Breastfeeding – an overview | breastfedbabies

BabyAs soon as a woman is pregnant she usually notices changes in the appearance of her breasts. The breasts seem more sensitive and may be larger in size than before, and the area around the nipple gets darker. From about 20 weeks of pregnancy the breasts are starting to produce milk. This first milk is known as colostrum and is more like medicine than food as it contains important factors which help to protect the baby from infection.

Every woman produces breastmilk after her baby is born – your body assumes that you are going to breastfeed. The hormones which make your body produce milk start to work straight after the birth. For breastfeeding mothers, every time the baby feeds or milk is expressed, more hormones are released and more milk is made.

If you’re pregnant and considering breastfeeding, the following may help you deal with some worries that many women have about breastfeeding.

What if I don’t have enough milk?

Almost all women produce enough breastmilk to feed their baby. The best way to ensure you have plenty of milk is to feed your baby as often as he or she wants fed. This is normally pretty often – 8-10 times a day is usual. To find out more, look at our section on demand feeding. It is also important that your baby has a good feeding technique and is correctly positioned and attached at the breast. To find out more about this, go to the section on positioning and attachment.

Are my breasts too small or too big?

Breastfeeding isn’t affected by your breast size and the size of your breasts doesn’t relate to how much milk you will be able to make. Nearly all women, whatever their breast size, are able to breastfeed with the right help and support.

Will it be sore?

Breastfeeding should not be painful. If it is, this is usually because the baby is not well positioned and attached. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to help you learn how to breastfeed comfortably. To find out about this, visit our section on positioning and attachment. You might also want to benefit from the experiences of other mothers at your local breastfeeding support group. To find out when and where your nearest group is, go to our support section.

How will I know my baby is getting enough?

Your baby’s nappies are a good guide to how things are going. After the first few days, your baby will have approximately six wet nappies a day. The baby’s poo will have changed colour from black to dark brown to mustard coloured runny poo, usually by the time the baby is a week old. After the first week or two, your baby’s weight gain will tell you if he is getting enough milk.

Can I smoke and/or drink while breastfeeding?


Alcohol passes through to breastfed babies in very small amounts. It’s unlikely that having an occasional drink will harm you or your baby, but it might affect how easily your baby feeds. So when breastfeeding, it’s probably sensible to drink very little. For example, no more than 1 or 2 units once or twice a week.

Smoking while breastfeeding is not advised. However, even if you smoke breastfeeding is still the healthier option than formula feeding for your baby. It is recommended that you limit your smoking to after you have breastfed and to smoke when away from baby.

However, your breastmilk will contain some nicotine, which will tend to increase your risk of getting a breast infection and may lower your milk supply. Research indicates that infants of mothers who smoke are at increased risk of cot death.

If you would like help to stop smoking, please visit  Talk to your midwife, health visitor, GP or community pharmacist who will be able to advise you on where to find help with stopping smoking. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is suitable for breastfeeding mothers, a short course of licensed HRT is safer for you and your baby than continuing to smoke. If you do smoke and are finding it hard to stop, bear in mind that it’s better to smoke after you have finished a breastfeed rather than just before.

Do I need to avoid certain foods?

You don’t need to eat a special diet while breastfeeding, just normal, healthy food. More information on healthy foods can be found at 

The quality of your breastmilk will still be fine even if you are ill or not eating well for other reasons. If you do have a poor diet, this is a good time to improve it – to look after your own health as well as your baby’s. You can do this by eating more fruit and vegetables and more wholemeal bread, pasta, rice and potatoes, and by cutting down on fatty and sugary foods.

It is unusual for a breastfed baby to have a tummy upset because of something his mother has eaten. If you think this might be the case, avoid the offending food for a week or so and then see if the baby reacts in the same way when you try it again.

The Food Standards Agency has recommended that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin and limit the amount of tuna they eat, because of the levels of mercury in these fish. Avoid eating more than one tuna steak or two medium-sized cans of tuna per week.

If I need to, will I be able to leave my breastfed baby and go out?

Yes, you will. If you learn how to express your breastmilk, then your baby can be fed your expressed milk by someone else. Visit our section on expressing breastmilk to find out more. It is best if you can avoid being away from your baby for more than a few hours in the first few weeks, though, especially when you and your baby are getting used to breastfeeding. This is because you need time to establish a good milk supply.