What is breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby. In this method of feeding your baby, they latch on or attach their mouth onto your breast and, through a sucking motion, drink milk made by your body.Your baby will likely start breastfeeding not long after they're born, often within the first few hours. At first, your milk supply will be made up of something called colostrum. This is a protein-rich, often thick liquid that helps your baby stay hydrated. It’s full of antibodies that also help guard your newborn against infections. Your colostrum will change into mature milk after the first few days (usually three to five days) of breastfeeding. During this time your baby will lose a bit of weight. This is normal. They will regain it once your milk “comes in”.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

There are many natural benefits of breastfeeding that both you and your baby can enjoy. Your breast milk is not only a nutritious choice for your baby, it also can help protect them from certain illnesses. When you’re sick, your body creates antibodies. These antibodies are passed from you to your baby through your breast milk. This helps protect your baby. Breastfed babies have a lower risk for developing certain medical conditions, including:

Breastfed infants also have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). New moms can benefit from breastfeeding too. Many mothers say that breastfeeding helped them get back to their pre-pregnancy weight faster. It can also help you with blood pressure issues, reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and even reduce your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

How do I start breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding can actually start in the hours right after your baby is born. After your baby is born, you might be encouraged to hold your baby against your skin – called skin-to-skin contact. This close contact encourages your baby to bond and breastfeed. Once you’re ready, place your baby to your breast in a position that’s comfortable for both of you. Guide your baby’s mouth to your nipple. When your baby is properly latched on your breast, their mouth should cover most of your areola (the darker area that encircles your nipple). Typically, you’ll feel your baby pull on your nipple as they feed. You might hear small noises as your baby eats. Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. If it is, your baby might not be latched on to your breast correctly.

What should I expect when I start breastfeeding?

There is a learning curve to breastfeeding. You will need to try different holds with your baby and learn what works best for both of you. You’ll also need to learn your baby’s schedule. This can vary depending on each child. It’s important to not be too attached to a schedule — your baby will make their own schedule and you will adapt to it over time. There’s no set amount of times your baby will eat each day. Feed your baby when they are hungry. For many babies, this is every two to three hours. A part of early breastfeeding also involves learning your baby’s cues. Your baby will do certain things when he or she is hungry. Cues of hunger can include:

  • Sucking on their hands.
  • Acting alert.
  • Moving towards your breast.

Once a baby starts crying, it might be a late stage of hunger. Try to feed your baby before they start to cry. Once your baby starts crying, it might be harder to get them to feed properly.

How long should I breastfeed my baby?

How long you breastfeed your baby is up to you, but healthcare providers recommend using breast milk for the first six months of your child’s life, either by breastfeeding or pumping your milk and using a bottle. If you can, you should continue to use breast milk throughout your baby’s first year, even as you add new foods to their diet. After that, the benefits are less significant for your baby and they will be transitioning to a solid food diet. Always remember that you need to do what works best for you. Some moms really enjoy breastfeeding and feel comfortable continuing past their baby’s first birthday, and some moms have a great deal of difficulty breastfeeding. Other new mothers might be ready to stop after a shorter period. Remember that the first six months are the most important and talk to your healthcare team about the pros and cons of your breastfeeding timeline.

Can I use birth control while I’m breastfeeding?

If you’re breastfeeding, you might not get your period for a while after your baby is born. This typically isn’t something to worry about. Talk to your healthcare provider about when your period should return and when to let them know if it’s a concern. However, just because you aren’t having a monthly period doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. There are many different types of birth control you can use during this time to prevent pregnancy. These options include:

  • Condoms.
  • Diaphragms.
  • Intrauterine devices (these can even be implanted right after you deliver your baby).
  • Birth control pills (your provider might prescribe you a progestin-only pill called the “mini-pill”).

What are some common concerns about breastfeeding?

For many women, there are concerns and worries about specific aspects of breastfeeding. It’s important to remember that there are no stupid questions when it comes to caring for your child. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider all of your questions. It’s best that you get the correct information before you make important decisions about breastfeeding.Some common questions and answers include:

Are my breasts too small to breastfeed?

  • Breast size doesn’t affect your ability to breastfeed. The amount of milk your breasts make will depend on your overall health and how much your baby eats, not how big your breasts are.

Will breastfeeding hurt?

  • Breastfeeding should not hurt if your baby is latched onto your breast well.
  • Your healthcare provider or lactation consultant can help you learn how to hold your baby when you breastfeed for the first time. Your breasts might be tender the first few days, but this soreness should go away as you continue to breastfeed.

Is breastfeeding hard to do?

  • Breastfeeding is a learned skill and takes practice, but the health benefits you gain for you and your baby are worth it. Help with breastfeeding is available. There are many ways for you to learn about breastfeeding. Many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes that you can attend during pregnancy. In most cases, nurses and lactation consultants are also available to give you information and support. Talking to other breastfeeding moms might be helpful and make you feel more comfortable.

