This article was written by London-based GP – Dr Nirja Joshi
As World Breastfeeding Week took place in early August (1), we wanted to help to inform and address some of the common questions around breastfeeding.
Whether or not we are mothers, or parents, everyone has a role in breastfeeding in terms of helping women to feel comfortable and destigmatise feeding.
Breastfeeding is a skill which, as with anything in life, can take some time to learn. Mums will often wonder if their baby is getting enough food, as this can be difficult as the amount of feed is not measurable. Every parent and baby is unique, and so is every breastfeeding situation. We also recognise that not all women choose to, or can, breastfeed. It’s important to rememeber that you can still nourish and bond with your baby whether you breastfeed or not.
Breast milk is specific and tailored to each baby containing vitamins and minerals, and can be available at any time. Breast milk can also offer protection against certain infections and improve a baby’s long term health (2). Breastfeeding is also associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (2).
The process of breastfeeding (3)
A good latch is very important to help to prevent issues such as pain or cracked nipples. There is more information on how babies latch here.
There may be indications that a baby wants to feed such as sucking their fists, wriggling, and opening their mouths or licking their lips. It is important to be comfortable when breastfeeding, and different positions will be best for different people, particularly if you have twins, or have had a recent c-section. You can find out more information on breastfeeding positions here.
How frequently a baby might feed varies from child to child, but will also vary depending on their age. A newborn typically feeds 8 times in 24 hours, although some may feed longer. Mums often worry that they will overfeed, however, it is not possible to feed a breastfed baby too much. A baby will stop feeding when they are full and will signal when they next want a feed (3).
Burping is important to help to prevent discomfort, it is normal for a small amount of milk to come back up during this process and hence most people carry a muslin or cloth (4). You can find more on positions of burping here.
Things which can cause difficulty with breastfeeding include tongue-tie, colic, mastitis and infections (4).
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
For the mother, breastfeeding can reduce your risk of obesity, breast and ovarian cancers, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis (2).
Any amount of breastmilk can have a positive effect for the baby. Most babies will feed exclusively on milk until around 6 months and start weaning onto solids thereafter. Research shows that babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of attending hospitals with infections, lower risk of diarrhoeal illnesses, obesity and longer term, cardiovascular disease (2).
Breastfeeding support (5, 6)
Breastfeeding is not always a straightforward process, and it is very common to have issues with it, particularly if it is your first time. There is a lot of support available to help.
The first place to go if you are having difficulties or questions with breastfeeding is your midwife or health visitor.
Breastfeeding friend: This is a digital resource which has been put together based on questions from thousands of mums. You can access this by using devices such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, or Facebook messenger and you will have a response which is NHS approved to a plethora of common problems.
Cry-sis: This is a helpline to help with crying babies. It is open from 9am to 10pm each day and can provide immediate support for when your baby is crying 08451 228 669 (note, calls cost 2p/minute).
Start4Life: Is an NHS support website with answers to common questions and concerns and helpful tips and videos for new parents https://www.nhs.uk/start4life.
Breastfeeding support cafes: Somewhere you can go and meet other mums and discuss any issues you may be having. You can find your local breastfeeding cafe here.
National Breastfeeding Helpline: Providing breastfeeding information and support 0300 100 0212 (9.30am–9.30pm daily).
- Pan American Health Organisation. World Breastfeeding Week [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.paho.org/en/events/step-breastfeeding-educate-and-support
- NHS. Benefits of breastfeeding [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding/benefits/
- Public Health England. How to breastfeed [Internet]. Start for life. [cited 2022 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/feeding-your-baby/breastfeeding/how-to-breastfeed/breastfeeding-positions/#anchor-tabs
- Public Health England. Breastfeeding Challenges [Internet]. Start for life. [cited 2022 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/baby/feeding-your-baby/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-challenges/colic/
- NHS. Breastfeeding in public support [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-in-public/
- NHS. Breastfeeding Help and Support [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Aug 21]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding/help-and-support/
Breastfeeding was last modified: August 23rd, 2022 by