The first few days

In the first few days, you and your baby will be getting to know each other. It may take time for both of you to get the hang of breastfeeding.

This happens more quickly for some women than others. But nearly all women produce enough milk for their baby.

Preparing to breastfeed before the birth

It's good to find out as much as you can about breastfeeding before you have your baby. It will help you feel more confident when you start breastfeeding your baby.

Antenatal classes usually cover the most important aspects of breastfeeding, such as positioning and attachment, expressing, common breastfeeding problems and how to tackle them.

You can find out about breastfeeding from your midwife, from family and friends, and useful helplines and websites.

There are lots of groups and drop-ins, some specially designed for pregnant women who want to know more about breastfeeding. You can find out more by asking your midwife, health visitor, local peer supporter or GP. Or visit your local Children's Centre.

Skin-to-skin contact

Having skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after the birth will help to keep them warm and calm, and steady their breathing. 

Skin to skin means holding your baby naked or dressed only in a nappy against your skin, usually under your top or under a blanket.

Skin-to-skin time can be a bonding experience for you and your baby. It's also a great time to have your first breastfeed. If you need any help, your midwife will support you with positioning and attachment.

Skin-to-skin contact is good at any time. It will help to comfort you and your baby over the first few days and weeks as you get to know each other. It also helps your baby attach to your breast using their natural crawling and latching on reflexes.

If skin-to-skin contact is delayed for some reason – for example, if your baby needs to spend some time in special care – it doesn't mean you won't be able to bond with or breastfeed your baby.

If necessary, your midwife will show you how to express your breast milk until your baby is ready to breastfeed. They will also help you have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as it's possible.

Skin-to-skin after a caesarean

If your baby is born by caesarean, you should still be able to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby straight after the birth.

Colostrum: your first milk

The fluid your breasts produce in the first few days after birth is called colostrum. It's usually a golden yellow colour. It's a very concentrated food, so your baby will only need about a teaspoonful at each feed.

Your baby may want to feed quite often, perhaps every hour to begin with. They'll begin to have fewer, longer feeds once your breasts start to produce more "mature" milk after a few days.

The more you breastfeed, the more your baby's sucking will stimulate your supply and the more milk you'll make.

Your let-down reflex

Your baby's sucking causes milk stored in your breasts to be squeezed down ducts towards your nipples. This is called the let-down reflex.

Some women get a tingling feeling, which can be quite strong. Others feel nothing at all.

You'll see your baby respond when your milk lets down. Their quick sucks will change to deep rhythmic swallows as the milk begins to flow. Babies often pause after the initial quick sucks while they wait for more milk to be delivered.

Occasionally this let-down reflex can be so strong that your baby coughs and splutters. Your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter can help with this, or see some tips for when you have too much breast milk.

If your baby seems to be falling asleep before the deep swallowing stage of feeds, they may not be properly attached to the breast. Ask your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter to check your baby's positioning and attachment.

Sometimes you'll notice your milk letting down in response to your baby crying or when you have a warm bath or shower. This is normal.

How often should I feed my baby?

How often babies feed varies. As a very rough guide, your baby should feed at least eight times or more every 24 hours during the first few weeks.

It's fine to feed your baby whenever they are hungry, when your breasts feel full or if you just want to have a cuddle.

It's not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby.

When your baby is hungry they may:

  • get restless
  • suck their fist or fingers
  • make murmuring sounds
  • turn their head and open their mouth (rooting)

It's best to try and feed your baby during these early feeding cues as a crying baby is difficult to feed.

Building up your milk supply

Around two to four days after birth you may notice that your breasts become fuller and warmer. This is often referred to as your milk "coming in".

Your milk will vary according to your baby's needs. Each time your baby feeds, your body knows to make more milk for the next feed. The amount of milk you make will increase or decrease depending on how often your baby feeds.

In the early weeks, "topping up" with formula milk or giving your baby a dummy can lower your milk supply.

Feed your baby as often as they want and for as long as they want. This is called responsive feeding. In other words, responding to your baby's needs. It's also known as on-demand or baby-led feeding.

In the beginning, it can feel like you're doing nothing but feeding. But gradually you and your baby will get into a pattern, and the amount of milk you produce will settle down.

It's important to breastfeed at night because this is when you produce more hormones (prolactin) to build up your milk supply.

