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7 Common Breastfeeding Questions Answered

You don’t have to navigate your breastfeeding journey alone. Here, a lactation consultant offers advice and sources of support for new parents.

August is National Breastfeeding Month—a time to acknowledge the benefits of breastfeeding for infants, parents and society as a whole. Breastfeeding is a great way to give your baby the nutrients they need, but it can also be a confusing experience for a first-time parent.

To clarify some frequently asked questions about breastfeeding, we spoke with Susan Fuchs, M.S., I.B.C.L.C., a clinical lactation consultant at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Do inverted nipples pose an issue when it comes to breastfeeding?

Inverted nipples are not a reason to fear being able to breastfeed. Some have inverted nipples that become erect when stimulated, but even those whose inverted nipples do not become erect can breastfeed with a little help. A nipple shield—a silicone covering for the nipple—can help an infant latch if they’re having trouble. Lactation support is the key to guiding parents through situations like this. Most insurances cover at least six outpatient visits with a lactation specialist that can be used before or after an infant’s birth.

Are there any dietary restrictions for those who are breastfeeding?

There’s no specialized diet for lactating parents. I recommend staying hydrated and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Additionally, eating a variety of foods and flavors can help your baby be more willing to try different foods later in life. It’s also best to stick to low amounts of caffeine while breastfeeding, as it can be present in your breastmilk.

In terms of alcoholic beverages, I recommend no more than one drink (generally 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits) two hours before breastfeeding. This will give your body time to metabolize the drink and make sure it’s out of your system before your infant latches on.

Is it safe to vape while breastfeeding?

It depends on what is being vaped. If it’s a supplement like melatonin, it’s relatively safe. If it’s nicotine, it’s preferable to not use it while breastfeeding, but it’s all about weighing risks and benefits. It’s better to breastfeed with nicotine in your system than not breastfeed at all, and it’s better to vape nicotine than smoke cigarettes due to second- and third-hand smoke.

If you’re vaping marijuana, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends knowing the risks of THC, but doesn’t fully discourage its use. If you’re going to vape marijuana when breastfeeding, it’s best to only obtain it from a dispensary—street drugs of any kind are discouraged due to the fact that we don’t know what is truly in them.

How can parents know if their baby is getting enough breastmilk?

Babies have a special way to let us know if they’re hungry. If their hands are super clenched, it’s often a sign of hunger. When they’re full they will become very relaxed. In the first few days after birth, infants are often sleepy and take colostrum (the first form of breastmilk after birth) in small amounts. I encourage patients to nurse their infants for at least 10 minutes during this early stage.

As the milk transitions to mature milk, feeding time all depends on the parent and infant. Some lactating parents have a large milk storage and their infant can get what they need in five minutes. Others have less storage so it may take 20 to 30 minutes for infants to feed. If you have questions about whether your baby is getting enough breastmilk, talk to a lactation specialist.

Does breastfeeding make you tired?

This is a great question! Cholecystokinin (CCK) is the hormone that is released in both the infant and the parent during breastfeeding. About five minutes into nursing, both the infant and the parent get a surge of this hormone, which makes them sleepy. There is a larger surge when the infant becomes full, which causes the “milk drunk” phenomenon that many parents see. For the parent, the release of CCK and other breastfeeding hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, aids in relaxation and promotes sleepiness.

It’s important to make sure you’re in a safe position to nurse so, if you do fall asleep, your infant is safe. Laying down in bed to breastfeed may be better than on the couch or sitting up in a chair, especially if you’re already tired, so your baby has less of a chance of falling if you nod off.

Are the health benefits different between pumping and breastfeeding?

Feeding your infant breastmilk is a success story no matter how it happens, but there are two big health differences between pumping and breastfeeding. First, if a baby is drinking out of a bottle instead of the breast, there is a higher chance of obesity later in life. Parents tend to make their baby finish a bottle, whereas when they’re nursing from the breast the infant will stop when they are full. To help with this, parents can practice paced bottle feeding, which is a method of feeding that lets the infant decide when they are full enough to stop feeding.

The other benefit of breastfeeding over pumping is that infants have a better chance of fighting off illness when breastfed. The parent’s body will know when the baby is sick, and the next time they feed there will be antibodies present in the breastmilk to help them fight off any sickness. This happens even if the parent is not sick.

Where can parents go if they need help with breastfeeding?

You shouldn’t hesitate to reach out if you ever have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding. Ask your healthcare provider about seeing a lactation specialist (I.B.C.L.C.), which should be covered under insurance. Success means something different to everyone—every parenting journey is different. But, every parent deserves to know that they’re doing a great job.

[Editor’s Note: For information about the COVID-19 vaccines and breastfeeding safety, click here.]

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