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Common Questions About Breastfeeding

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emma-holding-baby-ryanBreastfeeding.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years, if not more. We have a strong biological instinct to nourish and nurture our babies this way. But as we look ahead to the birth of our first baby, we may have questions; we’ve never done this before, and neither has our baby. Here are some commonly asked questions, and answers which we hope will help put your mind at rest as you plan for one of the most exciting changes of your life.


1.    How often should I feed my baby?

Whenever your baby is hungry. Lactation experts recognize that it is important to feed according to the baby’s own schedule in order to provide her with sufficient nutrition and ensure weight gain.  You might also like to think about how often you yourself have something to eat or drink  (a snack?  a meal?  a glass of water?  Breastfeeding is all these to a baby!)  Frequent feeding is also important in the early weeks to stimulate the mother’s milk supply.  In the early days, this will be very often as your baby’s stomach is tiny (no bigger than a marble!); she will fill up quickly but get hungry very quickly.  Watch for your baby’s hunger cues; waking and stretching, hand-to-mouth movements, rooting at the breast, sucking and licking are all signs that a baby is hungry. Crying is a late cue, indicating that baby is beyond hungry; it can sometimes be difficult for a crying baby to take the breast, so catch hunger early.

2.    How long should each feed last?

Again, let your baby be the guide.  Wait for her to come off the breast on her own, and then offer her the other side (she may or may not take it). It’s important not to take her off one side before she’s ready; milk at the beginning of a feed has a higher liquid content and will quench her thirst, while towards the end of the feed the milk will have a higher fat content and is more nutritious.  If a baby is not allowed to feed for long enough, she may not receive the correct proportion of liquid/fat. Some babies are efficient feeders, and may be done within ten minutes; others are more leisurely about it, and may spend half an hour or more at the breast.

3.       How should I hold my baby during a feed?

There are several different ways to hold your baby, but whichever position you choose, make sure that the baby is close to you, that her head is in line with her body and that her neck is not twisted. Position her nose opposite your nipple and wait for her to open her mouth WIDE.  As soon as she does that, bring her whole body in towards you and onto the breast to allow her to take a big mouthful.  Don’t lean forward to the baby – as you subsequently relax, optimum positioning will be lost and this can be painful for you and result in your baby not getting enough milk. Make sure that she takes in more of the breast than just the nipple; if she does this, she will not be able to get enough milk released from the breast, and you will probably end up with very sore nipples. Remember the three key positioning principles: tummy to mummy, nose to nipple, baby to breast.  Also consider “laid-back nursing” where mum is reclined at an angle (well-supported), and baby lies on her front and self-attaches. This can be very restful, and allows baby’s natural latching instincts to kick in, facilitating effective attachment to the breast.

4.    Does breastfeeding hurt?

Breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt.  Beyond a small amount of tenderness during the first few days lasting only a few seconds when the baby latches on, pain is usually a sign that something is not right.  If a baby is correctly positioned and attached, breastfeeding should be pain-free and an enjoyable experience for both mum and babe. Occasionally, physical factors may interfere with good attachment, and the advice of a professional may be helpful.  Other causes of pain include fungal or bacterial infections, which should be treated by a professional. If it hurts – seek help.

5.    Do I need to get a breast pump?

No, this is not necessary!  Most mums around the world breastfeed without a pump. However, if you are away from your baby on an occasional or regular basis, being able to express milk will allow you to leave breastmilk for someone else to feed your baby. Some mums express milk by hand, while others prefer to buy one of the manual or electric breastpumps on the market. There are significant differences between those available, so do your research in order to better choose one which meets your needs.

6.    Is my baby getting enough milk?

This is a common concern, both in the early days and later.  Firstly, remember that it is rare for a mother to not be able to produce enough milk.  Almost every mother is able to produce enough milk for her baby (or babies, in the case of multiples).  One mother in the news exclusively breastfed sextuplets, and at least one mother is known to have breastfed twins on just one breast. Milk is produced on a supply-demand principle; the more milk the baby drinks, the more mum produces, so as long as the baby is correctly attached to the breast, is fed on cue, and is allowed to nurse as long as he/she wants, then it is very likely that the baby is getting enough milk.  Remember though that if the amount of breast milk a baby drinks is reduced in any way (through formula supplementation, ineffective attachment to the breast, an imposed schedule or cutting feeds short, for example) then mum’s milk supply will be affected.  A baby in the first few weeks who is getting enough milk will:

  • Have appropriate weight gain
  • Have 5-6 wet nappies in 24 hours and 2-3 dirty nappies
  • Be contented after a feed

 Around the six-week mark, your body will have adjusted to the amount of milk needed by your baby, and begins to produce exactly this amount.  Mothers may find that their breasts feel softer at this point, and worry that their milk has gone.  This time often coincides with a “growth spurt” when a baby will feed more frequently.  Both of these are perfectly normal, and have nothing to do with a drop in milk supply.

7.    When can I start giving my baby a bottle?

While you may be keen for family members or helpers to feed the baby a bottle of milk (expressed milk or formula), unfortunately this can cause problems if this happens in the first few weeks.  Babies suck from the bottle in quite a different way to the way they suck at the breast, and even one bottle when they are very small can mean they lose the ability to breastfeed effectively.  In addition, if you’re using formula or donated breastmilk rather than your own expressed breastmilk, this can (especially in the first few weeks) affect milk supply. It’s best to wait a few weeks before introducing a bottle, and try to enjoy resting up and snuggling with your little one yourself in the meantime.

8.    How long should I breastfeed for?

World Health Organisation guidelines (based on research in both developing and developed countries) state that babies should be breastfed for a minimum of two years.  Solid food should be added at or after 6 months, but breastmilk continues to be a valuable source of nutrition and of health benefits.

9.    Do I need to be careful of what I eat and drink while breastfeeding?

Not really, no. Breastfeeding mothers, like everyone else, should ensure that they have a balanced diet. They may need a few extra calories and should avoid rapid weight loss, but eating to hunger and drinking to thirst is a good rule of thumb. Rarely, a baby may be sensitive to something in mum’s diet, but every baby is different and there aren’t really any foods or drinks which should be avoided, although too much alcohol can have a negative affect on milk supply.  (The occasional drink or two is generally accepted to be fine, though, just in case you were wondering).

10. Where can I get help and support?

  • Experienced mums among your friends and family, who have breastfed can be a great source of support; don’t be afraid to ask about their experiences.
  • Peer support groups are also very valuable; La Leche League hold monthly meetings in Abu Dhabi (Facebook La Leche League UAE; noura.laleche@gmail.com and marieclaire.laleche@gmail.com), and Breastfeeding Q&A hold monthly meetings in Dubai and host an online mother-to-mother forum on Facebook Breastfeeding Q&A Dubai UAE; breastfeedingqa@yahoo.com)
  • There are also a number of board-certified lactation consultants in the private and government sectors in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.


Photograph Credit: pand0ra23; www. Flickr.com

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Contributed by Sian

Sian is a devoted mother of two children and a registered Breastfeeding Counselor with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. She is a founding member of Breastfeeding Q&A in the UAE, a peer support group for breastfeeding mothers. You can find her articles in the Gulf News and ABM:the magazine of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers.

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