both of your breasts feel hot and tender, look inflamed and red and you generally feel under the weather, you may have mastitis. It’s not usually serious, but visit your GP, who can advise on treatment that will help you feel more comfortable.

3. How do I know if my baby has had enough?

Feel your breast after your baby has fed from it. Is it soft? If so, then she’s taken the milk from it. If she’s content after her feed, she’s probably full up. Yellowy-mustard stools are also a good sign, as are six to eight wet nappies in 24 hours.

 4. Am I allowed to breastfeed in public?

Yes, you are – it’s against the law to prevent a mum from breastfeeding her baby in public. 

5. How can I feel less nervous about breastfeeding in public?

I’ve been breastfeeding at home for the first few weeks but now I’m going out more I feel nervous about breastfeeding in public. How can I feel more at ease?

It can feel daunting to practise your new skill in public, but don’t feel embarrassed – your baby has a right to a feed. Until you get your confidence up, plan in advance where you might find breastfeeding facilities. Bigger shops will have a designated area, while restaurants and cafes where you see young families gathering will probably be breastfeeding friendly. If you ask establishments where you can feed, don’t be fobbed off with the toilet.

Wear easy-access clothes, such as a feeding bra that you can open and close one-handed and look for somewhere to sit away from prying eyes if that’ll help you relax.

Draping a scarf or baby blanket over your shoulder will also give you added privacy. But in reality, when your baby is feeding it’ll just look as if he’s having a cuddle.

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6. I’ve been feeding my baby for three weeks, but by nipples have become sore and cracked. What am I doing wrong?

Your baby may be latching on in the wrong position. Try bringing him to the breast so your nipple is at the top of his mouth and his chin is as far as possible from the nipple stem while still getting the nipple into his mouth. Don’t let him suck on the end of your nipple.

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, so if things don’t improve, speak to your midwife or health visitor for help.

 7. My concern is that I have inverted nipples – is there anything I can do to help correct this problem?

About one third of mums will experience some degree of inversion, but as the skin changes and becomes more elastic during pregnancy, only about 10% will still have some inversion by the time their baby is born. Flat or inverted nipples may make it more difficult for your baby to nurse, but it should not cause too many problems during breastfeeding.

Because your baby forms a teat, not just from the nipple, but also from the surrounding breast tissue, most inverted or flat nipples will not cause problems during breastfeeding.

Some types of flat or inverted nipples will cause problems, however, and there are some steps you can take to correct the problem both before and after the baby is born. How much difficulty a flat or inverted nipples presents to a nursing baby depends on the degree of inversion as well as the baby herself.

For a baby to nurse effectively, she must be able to grasp the nipple and stretch it forward and upwards against the roof of her mouth. If you have a strong, healthy, full-term, vigorous nurser, she may be able to draw out the nipple with relative ease.

Some health professionals suggest trying using a device made by Avent called a Nipplette. This is a suction cap that fits over the nipple and pulls it into a better shape – but it can’t be used after about 28 weeks. 

Hopefully you will succeed in latching your baby on, but if you can’t, you can always try nipple shields or, as a last resort, you could express your milk and give it in a bottle.

8. Can I still use my creams for the eczema I get around my nipples if I’m breastfeeding?

I’d like to breastfeed my baby when she arrives but am worried about the occasional eczema flare-up I get around my nipples. At the moment I use a mild cortisone cream on the rash – could this be harmful to the baby? And will breastfeeding irritate my condition?

It doesn’t follow that your eczema will be worse after your baby is born, although breastfeeding will be a new experience and you can’t know how your skin will react. Hydrocortisone cream is mild enough to apply even to a baby’s skin.

Obviously, swallowing it is different, but even so it is likely to be safe for your baby if you use it for a short time. Even the stronger steroids are sometimes prescribed, though usually for only 10 days at a time.

If you do use hydrocortisone cream, the best time to apply it would be 2 hours or more before you feed your baby and of course apply only as much as you need.

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You may be able to avoid steroid cream altogether by using simple emollients like lanolin and always drying your nipples thoroughly before putting your bra on.

If need be, you could try calendula ointment, which is widely used for sore nipples. Nipple shields can help protect sore nipples, but they are not always the answer that’s hoped for because they sometimes change the way a baby sucks and could even reduce your milk supply.

9. What is ‘latching on’?

 I’m about to start breastfeeding and have heard about ‘latching on’, but am not sure what it means

 Latching on describes how your baby gets into position for feeding and actually takes the breast into his mouth. It’s important to get it right, so that he can feed properly and drain your breast, too. Follow these tips, be patient, and you should get the hang of it:

  • Hold your baby close to you, his nose level to your nipple.
  • Wait until he opens his mouth very wide with his tongue down.
  • Quickly move him closer. He’ll tilt his head back, and come to the breast chin first.
  • He’ll take a large mouthful of breast. Your nipple will go towards the roof of his mouth. He is now latched on.