See how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk.

Dealing with leaking breasts

Sometimes, breast milk may leak unexpectedly from your nipples. Press the heel of your hand gently but firmly on your breast when this happens.

Wearing breast pads will stop your clothes becoming wet with breast milk. Remember to change them frequently to prevent any infection.

Expressing some milk may also help. Only express enough to feel comfortable as you don't want to overstimulate your supply.

If your baby hasn't fed recently you could offer them a feed as breastfeeding is also about you being comfortable.

Help and support for breastfeeding

  • For more information on how to get comfortable and make sure your baby is properly attached, see positioning and attachment.
  • If you are having difficulties with breastfeeding, take a look at breastfeeding problems.
  • Ask your midwife or health visitor for help. They can also tell you about other breastfeeding support available near you.
  • Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am-9.30pm daily). 

Visit healthtalk.org to see mums talking about their first breastfeed.

Breastfeeding positions and latch

If breastfeeding feels a bit awkward at first, don't worry. Breastfeeding is a skill that you and your baby learn together, and it can take time to get used to.

There are lots of different positions you can use to breastfeed. You just need to check the following points:

  • Are you comfortable? It's worth getting comfortable before a feed. Use pillows or cushions if necessary. Your shoulders and arms should be relaxed.
  • Are your baby's head and body in a straight line? (It's hard for your baby to swallow if their head and neck are twisted.) 
  • Are you holding your baby close to you, facing your breast? Supporting their neck, shoulders and back should allow them to tilt their head back and swallow easily.
  • Always bring your baby to the breast rather than leaning forward to 'post' your breast into your baby's mouth, as this can lead to poor attachment.
  • Your baby needs to get a big mouthful of breast. Placing your baby with their nose level with your nipple will encourage them to open their mouth wide and attach to the breast well.
  • Avoid holding the back of your baby's head, so that they can tip their head back. This way your nipple goes past the hard roof of their mouth and ends up at the back of their mouth against the soft palate.

How to latch your baby on to your breast

  • Hold your baby close to you with their nose level with the nipple.
  • Wait until your baby opens their mouth really wide with their tongue down. You can encourage them to do this by gently stroking their top lip.
  • Bring your baby on to your breast.
  • Your baby will tilt their head back and come to your breast chin first. Remember to support your baby's neck but not hold the back of their head. They should then be able to take a large mouthful of breast. Your nipple should go towards the roof of their mouth.

How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk

  • Your baby will appear content and satisfied after most feeds.
  • They should be healthy and gaining weight (although it's normal for babies to lose a little weight in the first days after birth). Talk to your midwife or health visitor if you are concerned your baby is not gaining weight and is unsettled during or after breast feeds.
  • After the first few days, your baby should have at least six wet nappies a day.
  • After the first few days, they should also pass at least two soft yellow poos the size of a £2 coin every day.

See tips on building up your milk supply.

Breastfeeding premature and ill babies

If your baby is in a neonatal or special care unit after the birth, you'll probably be encouraged to try kangaroo care once your baby is well enough. This means holding your baby close to you, usually under your clothes with your baby dressed only in a nappy.

This skin-to-skin contact helps you bond with your premature baby and increases your milk supply.

Read more information about breastfeeding a premature baby.

More information on breastfeeding

If you have any questions or concerns, you can:

  • speak to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding supporter
  • call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm, daily)
  • get online advice on breastfeeding problems

Visit healthtalk.org to see mums talking about positioning and attaching their babies at the breast.

Help and support

Midwives, health visitors and local trained volunteer mothers (peer supporters) are there to help you get breastfeeding off to a good start. They can give you lots of information and support just when you need it.

If you need to speak to someone between midwife or health visitor appointments, you should find their contact details in your baby's red book. Ask your midwife or health visitor to show you the page when you first get it.

You could also go to your local drop-in baby clinic to see a health visitor face to face.

Breastfeeding drop-ins, cafes and centres

These are all great places to make new friends and share the ups and downs of looking after a new baby. There's no need to make an appointment – just go along when you can.

