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If you’ve never breastfed before then, you probably have a lot of questions. I have helped moms and babies for over 26 years. I came up with a list of the most frequently asked questions about breastfeeding.
YOUR BREASTFEEDING FAQs ANSWERED
HOW LONG SHOULD A MOTHER BREASTFEED HER BABY?
The current breastfeeding recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
Six months is when it is advised that you introduce solid foods to your baby. Solid foods are also referred to as complementary foods.
The AAP recommends continued nursing for at least a year. They also say that breastfeeding should continue as long as the mother and baby desire (Source).
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years (Source).
There is a difference between how long you should breastfeed and how long women actually do breastfeed.
Breastfeeding Statistics in the US
Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card (Source)
- 84.1% of babies start breastfeeding,
- 58.3% were breastfeeding at all by six months.
- 25.6% were exclusively breastfed at six months.
- 35.3% were breastfeeding at one year.
While breastfeeding for at least one to two years is ideal, any breastfeeding is beneficial. If those goals seem hard to accomplish, I recommend setting shorter goals and then re-evaluating how things are going. Start with a goal that sounds realistic for you and your situation.
Moms often find that breastfeeding is going well and decide to continue. One mom I worked with initially told me that she planned to breastfeed for three weeks. The last time I saw her, she was still breastfeeding at 18 months and not planning to stop any time soon. She told me, “I just never expected to love it so much.”
WHEN SHOULD I START BREASTFEEDING?
You should start breastfeeding when your baby wants to latch on after birth.
Learn what signs your baby gives you to let you know she wants to breastfeed.
Most babies do not want to breastfeed as soon as they are born. It may take them anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours to get used to their new surroundings.
Keep your baby skin to skin until she indicates she is ready for her first feeding.
HOW OFTEN TO BREASTFEED NEWBORN
A very common breastfeeding FAQ is how often does my baby need to breastfeed?
A baby will usually double their birth weight by three to four months of age. They typically triple their birth weight by the time they celebrate their first birthday.
Their tummies are pretty small, and breast milk is easily and quickly digested.
What this means is your baby will need to eat frequently.
The average newborn needs to eat a minimum of eight times every 24-hours. Some will need to eat more often, even as frequently as every two hours.
Many babies will start to go longer stretches between feedings when they are three to four months old. However, some will continue to eat frequently.
Babies also have periods when they cluster feed. That is when they are feeding more often than usual. They may even want to nurse continuously.
Feeding your baby whenever he shows signs of hunger is recommended. These are called hunger cues or feeding cues.
If your baby is eating more than twelve times a day, most days, you should consider meeting with a lactation consultant. She can help you decide if your baby is feeding effectively.
SHOULD I WAKE MY BABY TO BREASTFEED?
You may have heard the old saying, “Never wake a sleeping baby.”
While most babies will eat frequently enough, some babies will not be demanding enough. This can result in inadequate weight gain.
A baby may be sleepy their first day, and as long as her vital signs are normal, you don’t have to worry about her feeding a lot those first 24-hours.
Starting with your baby’s second day, he needs to eat often, about every two to four hours. A newborn should only go one four-hour stretch between feedings in 24 hours.
Keep your baby skin to skin as much as you can, and he will probably eat as much as he needs to.
However, if he wants to sleep frequent long stretches, you should try to wake him after three hours.
When you are timing how long it is between feedings, you count from the beginning of the last feeding.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY BABY IS HUNGRY?
You will quickly learn the signs of a hungry baby.
Signs Baby Wants to Breastfeed.
Babies are easier to latch on if you offer your breast when they are showing early signs of hunger. If your baby gets to the point where he is crying, it is best to calm him down before trying to latch.
HOW LONG SHOULD A BREASTFEEDING LAST?
Another common breastfeeding FAQ moms have is they want to know what the recommended length for a breastfeeding is. This can vary tremendously from baby to baby. It can even change from feeding to feeding for the same baby.
Sometimes your baby will want a four-course meal, and other feedings, she will be content with a snack.
Most nursing sessions will last between five minutes and an hour.
