Your questions answered
Apart from the fact that breast milk is tailor-made for your baby, free, and always available, it offers protection from:
- infection – breast milk provides natural (germ killing) antibodies that help your baby fight infections like tummy bugs, diarrhoea, colds and chest and ear infections.
- vitamins and nutrition – your breast milk provides the perfect combination of vitamins and nutrition, it’s also much easier to digest than first infant formula.
- SIDS and childhood leukaemia – breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, and childhood leukaemia.
- long-term health – breastfed babies are less likely to develop diabetes, or become overweight when they are older.
Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial, but exclusively breastfeeding your baby for 6 months offers a lot more protection. There are benefits and advantages for you too – breastfeeding helps:
- your uterus get back down to size – after your baby is born, your uterus (womb) will gradually get smaller day-by-day, but breastfeeding will help speed this up.
- you bond with your baby – breastfeeding is a lovely way to feel close and strengthen the bond between you and your baby.
- protect your health – breastfeeding lowers your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis (weak bones), diabetes and cardiovascular disease (conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels).
- burn off calories – if you are exclusively breastfeeding, this will help burn off about 300 calories a day.
There are many benefits of carrying on breastfeeding after 6 months – your breast milk protects your baby from infections and there’s some evidence it helps them digest solid foods.
Your newborn will want to breastfeed lots throughout the day. It might seem as though you're feeding them all the time, but this is totally normal. As they get better (and more efficient) at feeding, they'll need to do it less often. Let your baby guide you as to how often and how long they should feed.
Look out for signs and clues that your baby is hungry, including:
- sucking their fists
- licking their lips
- wriggling and opening their mouths, as if they're searching for your breast
Don't worry about feeding your baby too often – it's impossible to breastfeed your baby too much. Newborns tend to breastfeed at least eight times a day (24 hours) for the first few weeks. And your baby may want to feed more and for longer at night – that's because you produce more prolactin (the hormone that produces milk) then.
Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) happens in 4 to 11% of newborn babies. It means the strip of skin connecting your baby's tongue to the floor of their mouth is slightly shorter than it should be.
For some babies it's not a problem, but for others it can make breastfeeding harder because they can't move their tongue as much as they need to.
Signs of tongue-tie in your baby might include:
- difficulty latching onto your breast and staying there for the full feed
- slow weight gain – your baby should be back to their birth weight within 2 weeks
- being unsettled, appearing hungry lots of the time
- difficulty lifting, moving or sticking out their tongue
- your baby's tongue may look heart-shaped when they stick it out
Tongue-tie can be hard to spot, and lots of the symptoms above may be caused by something else. If you think your baby may have tongue-tie, ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist for advice.
The best breastfeeding position is the one that works best for you and your baby.
In the beginning, try different positions to figure out what's most comfortable. Have a look at our guide to some of the popular breastfeeding positions and easy-to-follow instructions.
Breastfeeding is a skill that can take time to get the hang of. If you're finding it difficult, ask your health visitor, midwife or a breastfeeding specialist for advice and support – they are there to help.
Yes, it's totally possible for you to breastfeed with implants – but it does depend on the size and placement of the implants and the type of surgery you've had. If the incisions are under the fold of the breast or through your armpit, you shouldn't have any problems breastfeeding. But if the incision is around the areola, you may have problems as there’s a chance the milk ducts have been cut.
There's no real way of knowing until you try breastfeeding. You might be able to produce some of the milk your baby needs and then supplement with first infant formula milk.
Let your GP or health visitor know if you have breast implants, so they can keep an eye on your baby's weight and make sure they're getting enough milk.
You may have a couple of side effects because of your implants, including more intense breast engorgement (when your breast is hard, swollen and feels full). If you get mastitis, the pain and fever may be slightly worse than for other women. If you're worried about any of these symptoms, speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Cluster feeding is usually happens during the first 3 to 4 months. It's when your baby wants to feed even more frequently (sometimes constantly) over a period of time. It's very normal and nothing to be concerned about. Your baby may want to cluster feed during the day or night (or a bit of both).
Your baby may cluster feed for a few days when they’re going through a growth spurt, but once your supply catches up with demand, things should be back to normal.
This is a very common question, especially when you first start breastfeeding. While you can't always tell exactly how much your baby is drinking, there are positive signs that they're feeding well, including:
- feeds begin with a few rapid sucks followed by long, rhythmic sucks and swallows with occasional pauses
- your baby’s cheeks stay rounded, not hollow, during sucking and you can hear and see them swallowing
- your baby seems calm and relaxed during feeds, comes off the breast by themselves when they’ve had enough, and appears content and satisfied after most feeds
- after feeds your breasts feel softer and your nipples should look the same (not flattened, pinched or white)
- you may feel sleepy and relaxed after feeds
In the first 48 hours, your baby is likely to have only 2 or 3 wet nappies. Wet nappies should then become more frequent, with at least 6 every 24 hours from the fifth day onwards. If your baby is feeding well, they should start gaining weight steadily after the first 2 weeks (it’s normal for babies to lose some of their birth weight in the first 2 weeks).
It can be hard to tell if disposable nappies are wet. To get an idea, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of water to a nappy – this will give you a better idea of what to look and feel for.
In the beginning, your baby will produce black tar-like poo called meconium. After about 5 or 6 days, they should pass at least 2 soft yellow poos. Breastfed babies’ poo is runny and doesn’t smell.
Most babies lose 5–10% of their birth weight in the first few days. But they normally get back on track (getting back to birth weight and then gaining weight) within two weeks.
If you're worried that your baby isn't putting on weight, speak to your midwife or health visitor. They may check that your baby is breastfeeding properly.
There are lots of ways to increase your breast milk supply, but the main thing is to feed your baby as often as you both want. Your baby's sucking stimulates your milk supply – the more they feed, the more milk you'll produce.
