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Common Breastfeeding
Questions and Answers

These most common breastfeeding questions and answers will provide you with the first step in building a good foundation for your breast feeding future.

When I first began breastfeeding, questions popped into my head almost constantly. And there they sat. My hospital didn't have a lactation consultant on staff (and I couldn't afford to hire one). My mother hadn't breastfed (it was the 70's). My friends weren't having babies yet. I was on my own.

So, in memory of those first scary days, here's my attempt to make many of the most basic breastfeeding questions and answers available.

Common Breastfeeding Questions and Answers

I've also provided a free downloadable Breastfeeding Diary for you to use in establishing your breastfeeding routine. View it here.

Do I Need to Prepare My Breasts
for Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #1

Unless your nipples are flat or inverted, your breasts are all ready to go. You don't need to stretch, pull, roll, or buff the nipples to "toughen them up".

In fact, such things can actually interfere with normal lactation by harming the delicate glands in the areola ( the darker area around the nipple). These tiny glands secrete a milky fluid that will lubricate the nipples in preparation for breastfeeding.

Do not rub lotions, or ointments on the nipples unless they are cracked. The lotions could clog skin pores and encourage an infection. Even in the case of bruised or cracked nipples, certain lotions should still be avoided.

Salves containing vitamins or hormones could hurt your baby. Such substances can be absorbed through the skin and then transmitted to your baby through breastmilk.

It is important to wear a well-fitting and supportive bra, since your breasts will be heavier than usual. Without good support, the additional size and weight of your feeding breasts will stretch the ligaments and contribute to sagging later in life.

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Do a Nipple Check Before Breastfeeding

Even though there's nothing you can do to prepare your breasts for feeding, you can check your breasts to ensure they'll function well when the time arrives.

Place your thumb and forefinger above and below the nipple on the areola and squeeze gently. The nipple should move outward, lifting away from the tissue underneath. If the nipple sinks down instead, you will need to purchase a breast shield to reverse this. If it isn't fixed, you will experience bruised or cracked nipples and a very frustrated baby.


Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #2

Whether you decide to ultimately breastfeed or not, your body starts preparing for breastfeeding as soon as you get pregnant.
  • The areola around the nipple gets darker
  • The breasts enlarge as the cells that will make milk multiply and the ducts that will carry the milk develop.
  • Your body begins storing excess fat in other areas to provide extra energy needed for lactation.
Your body will be ready to produce milk as early as 16 weeks into your pregnancy.

As soon as you deliver the placenta (the last stage in labor and delivery), your body will signal itself to begin making milk.

If your baby passes his initial tests, he will be placed on your chest for snuggling and suckling. If your baby did not pass his tests, or was born premature, you may have to wait a while before being able to breastfeed directly. You can get more information about breastfeeding preemies here.

Breastfeeding in the first hour of your baby's life is ideal. Your infant will be alert and eager to get down to business.


Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #3

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Colostrum

The first milk you will produce is colostrum. It is a thin, yellowish fluid packed full of protein, antibodies and other healthy goodies for your infant. It appears directly after delivery and will be your baby's first meal.

In the beginning, you'll be producing only about half an ounce (15 ml) of colostrum. By the time your mature milk comes in, you'll probably be producing about an ounce (30 ml).

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Mature Milk

Your mature milk will not come in until 3-4 days after delivery. You can speed this up by keeping your infant on your breast as much as possible. Mature milk looks whiter and more creamy than colostrum. It is an amazing combination of everything your baby needs. After the first week, your mature milk supply will be around 2-6 ounces per feeding and it will continue to increase as your baby grows.

The days before your mature milk comes in can be stressful. You will be tempted to think you aren't making enough milk to satisfy his little tummy. Take heart, your baby was born with extra fluid in his system that will help sustains him until your mature milk begins to flow.

If you feel you MUST supplement, use a supplemental nurser to provide him with extra food while still giving you the stimulation you need to increase your supply.


How Often Should I Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #4

Breastmilk is very well-absorbed and easily digested. Because of this, breastfed babies usually require more feedings than their formula-fed cousins. When it comes to feeding, there are a few situations that can really mess with your establised and comfortable routine.

Bunch Feedings are when your infant seems to need occasional feedings very closely spaced. They're usually in the early evening (7ish) when your baby is more likely to feel cranky.

Growth Spurts will happen sporadically during the first year. Most babies exhibit an increased hunger and fatigue during this time. It usually only lasts a day or two.

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The First Day

Let your infant set the schedule at first. He will most likely want to eat every 2 hours (sometimes later, sometimes sooner). It is not uncommon for babies to require a dozen feedings in the first 24 hours (that's every other hour).

The fact that your newborn seems hungry all the time isn't necessarily a sign he isn't getting enough. It is simply a reflection of the easy digestibility of breastmilk.

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The First 4 Weeks

Feedings will begin to spread out, probably moving towards 6-8 times in a 24 hour period (every 4 hours or so).

You should try to wake your baby during the night every 4 hours to feed (if he isn't awake already). Establishing your milk supply and getting his weight up is the most important thing right now (not sleep - that comes later).

After the first 4 weeks you can begin moving him towards a more regimented schedule, encouraging more sleeping than feeding at night. It is not uncommon for babies to sleep for 6-7 hours after 6 weeks of age. (Both my girls did!)

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3-6 Months

As your infant grows, her stomach will expand while your milk increases. This enables her to go longer and longer between feedings.

By 3-6 months, she'll probably be eating about 5 times a day (every 5-6 hours) and will skip the late night feeding (the 11 to 1) feeding before 6 months.