You want to feed your baby until he shows you that he has had enough.
Signs Baby Is Full From Breastfeeding
- Baby’s arms and hands become relaxed.
- You hear less frequent swallowing
- Sucking is not as strong.
- Sucks don’t feel like a pull but rather a flutter.
- Baby comes off the breast and is content.
SHOULD I BREASTFEED BOTH SIDES EVERY TIME?
This is another super common breastfeeding faq.
In the early days of breastfeeding, it is good to offer both breasts at each feeding. Your baby may or may not be interested, though.
The second breast is like dessert. It is always polite to offer it. But it is okay if your baby says no thank you. It is also alright if your baby wants dessert after a little break. Some babies will feed on the first breast and appear content, and after ten or fifteen minutes, they will start to show hunger cues again.
If your baby falls asleep after the first breast, you can change his diaper and burp him to wake him up. Even if he still looks sleepy, offer the second breast. Sometimes a baby will get close to the breast and suddenly decide that dessert sounds good after all.
Some mamas have a lot of milk. They find that their baby consistently only feeds on one side at a feeding. If you notice this about your baby after a couple of weeks, you can stop offering the second breast.
HOW TO KNOW IF BABY IS EATING ENOUGH?
A very common concern that new moms express is, how do I know if my breastfed baby is eating enough?
The only way to know for sure if a baby is eating enough is if they are gaining an adequate amount of weight.
These are reassuring signs that a baby is getting enough to eat from breastfeeding:
- Having enough diapers every day.
- Both wet and dirty diapers are essential.
- At least six wet diapers.
- At least four dirty diapers with a moderate amount of poop.
- You hear a swallow every 1-2 sucks for at least ten minutes of vigorous feeding.
- Your breasts feel full before breastfeeding and softer after feeding.
- Your baby is content after most feedings.
WHEN WILL MY MILK COME IN?
Another common question new moms have is, how long does it take for my milk to come in?
Your milk should start to come in within 96 hours of your baby’s birth.
Most women will notice signs of their milk coming in between 48 and 72 hours.
If you don’t notice any changes after 96 hours, you should contact a lactation consultant.
HOW WILL I KNOW MY MILK IS COMING IN?
Signs Your Breast Milk Is Coming In:
- Your breast will start to feel firmer.
- They will look larger.
- They may feel warm or tender.
- You will start to hear your baby swallow more frequently.
Your milk coming in is a process that happens over a day or two.
WHAT DOES MY BABY EAT BEFORE MY MILK COMES IN?
Your breasts start making a special milk called colostrum during pregnancy. It is made in small amounts. That’s a good thing because your baby’s tummy is tiny in the first few days.
Colostrum has exactly what your baby needs in her first days of life.
- It is full of antibodies to help make her immune system strong.
- It has a laxative effect to help her pass her meconium stool.
- It helps the good bacteria grow in her GI tract.
Your milk changes from colostrum to transitional milk to mature milk over the first two weeks.
HOW TO MAKE LOTS OF BREAST MILK
It is very common for a new mother to worry that she doesn’t have enough milk for her baby. The majority of women will make what their baby needs to grow appropriately.
- Feed your baby when he shows feeding cues
- Don’t let your breasts get overly engorged
- Use a breast pump if your baby is sleepy and not feeding at least eight times a day.
If you are worried about your milk supply, contact a lactation consultant.
HOW LONG AFTER BREASTFEEDING DOES IT TAKE MY BREASTS TO FILL UP AGAIN?
Your breasts are always making milk, even as your baby is breastfeeding.
The emptier your breasts are, the faster they make milk.
So while it may take a couple of hours for your breasts to “fill up” even after a short time, there is usually enough milk to make your baby happy if he wants to breastfeed again shortly after the last feeding.
WHEN SHOULD I USE A BREAST PUMP?
Not every breastfeeding mom needs to use a breast pump. But the reality is that in the US, the vast majority of them do. A survey revealed that 95% of breastfeeding mothers pump at some point during their breastfeeding journey (Source).
So it is a common question from moms wanting to know, “When can I start using a breast pump?”
