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Breastfeeding: your questions answered

Tuesday 21 March 2017

A mother breastfeed her newborn baby.
Breastfeeding is something that mums and babies will learn to do together.

So you're going to have a baby, congratulations! Along with your little one, a lot of new experiences are going to come into your life, including breastfeeding.

You might have a few questions about breastfeeding. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers to get you started.

Breastfeeding is a natural process that mums and babies will learn to do together. Your doctor, midwife and lactation consultants can all help you and your baby learn how to breastfeed in a way that suits you both.

How do I start breastfeeding?

If you and your baby are both healthy and well right after the birth, your baby will be placed skin to skin on your chest. This is a very special time and is ideal for the baby's first breastfeed.

After that you will start to notice signs and cues that your baby is ready to feed including:

  • turning their head towards your breasts while lying on your skin-to-skin
  • opening their mouth wide
  • stirring or stretching
  • or putting their hand in their mouth.

When you are breastfeeding, have a close look at the way your baby's mouth is attached to your breast and how baby is positioned. You can see pictures of a baby attaching to the breast correctly on the Queensland Health website.

During pregnancy and in the first few days after birth, the breastmilk you produce is called 'colostrum'. This is a thick liquid that can be clear to golden in colour. Colostrum is very rich in nutrients, making it a perfect first food for your baby. Colostrum also protects against infections. Within a few days to two weeks, your breasts will start to produce mature milk. It's important to remember the more your baby feeds, the more breastmilk you will produce.

What if I can't breastfeed?

Mums might decide not to breastfeed for a variety of reasons including health concerns for themselves or their baby, finding breastfeeding very difficult, pressure from their family or community, or convenience.

If you decide not to breastfeed, you can still feed your baby breastmilk through a bottle by expressing milk, which means manually putting the milk from your breasts into a container. It is important to store expressed breastmilk safely.

You can also feed your baby infant formula, which you can buy at the chemist, pharmacy or supermarket. Infant formulas can be different from one another. Always follow the instructions on the product to make formula. It is safest to feed your baby as soon as you have made the formula. You will need to mix this formula with water following the instructions on the packaging.

If you decide to give formula to your baby, always choose infant formula. Your doctor can advise you which one is best for your baby. Cow's milk-based infant formulas are right for most babies, and are recommended over infant formulas made from soy or goat's milk. Toddlers over 12 months of age up to the age of two years can drink regular full-cream cow's milk.

How can I tell if I'm making enough milk for my baby?

You can tell if your baby is getting enough milk by monitoring how often they pee and poo and their weight. They should have around six to eight wet nappies in 24 hours that are clear or pale yellow in colour, and two to three soft or runny poos each day for the first several weeks. As your baby gets older, they might poo less often.

If your baby is getting enough milk, they will put on weight and begin to grow longer. Most babies lose a little weight in the first few days after being born before putting on weight again.

New babies will feed often in the first few weeks of life, usually about eight to 12 times in 24 hours. This is because their tummy is so tiny it can only hold a small about of milk at a time: about five to seven millilitres on their first day of life. Your baby will need fewer feeds as they get older and their stomach gets bigger, though they will feed more often during times of growth and development.

It's rare for a woman to not be able to produce enough milk to satisfy their baby's needs. If you're worried that you're not producing enough milk for your baby there are some steps you can take to help increase your milk supply. The more often you feed your baby, the more milk your breasts will make. At feeding times, relax and hold your baby skin-to-skin to help trigger your let-down reflex, which begins the flow of milk in your breasts.

A baby lies skin to skin on his mother's chest.

What can't I eat while breastfeeding?

There aren't any specific foods you should avoid while breastfeeding. Eating a healthy diet from all five food groups is best for you and your baby.

Limit or avoid drinking alcohol or smoking while breastfeeding.

Is breastfeeding going to hurt?

Mums might worry that breastfeeding will be uncomfortable because their family and friends told them that it was painful for them, or because when they tried breastfeeding with a previous baby it hurt.

The experience of breastfeeding will be different for every mum and each baby she has. You might feel some discomfort or tingling in your breasts when you start breastfeeding your new baby, particularly in the first few minutes of a feeding session as your baby latches on to your breast. As you get used to breastfeeding and get to know your baby's feeding habits, this sensation should ease, usually within a few weeks.

If pain continues or feeding is very uncomfortable, it could be a sign that your baby isn't attaching to the breast properly, or that you have sore and damaged nipples.

If you're finding breastfeeding uncomfortable or you're concerned about your baby's feeding, you can get help from a lactation consultant , call the Australian Breastfeeding Association's helpline on 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268) or call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84). Qualified child health nurses and lactation consultants are available to provide you with breastfeeding advice and support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the cost of a local call.  

Do I need to give my baby water?

Bubs being breastfed do not need any extra fluid until they are about six months old.

After this, as well as breastmilk or infant formula, you can give your baby tap water. Boil the water and cool it before giving it to your baby. Sweetened drinks or fruit juice should be avoided as these increase the risk of tooth decay and of your child becoming overweight.

If your baby is unwell with vomiting, diarrhoea or a temperature and you're worried about dehydration, talk to your doctor or a health professional immediately.

I've got breast implants/had a breast reduction/have a nipple piercing? Can I breastfeed?

While it will be different for all women, many women find they can breastfeed just fine after having breast surgery. You might want to talk to a lactation consultant or other health professional while you are pregnant or when you start feeding your baby about any breastfeeding concerns.

There hasn't been a lot of research done around nipple piercings and breastfeeding, but like with all breastfeeding, anecdotal evidence suggests that the experience will vary for different mothers. You can read more about breastfeeding with pierced nipples on the Australian Breastfeeding Association website.

What if I'm sick?

In most cases, you can still breastfeed your baby even when you are sick. Your breastmilk will help boost your baby's immune system and may stop them getting sick too.

You should always check with your doctor before taking any medications while breastfeeding.  

I'm going back to work or study – does that mean I have to stop breastfeeding?

You certainly can continue to feed your baby breastmilk when getting back to work, it just might take a bit of coordination.

You might be able to arrange for your baby to come to you for feeds, or for you to visit your baby throughout the day.

If you will be away from your baby, you can continue to feed your baby breastmilk while you aren't with them by expressing your milk throughout the day and storing it safely for your baby to drink later.

Just as you did when you first began breastfeeding your baby, you'll need to find a routine that suits you. Talk to your employer, colleagues or teachers about your needs at this time. Explore whether policies that support breastfeeding in the workplace apply.

A mother breastfeeds while the baby's dad watches on.

How do I know when to start solids?

Your baby can start complementary feeding (family food) from around six months of age while they continue to drink breastmilk or infant formula. At this age, they will begin to need more nutrients, like extra iron, additional to the nutrients in your breastmilk.

I want to keep breastfeeding after 6 months, can I?

While you are introducing complementary feeding (family food) to your baby's diet, you can continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your baby want to. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

Who can I ask for help?

Your doctor, midwife or lactation consultant can answer questions you have about breastfeeding during pregnancy and after you have given birth, and assist you with questions about latching and attachment.

You can also call or text 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84). Qualified child health nurses and lactation consultants are available to provide you with advice and support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the cost of a local call.

Read more about breastfeeding and nutrition in the first years of life:

Queensland Health: Positioning and attachment, including hands-off approach

Australian Government: Pregnancy, Birth & Baby

Australian Government: Eat for Health: Infant Feeding Guidelines

Further resources can be found at:

Australian Breastfeeding Association

Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand

Last updated: 23 August 2017