How Long Should I Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #5

Nurse on each breast for 10-20 minutes. The length of the feeding will depend on your baby's appetite. At the beginning you'll notice him swallowing after every few sucks, eventually it will slow to a calmer rhythm until he seems to start losing interest. At that time, burp him gently, and switch him to the other side.


How Will I Know if She's Hungry?

Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #6

Crying is one of the last ways your baby will use to communicate her hunger. Look for other pre-signals like putting her hands to her mouth, making sucking noises, or nuzzling against your breast.

The clock can also be a helpful tool. Using the information above, if it's getting close to her usual feeding and she's rooting around or making noises, it's time to bring her to breast. If you miss those early signs, check her diaper and then move her to breast.

If you delay this feeding too long, she will begin to cry harder and get more upset. The more upset she is, the harder it will be to latch on properly.

Just as her body language will inform you when she's hungry, it will also inform you when she's finished. She'll stop sucking and turn away from the nipple. She may push the nipple out with her tongue or arch her back.



How Will I Know if He's Getting Enough?

Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #7

There are several good factors you can look for in determining whether or not your baby is getting enough nourishment.

Sleeping is not one of them. On one hand, sleeping after eating shows he's full and content. On the other hand, babies who aren't getting enough to eat can also be very sleepy and lethargic when awake. If your baby is sleeping for more than 4 hours within the first 4 weeks, see your doctor.

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Using Your Senses

Listen and watch to see if your baby is swallowing. Just because the jaw is moving doesn't necessarily mean your baby is getting milk. Listen carefully for a swallow every one to four sucks. Listen for him to breathe through his nose. The puffs of air after a swallow is just what you want to hear.

Watch for his throat to move with each swallow. Look for occasional leaking milk on the other breast. Insert your finger in the corner of his mouth to break suction and pull him off the breast. Does he have milk on his tongue?

Feel for the areola to be drawn into the baby's mouth as his jaw drops down. Your breasts should feel full and firm before feeding and soft and empty afterwards. Touch the back of his head, does it vibrate slightly as he drinks?

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Counting Diapers

In the first few weeks, your breastfeeding infant should have 6-8 wet diapers in a 24 hour period. She should also have, typically, 2 dirty diapers a day. Some babies will pass a little poop after every feeding.

The colors of the excrement will change from tarry black (the very first poopy diaper) to seedy mustard. This article discusses the "normal" and "not normal" poop colors you should watch for. (I know...not a pretty subject, but someone's gotta do it!)

Your baby should have one dirty diaper every day. Read this brief article on constipation and breastfeeding to find out why.

To help you keep track, I've created a Breastfeeding Diary you can download for free. This resource will help you keep track of breastfeeding times, a diaper counter, and a weight chart - all essential tools in evaluating your newborn's health.

The diary is a PDF file. If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer, you can download it for free here.
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Weight Checks

During the first week, it is common for your baby to lose weight. Typically, it's 7-10% of his birthweight (that's 6-12 oz in a 7.5 lb full term baby. After that initial loss, he should begin gaining weight steadily, so he's back to his birthweight by the end of the second week.

Look for your infant to gain 2/3 ounce a day during the first 3 months. Between 3-6 months, his weight gain will taper to about a half-ounce a day. After 6 months, it will drop even lower. If your baby is gaining less than this, speak with your doctor.

You doctor's scale will be the most accurate. But the standard bathroom scale can be used for approximates. Weigh yourself, then weigh yourself while holding your infant. Subtract the two for your baby's current weight. If you're concerned about his weight gain, set an appointment with your doctor for an official weigh-in. The free Breastfeeding Diary will help you monitor his weight gain and loss.


Is Restarting Breastfeeding Possible?

Breastfeeding Questions and Answers #8

It is possible to start breastfeeding again after you've stopped. In fact, it's possible to breastfeed without ever even being pregnant (which is especially exciting for the mothers of adopted babies). A combination of medication to help stimulate lactation and repeated stimulation of the breasts, by a pump or by the baby's continual sucking, will fool your body back into milk production. Speak with your doctor if you want to restart breastfeeding.

The younger your baby, the more likely restarting breastfeeding will be successful. Under 9 weeks is ideal. Even though you will be making milk again, there is a strong possibility that you will not be able to produce enough to completely satisfy her. Using a supplemental nurser is the best way to give her the extra formula without compromising your future milk supply.

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If I've Adopted a Baby, Can I Still Breastfeed?

Yes! Follow the instructions above for restarting breastfeeding. The supplemental nurse (mentioned above) will be essential in getting your supply started.
Here are some additional questions you may have about breastfeeding that are answered in other articles.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Some of the articles referenced below may not be hyperlinked. This is because they have not been uploaded and placed online yet. Take heart! They are on the sidelines, waiting for their chance in the arena. I'm uploading pages as fast as I can!

Signing up for the Essential Infant Blog will notify you when the articles are available for viewing. Or, you can subscribe to The Merry Mother and receive a notice at the beginning of the month of what pages were added that month.

Thanks for your patience!


Besides all these breastfeeding questions and answers, you can find other informative articles about breastfeeding techniques, tips for the working mom, and countless other breastfeeding subjects.


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As a new mom, breastfeeding questions and answers can be easily overwhelming. Fortunately, you don't have to remember everything. This website is always here to help. Still looking for something? Post your question for other moms to answer.

Pick a few today, come back and review a few tomorrow. Eventually, breastfeeding will be as easy as changing a diaper or burping!

Sources of Research

Click here to view the resources that were used in researching this article.

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