You can use a pump whenever you need to. For some women, that will be in the first few hours after they give birth. This would be the case for a mom who gave birth to a premature baby.
Other mamas won’t have to think about pumping for several weeks. It just depends on the reason they need to pump.
It is a myth that you should not use a breast pump for the first six weeks – or whatever time period you might have heard. You should pump when you have a reason to pump.
WHEN CAN YOU PUT A BABY ON A SCHEDULE?
Having a new baby means your life will take on a new normal. There is a period of adjustment. It can feel very chaotic during that time. You may feel like this tiny little person has taken over your life.
We all like a little predictability in our lives. It’s not surprising many moms want to know when they can put their baby on a schedule.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the International Lactation Consultant Association recommends that babies be fed whenever they indicate they are hungry.
There will undoubtedly be times when your baby is hungry, and you won’t be able to feed him immediately. Think about being in the car or if you are in the shower.
However, for the most part, you don’t want to intentionally try to delay a feeding just to try to get your baby on a feeding schedule. There have been cases where this resulted in inadequate weight gain or even failure to thrive.
Babies usually develop a routine where you can expect them to feed and sleep at certain times. Many things can affect those routines, so it is important to be flexible.
- Growth spurts
HOW LONG IS BREAST MILK GOOD FOR?
Nursing moms work hard to make milk for their little ones. They never want to have to throw it away. The good news is that breast milk is very hardy.
These are the guidelines provided by the American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (Source).
How Long Can Breast Milk Sit At Room Temperature (60-85°F)?
- 4 hours optimal
- 6-8 hours acceptable under very clean conditions
- Milk is freshly pumped
How Long Is Breast Milk Good For In The Fridge (39.2°F)?
- 4 days optimal
- 5-8 days under very clean conditions
How Long Is Breast Milk Good For In The Freezer (24.8°F)?
- 6 months optimal
- 12 months acceptable
How Long Does Breast Milk Last After Being Defrosted?
- Once milk has been completely thawed, it should be used within 24-hours.
- Thawed milk should not be left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours.
The American Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine advises that milk from a bottle that has been partially consumed should be discarded after 1-2 hours. The Human Milk Banking Association has said that partially finished bottles can be offered within four hours if the bottle is refrigerated.
I recommend that instead of freezing milk in amounts that you think your baby usually consumes, freeze it in one-ounce tubes using Milkies Milk Trays. They make it super easy. You just thaw what you need. If your baby wants more, a one-ounce tube will thaw quickly.
WHAT FOODS SHOULD I AVOID WHEN BREASTFEEDING?
The only foods you should avoid are foods that can decrease your milk supply.
Most babies will not be bothered by anything you eat. There are exceptions to that.
CAN I DRINK ALCOHOL WHEN BREASTFEEDING?
If you time it carefully, you can enjoy an adult beverage as a breastfeeding mom.
Alcohol gets into your milk within 30 minutes of consuming it. You should wait at least 2 hours after finishing the drink before breastfeeding (Source).
If you breastfeed, then have your drink, your milk should be safe for your baby to drink by the next feeding.
It is not recommended to have more than one drink a day. But I know there may be times for some moms when that does happen.
Having more than one drink means it will take longer before your milk is okay for your baby to breastfeed. Pumping and discarding your milk does not speed up the process of the alcohol transferring out of your milk.
If you get uncomfortably full, you can pump off enough milk to be more comfortable, but you should not feed your baby that milk.
You don’t have to pour it down the drain, though, because there are many things you can do with leftover breast milk.
If you are feeling buzzed, you probably still have alcohol in your milk.
WHAT ABOUT CAFFEINE DURING BREASTFEEDING?
Caffeine also transfers into breast milk within about one hour of consuming it. One caffeinated drink probably won’t cause a problem for most babies. Large amounts of caffeine are not recommended as they have the potential to make your baby irritable (Source).
I hope these answers to breastfeeding faq’s helped make you feel more informed about nursing your baby.
If you want even more information, check out my breastfeeding preparation course – Clueless to Confident.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.