To find out what's available in your area:

  • talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP
  • contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am to 9.30pm, daily)
  • contact your local Children's Centre or Family Information Service, as they often have lists of local breastfeeding groups and activities

Breastfeeding helplines and websites

Helplines

  • National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212
  • Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – 0300 330 5453
  • La Leche League – 0845 120 2918
  • National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – 0300 330 0700

Websites

  • Baby Café is a network of breastfeeding drop-ins. You can find your nearest drop-in on the website by entering your postcode.
  • Bliss is a special care baby charity that provides vital support and care to premature and sick babies across the UK.
  • The Breastfeeding Network provides breastfeeding support and information.
  • La Leche League offers mother-to-mother support with breastfeeding.
  • The Lactation Consultants of Great Britain can help you find a lactation consultant near you.
  • The Twins and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA) has information about feeding twins and triplets.
  • The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is a charity that provides information and support on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, including breastfeeding.
  • The UK Association for Milk Banking has information about using donated breast milk if your baby is premature or ill, and how to donate breast milk. 

How partners can support breastfeeding

Women are much more likely to breastfeed for longer when they have their partner's support. Practical ways dads and partners can help with breastfeeding include:

  • Go to antenatal or breastfeeding sessions - Some sessions are organised especially for dads. Ask your midwife or at your local Children's Centre for further details.
  • Give emotional and practical support - Try to make time for each other when you can. Do little things to make each other feel cared for and included.
  • Arrange paternity leave - Talk to your employer about paternity leave early on so you can plan how this best suits your family needs.
  • Make her life easier - For example, bring her dinner if the baby wants to feed at the same time, bring her a cup of tea and a magazine, or perhaps arrange for family or friends to keep her company while you're at work.
  • Do your bit around the home - Then your partner can focus on caring for your baby and getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
  • Provide some stress relief - If you already have young children, take the stress away from mum by keeping them entertained while she feeds the baby.
  • Get involved in your baby's care - Giving your baby their bath, changing nappies and being part of getting ready for bed are great ways of getting close to your baby.
  • Give your baby a bottle of breast milk - After a few weeks, if your partner begins to express her breast milk, you could give your baby a bottle of breast milk.

Breastfeeding in public

Breastfeeding in public can mean breastfeeding in front of a relative or friend in your own home, or in a public place, such as a cafe or shopping centre.

During your baby’s early days, you may prefer to breastfeed only where you feel most comfortable. But, as you get more used to doing it, you’re likely to feel more confident about breastfeeding in front of other people when you're out and about.

Surveys actually show that the majority of people don’t mind women breastfeeding in public at all. The more it’s done, the more normal it will become.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

Plan ahead

Before you go out, it can help to think about where you will feel comfortable breastfeeding when your baby gets hungry. Ask breastfeeding friends for recommendations.

Your midwife, health visitor or peer supporter at the local drop-ins will also know of good places in your area you can feed your baby.

Clothes and bra

What you wear when you’re breastfeeding is a matter of personal taste and what you feel comfortable in. For example, some mums like to wear loose tops that can be lifted up.

Others, who prefer to keep their tummy covered, wear two stretchy tops, so that the top layer can be lifted up and the bottom layer can be pulled down. A soft non-underwired bra can be easily pulled up or down when you want to feed your baby.

Baby slings, scarves and cloths

Some baby slings are designed in such a way that you can breastfeed while your baby is still in the sling. Ask your health visitor for more information. Some mums feel more comfortable laying a scarf or muslin cloth over their chest while they’re breastfeeding.

Take someone with you

It can help to go with a friend who has an older baby and can take you to places that she already knows would be comfortable for you to sit and feed. You could go with someone else, such as your mum, partner, sister or friend, so that there's always someone to talk to.

Avoid the loos

Don’t feel that you should sit in a public toilet to breastfeed. You wouldn’t eat in there, so don’t feel that your baby should.

Know your rights

You shouldn’t ever be made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. In fact, the Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place, such as a cafe, shop or public transport.

Mums talk about breastfeeding away from home

Two breastfeeding mums talk about their experiences of feeding in public:

Cara, from Banbury

“I thought I would need ‘nursing tops’, but once my baby finally arrived I realised that my normal clothes (and favourite maternity tops) all worked so much better. I could pop my baby under my top to feed her, and she would be tucked up next to my skin.

It took me a while to get the hang of attaching her easily without looking, but soon I felt confident feeding almost anywhere. I've never had any negative comments from other people, and I don't think people realise I'm feeding a baby most of the time.”

