Patient information: Breastfeeding

1) Breastfeeding

Do doctors recommend breastfeeding for most babies? — Yes. Doctors recommend that, when possible, women feed their babies only breast milk until the baby is 6 months old. Breast milk has all of the nutrition that babies need until they are 6 months old. Breastfeeding can also help prevent babies from getting ear infections, lung infections, or diarrhea.
When can I start breastfeeding? — Most women can start breastfeeding within a few hours after giving birth. For the first few days, most women make only a small amount of yellowish milk called “colostrum.” Colostrum has all of the nutrition a newborn needs. Most women start making more milk after 2 or 3 days.
How should I hold my baby during breastfeeding? — There are different ways you can hold your baby during breastfeeding (figure 1). You can try different positions to figure out which way works best for you and your baby.
What does “latch-on” mean? — Latch-on is another word for when a baby makes a tight seal with his or her mouth around the nipple and the areola (the dark skin around the nipple) (figure 2). A good latch-on helps the baby get enough milk and can prevent the mother’s nipples from getting hurt. But even with a good latch-on, it can be normal for women to feel a little pain when a feeding starts.
How often should I breastfeed and how long should a feeding last? — A woman should breastfeed when her baby shows signs of being hungry. A baby can show that he or she is hungry by:
  • Waking up from sleep
  • Moving the head around as if he or she is looking for the breast
  • Sucking on his or her hands, lips, or tongue
Babies can breastfeed on different schedules and for different amounts of time. For example, some babies finish a feeding in 5 minutes, but others might take 20 minutes or longer.
Doctors recommend that women finish breastfeeding on one side so that a baby gets all the milk from that breast. Then, a woman can see if her baby wants to drink from the other breast.
How do I know if my baby is getting enough breast milk? — You can tell if your baby is getting enough breast milk by:
  • Checking his or her diapers – By day 4 or 5 after birth, babies should have at least 6 wet diapers a day.
  • Checking his or her bowel movements – By day 4 after birth, babies should have 4 or more bowel movements a day. By day 5, their bowel movements should be yellow.
  • Having your doctor or nurse check to see if your baby is gaining weight
Does my baby need any other food or drink? — For the first 6 months, most babies need only breast milk. But your doctor might recommend that your baby take a liquid vitamin, too.
When a baby is 6 months old, he or she can start eating and drinking other foods. Ask your doctor or nurse which foods you can feed your baby and when.
What problems can happen during breastfeeding? — Some women have problems during breastfeeding that can include:
  • Swollen, hard, and painful breasts
  • Painful or cracked nipples
  • Breast or nipple infections
  • Blocked milk ducts, which can cause red and painful breast lumps
How are breastfeeding problems treated? — Breastfeeding problems are treated in different ways. Treatment will depend on the problem. For example, women with swollen, hard, and painful breasts often feel better if they:
  • Use their hand or a breast pump to let some milk out.
  • Use an ice pack or take pain-relieving medicine to treat the pain
  • Take a warm shower to start their milk flow and let some milk out
Talk with your doctor or nurse if you are having problems with breastfeeding. Most breastfeeding problems can be treated. Some women also find it helpful to talk with a breastfeeding expert called a “lactation consultant.”
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Call your doctor or nurse if you have:
  • A blocked milk duct that does not get better
  • A fever and a hard, red, and swollen area of the breast
  • Blood leaking from the nipples
  • Pain that lasts for the whole breastfeeding session
Do I need to eat or drink more when I am breastfeeding? — Yes. Women need to eat extra calories and make sure that they drink enough fluids. Ask your doctor if there are vitamins you should take, or foods or medicines you should avoid.
When should I stop breastfeeding? — Women choose to stop breastfeeding at different times and for different reasons. But doctors do not recommend that women stop breastfeeding all at once. Instead, when you decide to stop breastfeeding, you can drop one feeding every 2 to 5 days, or breastfeed for fewer minutes each feeding.