A Lactation Consultant's Answers to 5 Most Common Breastfeeding Questions

As a lactation consultant, I spend many hours answering breastfeeding questions. Firstly, there are no silly questions - if it's bothering you, it matters and your question deserves an answer. However, because each mother is following her own unique learning curve, there are some questions that seem to come up over and over. So here are the answers to some of the most common questions mothers ask:

How do I get my baby into a routine?

Firstly, from your baby’s perspective, how is it respectful to have someone wake you up from a lovely restful nap and whip a boob in your mouth because THEY decide you should eat? Or, if your baby is thirsty and desperately needs a wee drink but he has to wait until the clock says it’s time, isn't that pretty mean?

After all, if you are hungry or thirsty you can open the fridge or turn on a tap. At risk of stating the obvious, your baby can’t help himself, unless you give him access to your boobs. You can time feeds for your own peace of mind, so you know how often your baby is feeding or how long his feeds seem to take. Or, if you have other children and you need to do a school pickup, for instance, it’s perfectly reasonable to gently offer your baby a feed before you head out the door, even if he isn’t signalling that he is hungry, just yet. However, enforcing a strict feeding schedule isn’t a good idea. How simple is it to offer the breast?

By watching your baby’s cues ( hand to mouth, rooting towards you, lip smacking), he will signal when needs to eat or drink and this could be more often than usual if he is having a growth spurt or if he needs a boost of immune factors because he’s been exposed to a bug (transfer of baby’s saliva to your breasts signals your body to make antibodies to germs your baby has been exposed to). By offering feeds according to your baby’s signals, you will be stimulating your breasts to make more milk because breast milk production works on a ‘supply and demand’ basis – the more milk you remove, the more your body is signalled to make.

It ‘s helpful to understand that women have varying milk storage capacities: even though healthy women with no underlying medical issues generally make a similar amount of milk over a 24 hour period, some women will need to feed their babies more frequently due to a smaller storage capacity. You don't need to worry about this either –just think of it as drinking out of a shot glass or a mug. If you have a shot glass you will need more ‘refills’ to drink the same amount compared to if you drink out of a mug. So, rather than worry about your supply, trust your baby and your body to work in sync and as long as your baby is having heavy wet nappies and doing poos (the number will vary with your baby’s age) and gaining weight, it’s all good.

Do I need a breast pump?

Unless you are going to be separated from your baby because he is premature, or sick or you are going back to work and you need to maintain your milk supply while you are away from your baby, you don’t need to worry about buying a pump and you don't need to pump a stash of mama milk for your freezer.

If you do need to express some milk for comfort or for occasional separations, it’s good to know how to hand express – this is really simple when you get the hang of it and can even be more effective than using a pump. If you are pumping and you don’t manage to get much milk, you don't need to worry that this reflects your milk supply. A healthy, well-latched baby who is sucking effectively will almost always get more milk than even the best breast pump.

Some women don't respond well to a pump, others may need to try different techniques: it can help to warm your breasts first, massage them and hand express until the milk starts to flow before applying the pump. Then, as you are pumping, try using breast compressions as the flow slows – and watch the milk start spurting again!

Are there foods I should avoid while breastfeeding?

There are lots of old wives’ tales about what foods to avoid while you are breastfeeding but you don't need to worry about restricting your own diet unless you have a baby who has allergies or is upset when you eat particular foods. Some babies are sensitive to certain foods passing through mother’s milk but your baby is never allergic to your milk.

There is no single food that you need to avoid while you are breastfeeding - a food that seems to bother one baby may have no effect on another child. This means that unless your baby seems upset when you eat certain foods you can enjoy eating whatever you fancy. A good rule of thumb is to eat a wide variety of natural foods and remember, ‘all things in moderation,’ rather than binging on a food (such as chocolate) that may upset your baby if you indulge.

I’ve been told not to let my baby fall asleep on the breast

Breastfeeding is not just about ‘the milk’ it’s also about comfort, connection and immunity. There are wonderful chemicals in breast milk that affect your baby’s brain, gut health and development as they lull him to sleep. These include: oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ released by you and your baby as you snuggle and breastfeed. Oxytocin encourages your milk flow and enhances bonding and attachment; Cholecystokinin, which helps tell your baby’s brain when he has satisfied his hunger; Tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, helps with development of Serotonin receptors in your baby’s gut (we now know that more than 80% of our Serotonin receptors are in the gut and this affects brain chemistry); and Endocannabinoids have a calming effect on your baby’s brain.

Night milk is rich in tryptophan and melatonin along with some other proteins that are exclusively present in night milk. These magical chemicals help your baby relax so it makes perfect sense to allow him to doze off as he feeds in the security of your arms, drinking your warm, sweet milk.

You can relax and stop worrying about ‘comfort feeding’. Instead, try and see breastfeeding as a simple mothering tool and a beautiful way to calm and connect with your baby. If you do need to make changes, you can try other ways to comfort your baby such as wearing him or introducing some gentle music as a sleepy cue (play this every sleep for a week before making changes – I have a more specific plan in my book ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ ) then take him off the breast when he is almost asleep and cuddle him as he falls asleep to the music. Gradually, moving to a cuddle and music, which others can do if they are caring for your baby.

And please don’t worry that your baby will become dependent (babies are dependent!) or that he will need a breast to fall asleep when he is eighteen – he may still like to snuggle up to a warm boob, but it won't be yours!

I’m anxious about feeding in public

It can take a while to build up confidence around feeding wherever you are but you don’t have to worry about other people’s hang-ups. By simply pulling up your top and feeding your baby when he starts fussing (this is pretty discreet anyway – your baby is covering your nipple, which seems to be what upsets the critics), you are drawing less attention to yourself than if your baby has to wait and starts yelling while you fumble around, trying to attach a nursing cover or drape a blanket over his head.

You can practise in front of a mirror at home to see which clothing and what positions feel most comfortable for you. Then, when you are out, instead of hiding your baby under a blanket as he feeds, gaze into his eyes and let the endorphins (and mama milk) flow. It’s legally your right to breastfeed anywhere without harassment.

If you need a boost to your confidence, check out our Boobie Bikkies Instagram campaign to support breastfeeding mums going about their normal days – and enter to win 5 packs of delicious Boobie Bikkies. Simply follow @boobiebikkies on Instagram and share a photo of yourself breastfeeding with the hashtag #whereareyoufeedingtoday.