Claire, from Aberystwyth

“At first, I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to feed the twins away from home. I was really nervous, as they each took half an hour to feed, and I would only be able to feed one at a time when I was out. But then I became so confident, that I hardly noticed that I was feeding them.”

You can also hear the experiences of other mums at healthtalk.org.   

Expressing breast milk

Expressing milk means squeezing milk out of your breast so you can store it and feed it to your baby later.

You might want to express milk if:

How do I express breast milk?

You can express milk by hand or with a breast pump. How often you express your milk, and how much you express, will depend on why you are doing it.

Sometimes it takes a little while for your milk to start flowing. Try to choose a time when you feel relaxed. Having your baby (or a photo of them) nearby may help your milk to flow.

You may find it easier to express in the morning, when your breasts can sometimes feel fuller.

Expressing breast milk by hand

Some women find it easier to express milk by hand than to use a pump, especially in the first few days or weeks. It also means you won't have to buy or borrow a pump, or rely on an electricity supply.

Hand expressing allows you to encourage milk to flow from a particular part of the breast. This may be useful, for example, if one of the milk ducts in your breast becomes blocked.

Hold a sterilised feeding bottle or container below your breast to catch the milk as it flows.

These tips may help:

  • Before you start, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
  • Some mothers find gently massaging their breasts before expressing helps their milk to let down.
  • Cup your breast with one hand then, with your other hand, form a "C" shape with your forefinger and thumb.
  • Squeeze gently, keeping your finger and thumb near the darker area around your nipple (areola) but not on it (don't squeeze the nipple itself as you could make it sore). This shouldn't hurt.
  • Release the pressure, then repeat, building up a rhythm. Try not to slide your fingers over the skin.
  • Drops should start to appear, and then your milk usually starts to flow.
  • If no drops appear, try moving your finger and thumb slightly, but still avoid the darker area.
  • When the flow slows down, move your fingers round to a different section of your breast, and repeat.
  • When the flow from one breast has slowed, swap to the other breast. Keep changing breasts until your milk drips very slowly or stops altogether.

Expressing milk with a breast pump

There are two different types of breast pump: manual (hand-operated) and electric.

Different pumps suit different women, so ask for advice or see if you can try one before you buy.

Manual pumps are cheaper but may not be as quick as an electric one.

You may be able to hire an electric pump. Your midwife, health visitor or a local breastfeeding supporter can give you details of pump hire services near you.

The suction strength can be altered on some electric pumps. Build up slowly. Setting the strength to high straightaway may be painful or damage your nipple.

You may also be able to get different funnel sizes to fit your nipples. The pump should never cause bruising or catch your nipple as it is sucked into the funnel.

Always make sure that the pump and container are clean and sterilised before you use them. 

See tips on sterilising your baby's feeding equipment.

Storing breast milk

You can store breast milk in a sterilised container or in special breast milk storage bags:

  • in the fridge for up to five days at 4C or lower (you can buy cheap fridge thermometers online)
  • for two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge
  • for up to six months in a freezer

Breast milk that's been cooled in the fridge can be carried in a cool bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours.

Storing breast milk in small quantities will help to avoid waste. If you're freezing it, make sure you label and date it first. 

Defrosting frozen breast milk

Breast milk that's been frozen is still good for your baby and is better than formula milk.

It's best to defrost frozen milk slowly in the fridge before giving it to your baby. If you need to use it straightaway you can defrost it by putting it in a jug of warm water or holding it under running warm water.

Once it's defrosted, use it straightaway. Don't re-freeze milk that has been defrosted.

Warming breast milk

You can feed expressed milk straight from the fridge if your baby is happy to drink it cold. Or you can warm the milk to body temperature by putting the bottle in a jug of warm water or holding it under running warm water.

Once your baby has drunk from a bottle of breast milk it should be used within the hour and anything left over thrown away.

Don't use a microwave to heat up or defrost breast milk. This can cause hot spots, which can burn your baby's mouth.

Breast milk if your baby is in hospital

If you're expressing breast milk because your baby is premature or sick, ask the hospital staff caring for your baby for advice on how to store it.

Read more information about breastfeeding a premature or sick baby

Having difficulty expressing?