10. Is my daughter getting enough breastmilk?

You should be able to spot the signs of successful breastfeeding. Listen for sounds of swallowing and look for milk in the corner of her mouth.

Feel your breast after she’s fed on it, is it soft? If so then she’s taken the milk from it. Most breastfed babies lose weight initially but are normally back up to their birth weight by day 10. If you’re still worried speak to your health visitor.


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11. When I’m breastfeeding my 7-month-old baby he keeps coming off the breast and struggles to finish a feed. What can I do?

There might be a few  things going on. At this stage babies are very interested in what’s happening around them and easily distracted.

Try feeding him away from the TV or other children for a bit. Pop into a quiet room and face the wall, so he has no option but to focus on feeding and maintain eye contact with him to keep his attention. It could be that now he’s on a weaning diet his feeds are shorter, because it’s all he needs at this stage of his growth.

You might also have got more relaxed about your attachment technique, so check he’s opening his mouth wide enough, can tilt his head and swallows properly.

As long as he has regular wet nappies, and keeps to his usual bowel habits, you probably don’t need to worry. See how it goes for a week or so and if you’re still worried, visit your local breastfeeding support group.

12. Should I be looking for a let-down?

 I’ve been told by my friends that I should feel a let-down reflex when I’m breastfeeding. What is this?

Every time your baby suckles, a hormone called oxytocin is released, which stimulates muscle cells in the breast to squeeze out milk. That’s when the let-down reflex occurs.

It’s basically the milk moving towards the nipple. Some mums feel a tingle, or a slight pressure, maybe even discomfort in the breast.

You may notice the feeling of relaxation that oxytocin gives or notice milk dripping from either breast. After a while, some mums get a reflex response when their, or another, baby cries – even just thinking about your little one can cause your milk to flow, so it’s worthwhile keeping a few breast pads handy just in case. Eventually you’ll get used to the feelings and probably not notice anything at all.

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13. How important are night feeds?

 I’m breastfeeding my 6 week old and seem to be constantly on duty, especially at night. Is it possible to reduce some of the night feeds as I’m worn out!

All parents with a newborn baby will empathise with you and the exhaustion that caring for young babies brings. The truth is, this tiredness will happen whenever your baby feeds.

When you breastfeed at night the hormone prolactin (important in milk production) is produced at higher levels. So a breastfeed at night is important in helping your milk production.

The good news is that prolactin, along with oxytocin, which is also released when you feed, help you to relax and even feel sleepy.

So a night feed may improve the quality of sleep at least! Try and find ways to rest in the day instead, so you’re ready for the night shift.

14. How do I move from breast to bottle?

I want to stop breastfeeding my 7-month-old baby, but so far he’s refusing to take a bottle. Any advice?

 When moving from breast to bottle it’s often worth enrolling the help of someone else to offer feeds to your baby. At the moment he expects to be breastfed when he sees you. So ask his dad or a friend to try. Leave the room completely – it will be easier for everyone if you’re not hovering.

Some babies will skip out bottles completely and go straight to soft-top feeder beakers, so this may be worth trying, particularly as he’s over 6 months. Introduce a non-breast feed at a regular time of day, when he’s not too hungry or tired.

If you haven’t already done so, start offering water from a feeder cup. Some mums reduce breastfeeding gradually over a month or so and others will aim to stop in a few days. Do what suits you, but be consistent and avoid any other big changes until your baby has settled into the new routine.

15. How do I express at work?

I’m breastfeeding my 7 month old and want to express milk when I return to work. Any advice on getting organised?

Start by having a chat with your employer. While it’s not a legal requirement, the Health and Safety Executive recommends your work provide “a private, healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk”. Ideally that’s a room with a lockable door, washing facilities for equipment and hands, and suitable access to a fridge to store milk. And it’s not OK to make do with the loo.

It’s worth having a trial run to identify any issues that need to be sorted out. You might also like to pop an extra T-shirt or cardigan in your bag, in case of leakages.

16. My baby isn’t gaining enough weight – what should I do?

 I’m breastfeeding my newborn but he’s gaining weight more slowly than expected. Should I offer formula as well? I don’t want to give up breastfeeding.

Before offering formula feeds to your baby, spend time focusing on improving how he attaches at the breast. Visit a breastfeeding counsellor or local group.

Your health visitor will have details. Breastfeeding takes time for both you and your baby to master – up to four weeks is not unusual. During this time weight gain is one indicator of how your baby is doing, but not the only one. Introducing formula will not encourage your milk production at this early stage.

