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Answers to Your Most Common Breastfeeding Questions

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Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s effortless. Most moms, whether new or experienced, will have lots of questions along their nursing journey. In this blog post, we’re addressing your most common breastfeeding questions. Let’s get started!

When will my milk come in?

The first milk, called colostrum, is a thick, nutrient dense liquid that develops during pregnancy. This antibody-packed, high-protein and vitamin-rich liquid is all your baby needs for the first several days of life. Newborns drink only about a teaspoon of colostrum during their first 24 hours of life, then double their intake daily thereafter. Colostrum transitions to mature milk on average 3-5 days postpartum, but it can be as early as 2 days or take more than a week.

Signs that your milk is coming in are:

  • Breasts feeling fuller, heavier, swollen
  • Leaking milk
  • Flattened nipples, skin tightening around the areolas 

Will I have enough milk for my baby?

This is one of the most common breastfeeding questions. The good news is, the majority of moms will have enough milk to exclusively feed their baby. The body produces milk on a supply and demand system – when milk is drained, the body makes more. However, several factors play into milk supply. If a baby’s latch needs improvement, they may not be able to adequately drain the breast, therefore telling the body there’s no need to make more milk. Hydration, nutrition, stress levels, and adequate rest also play into milk supply. Rarely, pacifiers may interfere with milk supply, if a baby strongly prefers it to the point that they delay feedings.

There are several things to pay attention to when determining if you baby is getting enough milk: 

  • Their behavior – Are they calm once they’re settled into nursing, or frantic and fussy throughout feedings? Are they relaxed and settled after feedings? 
  • Diapers – are they making enough wet and dirty diapers? This chart shows how many diapers to expect per day age
  • Can you hear your baby swallowing during feedings?
  • Do your breasts feel softer and lighter after feedings?

The supply and demand of milk supply also works in reverse when weaning. The less baby nurses or you pump, the less milk you will make until gradually the body learns that no more milk is needed. 

How often will my baby need to nurse?

Newborns have tiny stomachs and need to feed frequently, every 1-3 hours. Frequent feeding helps establish your milk supply in the early days. During the first month of life, feedings stretch to every 2-4 hours, though cluster feeding especially in the evening hours is common, when baby wants to nurse every hour or so to “tank up” before bedtime. This is not a sign of low milk supply. 

Gradually, babies’ stomachs grow and they need to eat less frequently. Babies who take in more calories during the day will be able to stretch their nighttime feedings accordingly, i.e. an initial stretch of 4-5 hours. Altogether, newborns need to eat 8-12 times per 24 hours. Click here to read our blog on newborn hunger cues.

If I pump, how long can I store breastmilk?

According to the CDC, freshly expressed breastmilk can be stored:

  • At room temperature for up to 4 hours
  • In the fridge for 4 days (best to keep it toward the back, not on the door or right under the light)
  • In the freezer for up to 6 months or up to 12 months in a deep freezer 

Thawed, previously frozen breastmilk must be used:

  • Within 1-2 hours at room temperature 
  • Within 1 day in the refrigerator (if thawing in the fridge, this 24 hour clock starts when all ice crystals in the milk are gone)
  • Never refreeze breastmilk after it has been thawed

If your baby starts a bottle but doesn’t finish it, the milk must be used or discarded within 2 hours. 

Will breastfeeding be painful?

Some initial discomfort with breastfeeding can be expected, but in general pain while nursing is a sign that something’s not quite right. In the early days of nursing, many moms experience normal engorgement, which can be painful. And similar to sore nipples during your menstrual period, there can be some initial soreness when your newborn first latches on, lasting 30 seconds or less.

However, in general latching and feeding should not be painful. Pain lasting through the feeding is often a sign of a shallow latch and/or oral restrictions like tongue or lip ties. Call a lactation consultant ASAP if you experience painful latching. It’s important to correct the latch before secondary issues like cracked nipples or low milk supply occur.

Additionally, some women experience plugged ducts or milk blebs – a hard lump of stuck milk in the milk ducts or nipple pore – which can be painful. “Hot” pain with redness, fever, and flu-like symptoms is a sign of mastitis and warrants immediate medical attention. Shooting pain along with other signs like flaky skin around the nipple and white sores in baby’s mouth is a sign of thrush. Any other pain during nursing can be a sign of a more rare condition like Raynaud’s phenomenon or mammary constriction syndrome. All suffice to say, in general pain during breastfeeding is a sign that it’s time to call in professional support.

Your Common Breastfeeding Questions, Answered

Breastfeeding is a huge commitment, and no two mother-baby dyads are the same. Everybody’s nursing story is unique. It could be smooth sailing, a few bumps along the way, or a real uphill challenge. It’s essential to learn about breastfeeding during pregnancy, so that you know more of what to expect. However, it’s equally important to have support lined up – like from an IBCLC or postpartum doula, to help guide you on your nursing journey. We’re rooting for you!