If you are finding it difficult or uncomfortable to express your breast milk:

  • Ask your midwife or health visitor for help. They can also tell you about other breastfeeding support available near you.
  • Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212 (9.30am-9.30pm daily).  
  • Visit the Bliss website for advice on expressing milk for a premature or sick baby.

Breastfeeding a premature baby

Your breast milk is important to your baby at any age. Research shows that giving your premature baby your breast milk benefits their health as well as yours.

Among other things, your breast milk:

  • helps protect your baby from infections, particularly of their gut (premature babies are more prone to these)
  • contains hormones, nutrients and growth factors that help your baby to grow and develop
  • is easier for your baby to digest than formula milk, because it's human milk specially designed by your body for your baby

See other benefits of breastfeeding.

If your baby is too small or sick to breastfeed, you'll need to start regularly expressing your breast milk soon after they're born to get your milk supply going. Then you can start breastfeeding once you and your baby are ready.

Even if you weren't planning to breastfeed, you could express your breast milk for a while and see how it goes.

Spending lots of time close together can help boost your breast milk supply and establish breastfeeding.

Skin-to-skin contact with your premature baby

As soon as possible, you'll be encouraged to spend time holding your baby against your skin. This is sometimes called kangaroo care.

Your baby will be dressed just in a nappy and then placed inside your top or under a blanket so they can be held securely against your skin.

This skin-to-skin contact helps you feel close to your baby. Your partner can enjoy this kind of contact as well.

For your premature baby, skin-to-skin contact:

  • reduces stress and/or pain
  • promotes healthy weight gain 
  • helps to establish breastfeeding
  • helps them adapt to their environment
  • helps to regulate and support their heart rate and breathing

For mums, skin-to-skin contact:

  • helps prevent postnatal depression
  • increases your confidence as a new parent
  • supports the hormones that help with breast milk production and supply

For dads, holding your baby skin to skin:

  • helps you bond with your baby – babies can hear both parents' voices in the womb and will be calmed by the sound of your voice as well as their mum's
  • helps you feel more confident as a parent

Expressing milk if your baby is premature

It's recommended you express eight to 10 times a day to begin with, including at least once at night, to keep your milk supply up.

In the early days, it's often easier to express your milk by hand. Your midwife or a breastfeeding supporter can show you how.

You'll probably only express a few drops to begin with but, if you hand express often, this will increase.

In the early days you can collect your breast milk in a small, sterile cup and store it in a syringe. Every drop is beneficial for your baby.

Once you are producing more milk, you could try using a breast pump. If your baby is in a neonatal unit, the hospital will usually be able to lend you an electric breast pump for expressing your milk. If they can't lend you one, you can hire one.

Contact a breastfeeding organisation (see breastfeeding help and support for contact details) to find out about hiring a pump, or phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

The staff, your midwife or a breastfeeding supporter can give you advice about how to increase your milk supply. They can also show you how to encourage your milk to flow and how to use a breast pump.

Always ask for help early if you have any worries or questions.

Tube feeding your baby

Babies don't normally learn to coordinate the sucking, swallowing and breathing needed for feeding until about 34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy.

If your baby is born before this time, they may need to have your breast milk via a feeding tube to begin with. This goes through their nose or mouth into their stomach. The staff in the neonatal unit can show you how to feed your baby this way.

Breast milk fortifiers, which contain a mixture of minerals, vitamins and protein, may be added to your breast milk.

Babies who are very premature or sick may need to be fed via an intravenous (IV) line to begin with. A fluid containing nutrients is fed straight into your baby's vein.

Visit the Bliss website to read more about tube feeding.

Using donor breast milk

Some hospitals can provide donated breast milk for your baby to have until your own supply is established.

See the United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB) website for more about donor breast milk.

If donor breast milk isn't available, your baby can have formula milk until you're producing enough breast milk.

You may be able to find donor breast milk for sale on the internet. However, it's recommended you don't buy donor milk over the internet. This is because the source can't be confirmed and you can't be sure whether the donor or the milk has been screened for infections.

Moving on to breastfeeding your premature baby

While holding your baby, you may notice them try to move towards your breast. Gradually, as they develop and get stronger, they will be able to breastfeed directly.

The first time you try it, the hospital staff may ask you to express first, then put your baby to your breast. This is so your baby isn't overwhelmed when your milk lets down.

At first, your baby may only lick the breast, then next time take a few sucks until they gradually become happy and confident feeders.

