9 Most Asked Breastfeeding Questions
Hi, Friends! I’m Amanda DeWeese, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with Lactation Link and breastfeeding mama with four sons. In addition to being an IBCLC, I’ve also been a LLL Leader for several years.
Over the years, I’ve been asked questions about everything from pregnancy and childbirth to toddlerhood (and beyond!).
Today, I’m going to answer the 9 most asked questions from breastfeeding moms.
9. Why does my baby wake up to feed so much in the middle of the night?
“Is he a good baby? He’s sleeping through the night, right?”
I remember being asked this when my oldest was just several weeks old.
First of all, let me make it clear that ALL babies are good babies.
Second, whether or not a newborn is “sleeping through the night” does not mean he is a good or bad baby and does not mean that you are a good or bad parent!
Newborns have tiny bellies! This means that they need to eat frequently. Very frequently. Most newborns will need to eat at least 8-12 times every 24 hours. It may not be what an exhausted new parent wants to hear, but this around-the-clock pattern includes nighttime feedings.
Good news, though! Your breastmilk is perfectly designed for your baby, so that it is easily digestible for his little body. Plus, frequent breastfeeding helps to stimulate your milk production!
Research has also shown that breastfeeding is a significant protective factor for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which could be related to breastfed babies being more easily aroused from sleep than babies fed by other means.
So, baby is waking up so frequently to feed at night because it is biologically normal.
Rest assured (see what I did there? J), as baby grows older, he will gradually sleep for longer stretches. In the meantime, enjoy all those precious moments with baby, and rest when baby rests—trust me, as a mama of four little ones, I know that’s easier said than done.
But, I promise you, those dishes will be there for you when your children are grown!
Pro Tip: Have a basket of handheld snacks and a great water bottle near every location where you frequently nurse so that you can put your feet up and relax while baby nurses/snoozes—this counts as resting!
8. Do I need to eat or drink anything special while breastfeeding? What about lactation cookies?
“I have to drink milk to make milk!”
“Eating fast food burgers puts my milk supply in overdrive!”
“The more water you drink, the more milk you’ll make!’
The questions about milk production and diet are endless. I’ve probably heard it all. And then there are all the “lactation” bars, cookies, smoothies, energy drinks, cleanses, etc.
So what’s the truth? What do you really have to eat or drink (or not eat or drink) in order to produce breastmilk?
Good news! In general, there is no special diet that you have to follow or foods that you have to avoid in order to be able to breastfeed. It would be ideal if you could primarily eat a varied diet with lots of nutrient-rich foods, but it’s all about balance.
And here’s the thing about “lactation cookies”.... if you want a cookie, eat a cookie! But there isn’t a magic dessert (wouldn’t that be nice, though?) that’s going to increase your milk production. If you’re ever concerned about milk production, seeking support from a professional is always your best bet!
Pro Tips: Exclusively breastfeeding parents only need about 300-500 extra calories a day to maintain their body weight. Most nursing parents are able to stay adequately hydrated by simply drinking to satisfy their thirst.
7. When should I start pumping?
Did you know that for some families, pumping is never a requirement? Ever!
Even some parents that have to return to work or school or otherwise be separated from their babies may not necessarily have to turn to a breast pump (even though it’s on the list of “must-have’s” for many families).
Some parents hand express instead of pumping. Other parents are able to have situations where baby can be brought to work during lunch breaks to nurse or to make their schedules part-time so that separations are minimal and baby can continue to nurse when they are together. Sometimes it can take a little bit of creativity, but other options do exist!
If, however, using a breast pump works best for your family, and your body responds well to pumping, then it may be a great tool for you. Even in these cases, you don’t have to start pumping as soon as baby is born in order to create a “freezer stash” to return to work or school.
Many, many parents are able to use a system where they pump one day for what baby will need the next day—the milk never even touches the freezer! Having an extra bag or two handy can give you peace of mind, but you certainly don’t have to try to fill your entire freezer with milk before regular separations begin.
6. I wasn’t able to meet my breastfeeding goals with the last baby, what can I do this time around to get the best start?
I absolutely LOVE when families are able to meet their goals with a new baby after having a disappointing experience the last time around (or the last several times).
It’s never too late to have a different goal, and just because you weren’t able to meet your goals last time doesn’t mean that you have to have the same outcome this time around!
Here are some suggestions you can try:
1. Having a prenatal consultation with an IBCLC can help you to identify some tools and resources to help you work through any challenges this time around.
2. Reading some great breastfeeding books and taking a prenatal breastfeeding class can help increase your knowledge about what to expect and how to handle hurdles.
3. Finding peer support and talking to other parents who have breastfed can help build your confidence. La Leche League International (LLLI) is a great peer-to-peer support group!
Pro Tip: Filling your toolbox with as many tools as possible and setting up a support network before baby arrives can help get your family off to a great start!
5. Breastfeeding is natural, do I really have to take a class?
“If breastfeeding is so natural, then why doesn’t it come naturally??”
The body was designed to breastfeed—changes in the body/breasts throughout the lifetime (beginning in utero, how cool is that?!) begin to prepare the body for breastfeeding.
But breastfeeding is also a skill. This means that it can take practice for both you and baby to get in sync and a little bit of time for things to really gel.
Sometimes, some interventions during childbirth or medical conditions can inhibit the body’s and/or baby’s natural breastfeeding reflexes—knowing what to look for ahead of time and where to get help can be a real lifesaver!
One of my favorite breastfeeding books to recommend to families is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, published by La Leche League International (LLLI). It’s easy to read and contains a wide range of information. I even suggest that parents reread it in preparation for each new baby.
But one of the best ways to prepare is taking a prenatal breastfeeding class.
