Breastfeeding FAQs

Here are some answers to common questions about breastfeeding.

How do I know if I’m doing it right?

You and your baby are both new to this, so don’t worry if it takes a little time for you to get the hang of breastfeeding. By around day 5, if things are going well your baby should:

  • have 8 feeds or more in 24 hours
  • be feeding for between 5 and 40 minutes at each feed
  • have a normal skin colour
  • be generally calm and relaxed while feeding and content after feeds
  • have wet and dirty nappies
  • swallowing frequently during the feed, which you should be able to hear.

Breastfeeding may be a bit uncomfortable at first, but it shouldn’t be painful or cause any emotional stress. Lots of women struggle with breastfeeding at first, for different reasons. You don’t need any extra pressure or anxiety now, so ask for help if you need it. Your healthcare professional can help you find the right position for you, make sure your baby is attaching properly and give you any other support you need.

What if I haven’t got enough milk?

One of the most common reasons why women give up breastfeeding is because they feel they can’t, or are physically unable to, produce enough milk.

Most women produce enough milk for their baby, but there are some reasons why some women have difficulties. The most common reasons are poor attachment and positioning, and not feeding your baby often enough.

Some babies are ‘slow starters’ because of factors such as type of birth, pain relief in labour and if they were separated from their mum at birth. Other factors that may make breastfeeding difficult include:

  • medical problems such as hypothyroidism or anaemia
  • smoking and drinking alcohol while breastfeeding
  • anxiety, stress or depression
  • illness in you or your baby.

You could try the following to increase your supply:

  • express some breast milk after feeds once breastfeeding is established
  • offer both breasts at each feed and alternate which breast you start with
  • keep your baby close to you and hold them skin to skin.
  • feed your baby as often and for as long as they want.

Feeling like you’re not producing enough milk can be upsetting, but your midwife or health visitor will be able to help. You can also see your GP if you think there are medical reasons why you’re struggling to breastfeed.

Why do my breasts feel painful?

If your breasts feel full (engorged), it can help to feed your baby, massage your breast or express by hand. But try to avoid expressing regularly as it can increase your milk supply and make the problem worse.

A build-up of milk can sometimes cause mastitis. This usually affects one breast and symptoms can come on quickly. These include:

  • a red, swollen area on your breast that may feel hot and painful to touch
  • a breast lump or area of hardness on your breast
  • a burning pain in your breast
  • nipple discharge, which may be white or contain streaks of blood
  • flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a high temperature (fever), chills and tiredness.

It’s common to develop mastitis in the first 3 months of breastfeeding, although it can happen at any time. It’s important to see your GP if you have any symptoms because you may need antibiotics. Most women recover quickly, but if mastitis isn’t treated properly you may need hospital treatment. It also can help to:

  • stay well hydrated
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • avoid tight fitting clothes, including bras
  • continue to feed your baby and express any remaining milk after a feed.

Your GP, midwife or health visitor can also help you improve your breastfeeding technique to make sure your baby is well attached during feeds.

My nipples feel cracked and sore. What can I do?

Sore nipples are most common about 3 to 7 days into breastfeeding. It usually happens because your baby isn't positioned and attached effectively at your breast.

If your nipples are painful, you may find it helps to:

  • hand express a little milk at the end of a feed and massage it on to your nipple
  • let your nipples dry before getting dressed again
  • use breast pads and change them regularly
  • wear a cotton breastfeeding bra.

Some women treat cracks using soft paraffin, such as Vaseline. There are also some specialist nipple creams available.

It’s important to talk to your healthcare professional about this so they can look at how your baby is feeding. If your baby isn’t properly attached, your nipples won’t heal.

If the pain continues, you may have thrush and will need antifungal cream.

Can I breastfeed in public?

There is no reason why you shouldn’t breastfeed in public, but we still hear stories from women who have been made to feel uncomfortable.

If you don’t feel confident about breastfeeding, you may want to stay close to home, at least to start with. Your baby will need feeding quite often and will not be willing to wait until you get home!

There is nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public. In fact, it is illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public space, such as a café or public transport, in England and Wales. Don’t feel like you should hide away, for example in a restaurant toilet. You wouldn’t eat there, so your baby shouldn’t have to either.

There are lots of clothes available for nursing that open at the breast to help you avoid having to lift up your clothes. A nursing bra (a bra that opens at the nipple) is also practical. Lots of women also use baby slings, a scarf or a cloth to cover themselves while breastfeeding.

Some women find it helpful to take a supportive friend or family member out with them if they’re feeling uncomfortable, and for a pair of extra helping hands.

Can my partner help with feeds?

Your partner can help with feeding the baby. If you want to just breastfeed, there are practical ways they can help. For example, they can:

  • make sure you’re sitting comfortably and fetch extra pillows or cushions if needed
  • bring you a snack or a glass of water as you feed
  • take the baby when you’ve finished so you can adjust your clothes.

If you choose to introduce a bottle but want to carry on using just breastmilk, try to practice expressing to gain confidence before you start your baby on the bottle.

Breastfeeding isn’t for me. Is it okay to stop?

Breastfeeding is good for you and your baby, but don’t feel guilty if it isn’t for you. There are lots of reasons why some women don’t breastfeed or stop before they thought they would.

“As my baby got older, her feeds became longer and longer. I suffer from migraines, and eventually the lack of sleep made them worse. I combined breast with bottle feeding formula for a while, but still felt extremely tired and run down. So, although I didn’t really want to, I decided to stop breastfeeding.”

Alison

If you’re having problems breastfeeding but want to carry on, there is support available. But if breastfeeding is affecting your health or causing stress and anxiety and you want to stop, then stop. Your baby needs you to be happy and well. We have more information about formula feeding, which you might find useful.

Read more about feeding your baby

  • A photo of a mum breastfeeding her baby with bottles visible on the table in the foreground

    Combine feeding

    Combine feeding is when you offer your baby bottles of expressed breast milk or formula alongside breastfeeding. It’s sometimes called combination or mixed feeding, or partial breastfeeding.

  • A breast pump.

    Expressing

    Expressing milk means squeezing milk from your breast so you can store it and feed it to your baby later.

  • 'FAQ' written in pink chalk on black board.

    Formula feeding FAQs

    We’ve answered your questions about formula feeding.

  • Dad bottle-feeding baby formula.

    Formula feeding

    Formula is man-made milk that is designed for babies and can be used in combination with, or instead of, breastfeeding. Formula feeding is perfectly safe, just make sure you take care every time you make a bottle.

  • Mum breastfeeding baby.

    Breastfeeding information and support

    Breast milk is a fantastic first food for your baby because it protects them from illness. Breastfeeding has lots of benefits for you, too.

  • Mum breastfeeding baby.

    Feeding your baby

    Feeding can be a lovely time to get to know your baby and to bond. At the start you’re going to be doing a lot of feeding.

Sources

Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative. Breastfeeding Checklist for Mothers – How can I tell that breastfeeding is going well? https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/implementing-standards-resources/breastfeeding-assessment-tools/

Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017)

NHS Choices. Breastfeeding: is my baby getting enough milk? https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-is-baby-getting-enough-milk/ (Page last reviewed: 03/12/2018. Next review due: 03/12/2021)

NHS Choices. Mastitis https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mastitis/ (Page last reviewed: 23/05/2016. Next review due: 23/05/2019)

NHS Choices. Sore or cracked nipples while breastfeeding https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sore-cracked-nipples-breastfeeding/ (Page last reviewed: 28/10/2016. Next review due: 28/10/2019)

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Last reviewed on May 9th, 2019. Next review date May 9th, 2022.

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