You can combine tube feeding with breastfeeding until your baby is getting everything they need from the breast only.

Using a lactation aid (supplementer)

You could also consider using a lactation aid. This is a way of supplementing your baby's breastfeeds with either expressed breast milk or formula.

A tiny tube is taped next to your nipple so your baby can get milk via the tube as well as from your breast while attached to your breast. This helps to support your baby as they get used to attaching to the breast.

Visit healthtalk.org to see mums talking about feeding their sick or premature babies.

When to stop breastfeeding

It's up to you and your baby to decide when you want to finish breastfeeding.

It's recommended that you breastfeed your baby exclusively (give them breast milk only) for the first six months of their life.

According to Rosie Dodds of the NCT (formerly National Childbirth Trust), this means women sometimes think they should breastfeed for six months and then stop.

However, breastfeeding still has lots of benefits for you and your baby after six months. It protects them from infections and there's some evidence that it helps them to digest solid foods. It also continues to provide the balance of nutrients your baby needs.

See other benefits of breastfeeding.

But breastfeeding is about more than just nutrition. It helps to reassure and comfort your growing baby, even when they're a toddler, and gives you a chance to sit down and relax. If you're comfortable breastfeeding there's no need to stop until you and your baby are ready.

If you aren't sure whether or not to continue with breastfeeding, you can contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

Common reasons for stopping breastfeeding

Common reasons for stopping breastfeeding include sore or painful breasts, worrying that your baby is not getting enough milk, and lifestyle reasons (such as returning to work or going on holiday). Some women stop breastfeeding because they get pregnant again.

None of these things mean you have to stop breastfeeding if you don't want to.

Sore or painful breasts

Some women find breastfeeding uncomfortable, especially in the early days and weeks. Common problems include sore or cracked nipples and painful breasts.

These problems often happen when your baby is poorly attached to the breast. Your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist can help you with positioning your baby and getting them properly attached.

See some self-help tips for sore nipples.

See more about positioning and attachment.

Not enough breast milk

Lots of women worry that they haven't got enough milk when in fact they have plenty to meet their baby's needs.

Your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding specialist can also suggest ways to increase your milk supply if necessary. This could just mean making sure that your baby is well attached to the breast and that you are feeding often enough. 

Going back to work

Going back to work doesn't necessarily mean that you have to stop breastfeeding.

"If your breast milk supply is well established, your work needn't impact on your milk supply for your baby," says Rosie from NCT. "You can either express at work and give your breastmilk to your child's carer or provide formula milk while you are away. 

"If you continue breastfeeding outside of work hours you should be able to maintain your supply. Part-time working, which lots of new mothers opt for, can also help maintain breastfeeding."

"If your employer isn't familiar with the rules around breastfeeding and expressing in the workplace, it's worth sharing the ACAS guidance with them or contacting your union if you have one," she adds.

Read more about breastfeeding and returning to work.

Going on holiday

As with work, going on holiday doesn't mean that you have to give up breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding can be more convenient while you are away.

You don't need to worry about boiling water and sterilising feeding equipment. Plus, if you're flying, there's no need to worry about restrictions on carrying bottles or cups of formula through airport security checks.

Breast feeding also helps to equalise the pressure in your baby's ears on take-off or landing.

Getting pregnant again

If you get pregnant again while you are breastfeeding, it shouldn't affect your baby or the pregnancy. However, you may feel tired, and changes in your appetite and emotions can make breastfeeding more challenging.

In rare cases, women are advised to stop breastfeeding before getting pregnant again, particularly if they have previously had a miscarriage or premature labour.

This is because there is a possible risk the breastfeeding hormone oxytocin may cause contractions. It's worth speaking to your GP or health visitor before you make any decisions about stopping.

Don't be put off feeding an older baby and a newborn (tandem nursing). The more milk your babies take, the more your breasts produce, so it's perfectly possible to feed more than one baby.

Combining breast milk and formula

Some women decide to combine breastfeeding and formula milk rather than stopping breastfeeding completely. If you want to do this, it's best to wait until your milk supply is fully established. This makes it easier to introduce some formula feeds while continuing to breastfeed.

You can start by replacing one breastfeed each day with a bottle or – if your baby is over six months, a cup – of formula, instead. 

See more about drinks and cups for babies.