If you think you've got a low milk supply, here are some things you can try to increase it:
- try not to give your baby anything other than breast milk – the more you breast feed, the more you'll produce
- wait a few weeks before giving your baby a dummy – or until you're confident with breastfeeding
- let your baby feed when they want, for as long as they need to
- when you're feeding offer both breasts – switch breasts after each feed
- hold your baby close, especially skin-to-skin
- avoid weaning your baby onto solid foods until they are around 6 months
If you're doing these things already but still concerned you have low milk supply, ask your midwife to refer you to a breastfeeding specialist. Feeding specialists are very understanding and will offer practical advice, help and support. You could also pop along to your local breastfeeding support group – you'll be very welcome and it's a great way to meet other mums.
Expressing milk means extracting milk out of your breasts so you can store it and feed it to your baby later. You can express milk by hand or with a pump (electric or manual), whichever is more comfortable for you. After you've expressed your milk, you can either give it your baby straight away, or store it in the fridge or freezer. To find out more about the process, please visit our expressing breast milk page.
Nipple pain is most common 7 days into breastfeeding and is usually caused by your baby not latching onto your breast properly (which means being properly attached). If you have sensitive nipples or pain from cracked, bleeding or sore nipples speak to your health visitor or midwife as soon as possible. While it can be painful to breastfeed with sore nipples – don't stop breastfeeding! Stopping can actually make the pain worse and lead to mastitis. If you think your baby is latching on properly, but you’re still experiencing nipple pain, talk to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding specialist as soon as possible – they can check for other issues such as thrush, which needs treatment.
Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue. It can make your breast painful, red and swollen. It's most common within the first 3 months of giving birth and often affects only one breast at a time.
Mastitis is usually quick and easy to treat, so it's good to know the early signs and get it treated as soon as possible.
- a red, swollen breast – hot and painful to the touch
- a lump or hard area on your breast
- burning pain in your breast
- white nipple discharge that may contain streaks of blood
- flu-like symptoms including: aches, high temperature, fatigue and chills
While you're breastfeeding, it's important to have a healthy, balanced diet . Beyond that, there's nothing in particular you should or shouldn't be eating because your body does a great job of producing breast milk that's just right for your baby, however, there are a few foods you should be aware of:Fish: avoid eating oily fish like mackerel, sardines, trout and fresh tuna more than twice a week. Tinned tuna is fine, you can eat as much as you want. Shark, swordfish or marlin should be eaten no more than once a week – that goes for all adults, as they can contain traces of mercury. Find out more about eating fish while breastfeeding. Caffeine: caffeine can pass through your breast milk into your baby. It can make them restless and struggle to sleep, so it's best to keep your intake as low as possible. Caffeine can also be found in chocolate, so it's wise to watch how much you eat. Alcohol: alcohol also passes through your breast milk to your baby. Babies' livers are delicate when they're so young, which means alcohol can harm them. It's best to avoid drinking more than 2 units of alcohol, more than once or twice a week. It's best to completely avoid drinking while breastfeeding for the first 3 months. Peanuts: there's little evidence to suggest eating peanuts increases your baby's risk of developing a peanut allergy. Allergies: breast milk contains traces of the foods you eat. If you eat something your baby is sensitive to, it might affect them – for example, some babies react to a protein found in cows’ milk.
Symptoms of food sensitivity include:
- not feeding well or putting on weight
- diarrhoea or constipation
- red, itchy lumps
- swollen eyes, face or lips
If you're worried your baby might have an allergy, speak to your health visitor or a GP. They may advise you to cut out cows’ milk for a few weeks to see if it makes your baby any better. If it does, you may have to avoid cows’ milk until you've finished breastfeeding.
There are four methods of birth control you can use while you're breastfeeding:
- male condoms and female condoms – as soon you feel ready to have sex
- any progestogen-only method, including the progestogen-only pill, the implant and the injection. They can be started immediately after birth
- intrauterine methods – your midwife or doctor can advise you about the best times to have these put in
- lactational amenorrhoea method
For more information on contraception while breastfeeding, talk to your midwife, health visitor or family planning nurse.
If you're taking regular medication, speak to your GP or healthcare professional, ideally before your baby is born. Most medicines, including medication for postnatal depression, can be taken while you're breastfeeding without harming your baby.
Medicines you can take while breastfeeding include:
- most antibiotics
- paracetamol and ibuprofen but not aspirin
- asthma inhalers
- vitamins at the recommended dose. If you're breastfeeding, it's good to take a daily supplement containing vitamin D (10mcg). If you're eligible for Healthy Start, you may be able to get free vitamin supplements (without a prescription)
- some cold remedies but not all (check with your GP, health visitor or pharmacist)
- local anaesthetics, vaccinations (including MMR, tetanus, whooping cough and flu injections) and most operations
Always check with your GP, midwife, health visitor or pharmacist, they can help you make an informed decision. It's fine to have dental treatments. You don't have to pay for NHS dental treatment if it starts within 12 months of your baby's birth.
For more information about breastfeeding and medicines:
- talk to your midwife, health visitor, pharmacist or GP
- go to The Breastfeeding Network for information on drugs and breastfeeding
- call The Breastfeeding Network's Drugs In Breast Milk helpline: 0844 412 4665
Illegal drugs and breastfeeding
It's dangerous to take illegal drugs while you're breastfeeding. Not only can they affect your ability to look after your baby safely, but they can also be passed on to your baby through your breast milk.
The long-term effects of taking illegal drugs while breastfeeding are still unknown. But if you are using them, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP – they won't judge you and will be able to help you access the services you need to stop using drugs.
You can also contact FRANK (0300 123 6600) for supportive and confidential drugs advice. The helpline is available 24 hours a day.