How do I breastfeed if I’m shy and worry that it will be embarrassing?

  • If you’re shy, there are several ways you can still breastfeed and feel comfortable. You can choose to feed your baby in private. Or, you can breastfeed in front of others without them seeing anything. You can wear shirts that pull up from the bottom, just enough for your baby to reach your breast. You can put a blanket over your shoulder or around your baby so no one can see your breast.

Do I have to drink milk if I choose to breastfeed?

  • No, you don't have to drink milk to make breast milk. Other sources of calcium-rich foods include yogurt, cheese, tofu, salmon, almonds, calcium-enriched fruit juice, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and dried beans and peas. Eat four servings of calcium-rich foods every day to provide proper nutrition for you and your baby. You can also ask your provider about calcium and vitamin D supplements.

What if I need to go out?

  • If you can take your baby with you, your baby can eat when they are hungry. If you need to be away from your baby, you can pump or "express" your milk and refrigerate it so that someone else can feed your baby from a bottle.

How can I breastfeed when I go back to work?

  • When you return to work, you can learn to pump or "express" your milk and refrigerate or freeze it so that someone else can feed your milk to your baby while you're at work. Often, your place of work will have a private space set aside for you to pump.

Will breastfeeding take too much time?

  • Feeding your baby takes time, no matter which method you choose. If breastfeeding takes a very long time for you it may be helpful to pump your milk and bottle feed it to your baby. You should talk to your provider or lactation consultant if this is a concern.

Are there any foods or drinks that I should avoid while breastfeeding?

Similarly to when you were pregnant, you should pay attention to what you eat and drink when you’re breastfeeding. There aren’t as many restrictions when you’re breastfeeding as there are when you are pregnant, but a few things to keep in mind include:

  • Cutting back on your caffeine. You can drink caffeine when you’re breastfeeding, but try to limit it to about 200 milligrams each day. You might also want to time your cup of coffee so that you’re not drinking caffeine before your child’s nap or bedtime feeding. The caffeine could pass through your milk and to your baby.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake. You can also drink a limited amount of alcohol when you’re breastfeeding. However, you should wait a few hours (at least two) after a drink before you feed your baby. Over time, the alcohol will leave your system. It’s safest for your baby if you wait after drinking to breastfeed because it can pass through your milk and could possibly cause harm.

It’s also good to quit smoking if you haven’t already. Secondhand smoke is dangerous to children. Smoking is not only harmful to your children and your own health, but it can also decrease your milk supply. You shouldn’t smoke — or use any other type of drug — around your baby.

Can I still breastfeed if my baby won’t latch on my breast?

Yes. If your baby won’t latch on your breast, you can still give your baby breast milk. Pumping, or expressing, your milk with a breast pump machine allows you to feed your baby your own breast milk without your baby being attached to your breast. When you pump milk, the machine creates suction – which pulls the milk from your breast and into bottles or bags. You can then store the milk in your fridge, freezer or give it directly to your baby in a bottle. There are many different types of pumps available on the market. You can get pumps that are electric, battery-operated or even hand-operated. There are also newer models that are cordless and fit inside your bra, allowing you to move around freely while you pump. Research and read about the different types of pumps to decide what works best for you.

Who do I call if I have trouble breastfeeding?

If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, remember that there are resources available to help you. You can bring up any concerns about breastfeeding to your healthcare provider or your child’s pediatrician. They might direct you to a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant is specially trained to help you achieve your goals with breastfeeding and can help you learn new techniques and tricks for breastfeeding. What is breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed your baby. In this method of feeding your baby, they latch on or attach their mouth onto your breast and, through a sucking motion, drink milk made by your body.

Your baby will likely start breastfeeding not long after they're born, often within the first few hours. At first, your milk supply will be made up of something called colostrum. This is a protein-rich, often thick liquid that helps your baby stay hydrated. It’s full of antibodies that also help guard your newborn against infections. Your colostrum will change into mature milk after the first few days (usually three to five days) of breastfeeding. During this time your baby will lose a bit of weight. This is normal. They will regain it once your milk “comes in”.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/07/2021.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Accessed 6/10/2021. About Breastfeeding (https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/about-breastfeeding/index.html)
  • World Health Organization. . Accessed 6/10/2021. Breastfeeding (https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. . Accessed 6/10/2021. Making the decision to breastfeed (https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/making-decision-breastfeed)
  • American Academy of Family Physicians, familydoctor.org. . Accessed 6/10/2021. Breastfeeding: Hints to Help You Get Off to a Good Start (https://familydoctor.org/breastfeeding-hints-to-help-you-get-off-to-a-good-start/)
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. . Accessed 6/10/2021.Breastfeeding Your Baby (https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/breastfeeding-your-baby)

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