Or you may find that expressing breastmilk helps if you want to increase your supply or you need someone else to feed your baby sometimes.

How to stop breastfeeding

There is no right or wrong way to stop breastfeeding. For lots of mothers and babies, stopping breastfeeding happens gradually as their child grows and eats more solid foods.

But Rosie says it's important that solid food shouldn't simply replace breastmilk: "There's evidence that breastmilk may play a part in helping a baby's digestive system to deal with their first solids," she says.

Once they are eating solids, babies continue to need breast or formula milk up to at least their first birthday. Cow's milk isn't suitable as a main drink for babies under one, although it can be added to foods, such as mashed potatoes.

Remember that you will need to introduce bottle feeding gradually and phase out breastfeeding rather than suddenly replacing one with the other, as your body will continue producing milk. 

Rosie says: "The advantages to continuing to breastfeed while giving some formula are underestimated. Giving both can work very well.

"However, if your milk supply isn't well established and your baby is having lots of formula you may find that your body doesn't receive enough signals to produce the milk they need," she warns.

Babies breastfeed for comfort as well as food. Phasing out breastfeeding gently will give you and your baby time to get used to the idea. Stopping gradually will also help prevent problems like engorged breasts and mastitis.

"An effective way to reduce breastfeeding is to drop one feed at a time, usually a daytime feed," says Rosie. "There's no particular health reason for which feed you drop first, so it will usually be a case of how it fits in with your life. For example, some mothers may prefer to continue night feeds so their baby can still have the comfort at night."

If your baby is younger than one year, you will need to replace the dropped breastfeed with a formula feed from a bottle or (over six months) a beaker, instead. If your child is over one and having a variety of foods and drinks they won’t need a replacement feed.

"Once you and your baby are settled into a pattern of having one less breastfeed, possibly after 5-7 days, you can then think about dropping another one," says Rosie Dodds.

If you are trying to stop breastfeeding and having problems, you can get help and ideas from your health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist. 

Restarting breastfeeding after stopping

Stopping breastfeeding doesn't always have to be permanent, but starting again may take a lot of time and not everyone will produce enough to meet their baby's needs. It depends partly on how well-established your milk supply was already.

Stimulating your breasts by expressing and offering the breast to your baby regularly can help stimulate your body to restart making milk. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can promote lactation (milk production) too.

You can ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist for help if you would like to re-start breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding older children

There's no reason why you shouldn't carry on breastfeeding your child into their second year and beyond. You and your toddler can carry on enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding for as long as you want.

Your toddler may also find breastfeeding comforting when they are ill or upset. 

Benefits of breastfeeding

It's never too early to start thinking about how you're going to feed your baby. But you don't have to make up your mind until your baby is born.

In the UK, more than 73% of mothers start breastfeeding. These are some of the reasons why:

  • your breast milk is perfectly designed for your baby
  • breast milk protects your baby from infections and diseases
  • breastfeeding provides health benefits for you
  • breast milk is available for your baby whenever your baby needs it
  • breastfeeding can build a strong emotional bond between you and your baby

Health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby

Breastfeeding has long-term benefits for your baby, lasting right into adulthood.

Giving nothing but breast milk is recommended for about the first six months (26 weeks) of your baby's life. After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside family foods for the first two years, or for as long as you and your baby want, will help them grow and develop healthily.

Breast milk adapts as your baby grows to meet your baby's changing needs.

"Any amount of breast milk has a positive effect," says Bridget Halnan, infant feeding lead in Cambridgeshire and Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting.

"The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits. Formula milk doesn't provide the same protection from illness and doesn't give you any health benefits."

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of:

Health benefits of breastfeeding for you

Breastfeeding and making breast milk also has health benefits for you. The more you breastfeed, the greater the benefits.

Breastfeeding lowers your risk of:

Busting some breastfeeding myths

"Perhaps more than any other aspect of caring for your baby, how you feed your baby seems to cause a great deal of discussion," says Bridget Halnan. "Family and friends can have strong opinions, but some aren't based on fact."

Some common breastfeeding myths include:

Myth: "It's not that popular in this country."
Fact: More than 73% of women in the UK start breastfeeding, and 17% of babies are still being exclusively breastfed at three months.

