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Frequently Asked Questions about Breastfeeding

by Karen Zeretzke, MEd, IBCLC, La Leche League Leader
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

copyright 1996, updated 2006, used with permission of the author

This FAQ gives you quick answers to the most common breastfeeding questions. See if your concern is addressed here!

Does breastfeeding hurt?

NO! If it does, there's something wrong with the way the baby is latched on. Take him off and begin again.

More information on this topic can be found at our FAQ: How do I position my baby to breastfeed?

How do I know my baby's getting enough milk?

Once the milk comes in, the theory of "what-goes-in-one-end-comes-out-the-other" works: 4-6 wet disposable diapers (6-8 cloth) and 3-4 bowel movements in 24 hours usually indicate the baby is getting an adequate volume of your milk.

More information on this topic can be found at our FAQ: How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?

Can I breastfeed without exposing myself?

Absolutely! Besides special clothing available expressly for discreet nursing, wearing a two-piece outfit and pulling the shirt up from the waist works well. Drape a burp cloth or receiving blanket over your shoulder for greater coverage! Practice nursing in front of a mirror until you are comfortable that nothing shows that shouldn't!

More information on this topic can be found at our FAQ: Can you give me some tips for discreet breastfeeding? and at our resource page on breastfeeding in public.

What's in it for me?

A smarter, healthier baby who is less likely to be allergic. Less chance of breast, ovarian and cervical cancers. Getting back in shape faster. A wonderful, enduring bond with your baby. So easy -- nothing to fix, buy or clean.

More information on this topic can be found at our FAQ: What are the benefits of breastfeeding my baby? and at our resource pages on the benefits and the rewards of breastfeeding.

Can I breastfeed if I'm not large breasted?

Yes! Size has nothing to do with milk production. Changes in the breast during early pregnancy make it possible for the breasts to make milk.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource pages on anatomy and physiology and the early weeks of breastfeeding.

Won't I have to give up eating the foods I enjoy?

Not at all. Just eat a well-balanced diet, and you may wish to continue taking your prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding. Only if the baby's father has a severe allergy to certain food(s) should you eliminate these from your -- and your baby's -- diet.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource pages on maternal nutrition and breastfeeding and allergies.

Doesn't breastfeeding tie you down?

Not really. During the first few months, a breastfed baby is very portable! Just pack a few extra diapers and maybe a change of clothes for the baby and you're ready to leave! Later, you may want to express or pump some of your special milk to leave for your baby while you're away.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource pages on traveling, family life and activities, and parenting.

How long does it take to breastfeed?

Soon after the baby is born, feedings usually take 15-20 minutes per side and most mothers offer both sides at each feeding. If the baby falls asleep, start the next feeding with the breast that didn't get nursed at the last feeding. Later, as the baby becomes more efficient, an entire feeding may only take 10-15 minutes!

More information on this topic can be found at our resource page on the early weeks of breastfeeding.

What's so special about human milk?

Your body makes it especially for your baby. Cow's milk was designed for baby calves! Every time your baby nurses, he gets protection from exactly what you and he have come in contact with. Plus exactly what he needs for brain development and perfect growth.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource page on anatomy and physiology.

Why do people say breastfeeding is important?

At birth, a baby is immune to everything his mother is but has no functional immune system of his own, until at 6 weeks the faint stirrings begin. By the time the baby is 6 months old, he will have a functional, but still immature, immune system to help keep him healthy and allergy free. Breastmilk gives the baby all the immunities he needs until he can make his own.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource pages on the benefits and the rewards of breastfeeding.

Why bother breastfeeding when I know I'll be returning to work (or school)?

Once you return to school or work, you could either pump your milk for your baby to use the next day or choose to give him bottles while you're away. Although you might need to pump for a few days until your breasts don't feel so full anymore, your body will adjust just as it will when the baby sleeps through the night.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource page on working and breastfeeding.

Will I be able to satisfy my baby?

The human breast is designed to refill the milk that is used: the policy of supply and demand. Before bottles were so prevalent, we all assumed that every mother would feed her own baby and there were no worries about this! Allowing the baby to nurse until he stops every 2-3 hours in the beginning will assure that you will make enough milk.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource page on the early weeks of breastfeeding.

What about the baby's father? Won't he feel left out if he can't feed the baby?

There are lots of things fathers can do with a baby besides feeding him. Bathing provides lots of skin-to-skin contact and fun, too! Sitting by you while you nurse the baby and rubbing between your shoulder blades usually gives the baby a milk mustache! Listen for the rapid swallowing! Rocking, holding, cuddling and playing with the baby will make dad feel a part of the action.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource page on fathers and breastfeeding.

What if I have questions or need help?

Call your local La Leche League Leader! If she doesn't know, she can find out for you.

How to find a La Leche League Leader near you.

Won't the baby bite me?

When a baby is properly nursing, he will first bite his own tongue! Teeth usually do not appear until the baby is 5-6 months old, and by then you will be alert to his cues.

More information on this topic can be found at our resource page on biting.

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