Sticking with getting attachment right, feeding on demand for as long as your baby needs and keeping him close with lots of skin-to-skin contact should, with good support and advice, help your baby thrive.

17. How do you hand express breast milk?

I’d like to hand express some of my breast milk rather than use a pump, but am not sure how to go about it. Do you have any tips?

 First, you’ll need a container with a wide lip – jugs are ideal. Sterilise or rinse it with scalding water. Relax and make a ‘C’ shape by placing your thumb above and your fingers below your breast, near the areola (dark area), but away from the nipple ‘teat’.

Gently press and release with rhythmic movements until milk flows, moving clockwise round the breast, until all areas have been massaged. Attempt to express all areas of the breast, alternating from side to side as you would a feed. Remember, babies take more milk feeding directly, so don’t worry too much about the volume you produce.

 18. Hungry or something else?

I’m breastfeeding my new baby, but am still unsure how to tell if his cry is hunger or something else.

Breastfed newborn babies may feed 12 times (sometimes even more) during a 24-hour period, so for the main part when he is awake, a feed is never far away. Some obvious signs to look for are crying, rooting around for your breast, sucking his fingers or making sucking noises, and oddly rapid eye movements.

It takes a little time to learn to identify and pick up cues for all your baby’s needs. Keeping your little one close to you will speed up this process. Spend as much time as is reasonable having skin-to-skin contact with your new baby. This helps soothe both of you and also gives you a little time to get to know each other. Be patient, you’ll soon learn the right signs.

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 19. Should his feeds change?

Should I stop breastfeeding my 6 week old on demand? He feeds every two hours.

Your baby’s tummy is still very small and can’t hold much at once. So he needs to get food continuously, which makes such regular feeds perfectly normal. As he grows, his tummy will start to hold more, his suck will develop and the frequency of his feeds will change too. So yes, continue to feed on demand at this age.

With any breastfeeding query, always check your attachment is OK. Empty one breast (so he gets the hind milk, which has the highest fat content and comes through after a few minutes) before you offer the other. Also, keeping up night feeds, when prolactin levels (breastfeeding hormone) are high, means you’ll continue to breastfeed successfully.

20. How do I go from breast to bottle?

I’m going back to work soon, so I want to cut down on my 8-month-old’s breastfeeds by using a bottle. Any tips?

We all know breast is best for your baby, but if you want to change your baby’s diet before you head back to work, it’s a good idea to do it gradually to give you and your baby time to adapt. Try offering a formula feed when your baby isn’t too hungry and is fairly relaxed – mornings are a good time.

Introducing formula will affect the amount of breast milk you produce, so you’ll need to keep your supply up if you still want to breastfeed. To help with this, lots of mums breastfeed before and after work and use formula milk during the day.

Some babies take a little time to get used to new feeding routines, so you’ll need to be calm and persistent. Talk it through with your childminder or nursery, who can work with you to establish a new feeding pattern for your little one. 

21. I’ve just found out that I’m 5 weeks pregnant with my third child and am still breastfeeding my second child. Can breastfeeding harm my unborn child?

 If you’re feeling fine and are happy to continue, there is no reason to stop – in fact some women breastfeed throughout their pregnancies and feed both baby and older child simultaneously.

Just be careful about your nutritional intake, a good diet is always important during pregnancy; but especially so while pregnant and breastfeeding.

Eat a variety of healthy foods and don’t just rely on nutritional supplements. If you continue to breastfeed after the first trimester you will certainly need more calories and more calcium than the average pregnant woman.

Some babies wean themselves off the breast because the pregnancy hormones can cause a reduction in milk supply and may also change the taste. However, if your toddler is still breastfeeding when your new baby is born and you don’t fancy tandem feeding allow your new baby to feed first.

Your older child may manifest feelings of jealously when the new baby feeds. This is normal. Tandem breastfeeding can be stressful, and is not for everyone. Be sure to ask for the help you need, once your new baby is born. Your partner may be thrilled to begin taking on a much more active role with your older child, while you are busy with the new baby.

22. My 6-month-old baby has started biting when he breastfeeds. How can I stop him?

It could be that your baby is teething, which means his gums will be swollen and sore and that’s why he’s beginning to chew or bite when feeding. Try offering a cool teething toy, chilled carrot or slither of cucumber before you put him on the breast to reduce any sensitivity in his gums.

Most babies quickly get the message that biting isn’t a good idea when a startled mum removes him quickly from the breast. To get him off safely and with as little pain as possible, pull him in close and partially block his nose by putting your finger over one nostril. He’ll remove his mouth to breathe.

Most biting occurs when the feed’s coming to an end, so if you can predict this you can get away in time. Giving lots of positive attention when the feed goes well with no biting will also teach your baby to stop.

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