Pregnancy and baby

Your breastfeeding questions answered

How often does my baby need to breastfeed?

How long should each breastfeed last?

How long should I breastfeed for?

Why is 'responsive feeding' so important?

Can I breastfeed after a caesarean?

Are there any reasons why I shouldn't breastfeed?

Can I still breastfeed with more than one baby?

Breastfeeding help and support

How often does my baby need to breastfeed?

All mothers and babies are different, and you and your baby will work out your own feeding pattern together. As a very rough guide, your baby should feed at least eight times or more every 24 hours during the first few weeks.

Don't worry about feeding your baby whenever either of you wants. You can't overfeed a breastfed baby, and your baby won't become spoilt or demanding if you feed them whenever they're hungry or need comfort.

How long should each breastfeed last?

Every baby is different. Some babies want frequent short feeds, and others prefer feeding for longer – or a mixture of the two. Let your baby finish the first breast, then offer the second.

If your baby feeds all the time and you're worried, speak to your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist. You may need some help with positioning and attachment. You can also call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

How long should I breastfeed for?

Exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk only) is recommended for around the first six months of your baby's life. Breastfeeding alongside family foods is best for babies from six months. 

You and your baby can carry on enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding for as long as you like. Breastfeeding into your baby's second year or beyond alongside other foods is ideal. 

Lots of mothers carry on breastfeeding when they go back to work or college – read more about breastfeeding after returning to work. You don't have to stop if you get pregnant again, either. 

See more about deciding when to stop breastfeeding.

Why is 'responsive feeding' so important?

A newborn baby's stomach is only the size of a walnut, so they need to feed little and often. Your baby can have a good feed and be hungry again quite quickly. This is why "responsive feeding" – also called "baby-led" or "on-demand" feeding – is so important. 

"The idea is that you 'respond' to your baby's cues," says Zoe Ralph, an early years team leader in Manchester. "Breastfeeding is not only about getting milk into your baby. Your baby feeds for comfort and reassurance, too."

Babies go through different patterns of feeding as they grow. Letting them feed when they need to will ensure they're content and getting the milk they need, when they need it – and will also stimulate your milk supply.

"Responsive feeding is also to do with your needs," says Zoe Ralph. You may want to offer a breastfeed if your breasts are uncomfortably full, or if you need to fit in a feed around other commitments, or if you just want to sit down and enjoy spending some time with your baby.

Can I breastfeed after a caesarean?

Yes, you can. Make sure you get a skin-to-skin cuddle with your baby as soon as you're able to. Your midwife may help you have a skin-to-skin cuddle in theatre or in the recovery room.

If you keep your baby close to you and maintain lots of skin-to-skin contact, you'll be able to put them to the breast often and this will stimulate your milk supply.

After a caesarean, you might find the "rugby hold" – where the baby's body is around to the side of your body, supported by your arm on the same side – is preferable to having them lying against your stomach. Ask your midwife about pain relief so you can feed your baby more comfortably.

Are there any reasons why I shouldn't breastfeed?

Very occasionally, there are sound medical reasons for not breastfeeding – for example, if you have HIV or, in rare cases, you're taking a medication that could harm your baby, such as drugs for treating cancer.

If you're not sure whether you should breastfeed your baby, speak to your midwife or health visitor for information and support. 

Can I still breastfeed with more than one baby?

Twins, triplets and other multiples can be breastfed. In fact, because multiple babies are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birthweight, breast milk is especially important for them.

When you start breastfeeding, you may find it easier to feed each of your babies separately. When you feel more confident, you can feed them at the same time. This may take a few weeks.

It can be really helpful to talk to other mothers who have breastfed twins, either at an antenatal group or at a twins group in your area. Triplets can be breastfed, either two together or then one after, or all three rotated at each feed. 

Read more about feeding twins or more.

Breastfeeding help and support

If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding, there is plenty of help and support available. You can:

  • talk to a friend or family member who has breastfed
  • ask your GP, midwife or health visitor
  • call a helpline – for example, the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212
  • look at reliable websites, such as The Breastfeeding Network
  • join a local breastfeeding support group – ask your health visitor for details

Got a breastfeeding question?

You can message the Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend chatbot for fast, friendly, trusted NHS advice anytime, day or night.

See more sources of help and support with breastfeeding

Page last reviewed: 28/02/2017

Next review due: 28/02/2020

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