If you can’t leave the house, there are some high-quality online options. Lactation Link has a gorgeous video collection with short, easy-to-digest clips that answer many of your most-asked breastfeeding questions!
I would definitely recommend going to a local class, when possible, though. Not only will you get to meet other parents in the same season of life as you (peer support is SO beneficial for breastfeeding families!), but you will also get to see some nursing positions demonstrated and practice them yourself! You’ll get a chance to ask questions and get real-time answers.
Most importantly, you can meet the IBCLC prior to your postpartum appointment. Many IBCLCs even offer private prenatal classes (I do!). It’s certainly comforting to see a friendly face at your door or meeting you at the hospital or place where your baby is born when you’ve just had a baby and need help!
Pro Tip: The more knowledge you have about breastfeeding before baby is born, the more confident you’ll feel in your ability to meet your baby’s needs after she is born!
4. Where can I get help if I need it? And IBCLC, LLL, CLC, Peer Supporter—What is the difference (is there one?)?
Knowing where to get help before you need it can really make all the difference!
Breastfeeding is an intimate experience, and the postpartum period can be exhausting, sometimes leaving new parents feeling very self-conscious. You should absolutely feel 100% comfortable with your breastfeeding supporter (don’t worry, most of us have been there, and a great IBCLC won’t judge you on the state of your home or body!).
If you have a local Breastfeeding Task Force, Breastfeeding Resource Guide, or Breastfeeding Coalition, those can be great places to start looking for recommendations for a great IBCLC.
In addition to making sure that you are comfortable with your breastfeeding helper, you should also make sure that he or she is qualified and experienced to help you. Check credentials!
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are considered the GOLD STANDARD in clinical lactation care. Just to be able to sit for the rigorous 4-hour IBLCE exam, a candidate must complete 14 college-level Health Science courses from an accredited institution, 90 hours of lactation specific education, and 300-1,000 hours of clinical, supervised practice.
Thus, the scope of practice for an IBCLC includes clinical care, in addition to education and guidance. Please make sure that the professional that you choose for clinical assistance is qualified to provide you with clinical care! You can verify certifications through the IBLCE registry.
The United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) has a great graphic that shows some of the main differences between the different types of breastfeeding supporters. The main differences include scope of practice (being certified to provide clinical care), education, training, clinical practice, and prerequisites.
Lactation Link has several IBCLCs throughout the United States (and even one in Canada!). Check here to see if there is one near you! If there isn’t, many of us are also available for convenient e-consultations.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to interview or meet with more than one IBCLC before your baby is born! While we have all met the same requirements, everyone’s personality is a little different.
3. Does breastfeeding hurt?
In one word: NO!
Breastfeeding should NOT hurt.
If it does, that is generally an indication that something needs attention—whether it’s related to latch, anatomy, technique, or a medical condition.
Engorgement when your milk “comes in” (when the colostrum transitions to mature milk and increases in quantity) can be uncomfortable for some parents. Others find that the feeling of baby nursing is a little uncomfortable or unfamiliar at first.
But intense pain, outside of some mild discomfort, is not normal, and should not be ignored!
Seek help from a qualified professional instead of suffering in silence. Your breasts and your baby will thank you!
Pro Tip: If left untreated, pain during breastfeeding can become quite serious and result in irreversible damage, depending on the cause. Seek help right away if you feel excruciating pain!
2. Can I take _______ while breastfeeding?
It’s so heartbreaking when parents tell me that they had to completely give up on breastfeeding before they were ready because they were inaccurately told that their medication was not safe while breastfeeding.
In fact, there are very few medications that are actually incompatible with breastfeeding, and most have compatible alternatives.
For my first few years as a breastfeeding supporter, Thomas Hale, Ph.D.’s Medications and Mothers’ Milk was my best friend! I still refer to it quite often.
An IBCLC cannot (and should not!) recommend or prescribe medications or supplements; however, we can share some of the risks associated with medications, based on the most recent evidence-based research, and suggest that you speak with your healthcare provider about taking certain ones.
Likewise, parents should refrain from asking groups on social media or the Internet in general for medical advice regarding their children; a stranger will not know your child’s full medical history, and what was appropriate for their child may actually be dangerous for yours!
The bottom line is that while most medications are compatible with breastfeeding, it is best to speak with a lactation professional and your healthcare provider if you are considering taking any medications or supplements.
Pro Tip: Infant Risk has a hotline with experts available Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. CT to answer questions about OTC or prescription medications while pregnant and breastfeeding. Just call 806-352-2519!
And now for the most frequently asked breastfeeding question…
1. How do I know if baby is getting enough?
Hands down, this is one of the top concerns that new parents have!
Sometimes even seasoned parents can question their body’s ability to meet their baby’s needs.
As always, if you have any concerns about anything related to your baby, I would suggest sharing these concerns with baby’s healthcare provider. A great lactation professional (remember, an IBCLC is the gold standard!) can also help assess latch, milk transfer, weight gain, etc.
Some basic signs to look for that point to baby transferring enough milk include:
● Baby is gaining weight well.
● Baby seems satisfied after eating and is overall content between feedings.
● Baby is having plenty of wet and dirty diapers.
● Baby has periods of being active and alert.
● Baby is meeting developmental milestones.
Pro Tip: The amount of breastmilk that you are able to express (by hand or by pump) is not a good indication of how much milk you are producing or how much milk baby is getting for an exclusively breastfed baby.
So, there you have it, Friends! The answers to my Top 9 Most Asked Breastfeeding Questions!
Have more questions or need individualized plans for you and your little one(s)? E-consultations provide the expertise of a lactation specialist without having to take one step away from the couch, and in-person visits provide the convenience of 1:1 support in the comfort of your home.
Let’s be Breast Friends!