Myth: "Breastfeeding will make my breasts sag."
Fact: Breastfeeding doesn't cause your breasts to sag, but pregnancy hormones can stretch the ligaments that support your breasts. Wear a well-fitting bra while you're pregnant.

Myth: "People don't like to see women breastfeeding in public."
Fact: Most people don't mind. The more it's seen, the more normal it will become. The law protects women from being asked to leave a public space while breastfeeding.

Myth: "Formula milk is basically the same as breast milk."
Fact: Almost all formula milk is made from cow's milk. It can contain bacteria, which is why it's vital to make it up with water hot enough to kill any bacteria (70C). It doesn't protect your baby from infections and diseases like breast milk does.

Myth: "Some women don't produce enough breast milk."
Fact: "Almost all women are physically able to breastfeed," says Bridget Halnan. "Early, frequent feeding and responding to your baby's cues gives you the best start to establishing your supply."

Myth: "If I breastfeed I can't have a sex life."
Fact: There's no reason why breastfeeding should stop you having sex with your partner. Your breasts may leak a little milk while you're having sex, but you can try feeding your baby beforehand or wearing a bra with breast pads in. Your vagina may feel a little drier than usual because of your breastfeeding hormones. Using some lubricant and taking things slowly will help.

Myth: "Breastfeeding hurts."
Fact: Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby and it shouldn't hurt. If you experience pain in your breasts or nipples, it's usually because your baby isn't positioned or attached properly. Ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist to watch a whole feed to help spot the problem.

Myth: "My nipples are flat or even inverted, so I won't be able to breastfeed."
Fact: Nipples come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Holding your baby skin-to-skin after birth will help them find the best way to attach themselves. "Your baby breastfeeds, not nipple feeds, so as long as they can get a good mouthful of breast they should be able to feed perfectly happily," says Bridget Halnan.

Breastfeeding FAQs

All mothers and babies are different, and you and your baby will work out your own feeding pattern together. As a very rough guide, your baby should feed at least eight times or more every 24 hours during the first few weeks.

Don't worry about feeding your baby whenever either of you wants. You can't overfeed a breastfed baby, and your baby won't become spoilt or demanding if you feed them whenever they're hungry or need comfort.

How long should each breastfeed last?

Every baby is different. Some babies want frequent short feeds, and others prefer feeding for longer – or a mixture of the two. Let your baby finish the first breast, then offer the second.

If your baby feeds all the time and you're worried, speak to your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist. You may need some help with positioning and attachment. You can also call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

Why is 'responsive feeding' so important?

A newborn baby's stomach is only the size of a walnut, so they need to feed little and often. Your baby can have a good feed and be hungry again quite quickly. This is why "responsive feeding" – also called "baby-led" or "on-demand" feeding – is so important. 

"The idea is that you 'respond' to your baby's cues," says Zoe Ralph, an infant feeding worker in Manchester and Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting. "Breastfeeding is not only about getting milk into your baby. Your baby feeds for comfort and reassurance, too."

Babies go through different patterns of feeding as they grow. Letting them feed when they need to will ensure they're content and getting the milk they need, when they need it – and will also stimulate your milk supply.

"Responsive feeding is also to do with your needs," says Zoe Ralph. You may want to offer a breastfeed if your breasts are uncomfortably full, or if you need to fit in a feed around other commitments, or if you just want to sit down and enjoy spending some time with your baby.

Can I breastfeed after a caesarean?

Yes, you can. Make sure you get a skin-to-skin cuddle with your baby as soon as you're able to. Your midwife may help you have a skin-to-skin cuddle in theatre or in the recovery room.

If you keep your baby close to you and maintain lots of skin-to-skin contact, you'll be able to put them to the breast often and this will stimulate your milk supply.

After a caesarean, you might find the "rugby hold" – where the baby's body is around to the side of your body, supported by your arm on the same side – is preferable to having them lying against your stomach. Ask your midwife about pain relief so you can feed your baby more comfortably.

If you have a planned caesarean booked, you can talk to your midwife about expressing some breast milk (colostrum) before you have your baby. "This can be frozen and given to your baby after they are born," says Zoe Ralph. "If necessary, your partner could feed your baby either by cup or by syringe if you are not able."

Are there any reasons why I shouldn't breastfeed?

Very occasionally, there are sound medical reasons for not breastfeeding – for example, if you have HIV or, in rare cases, you're taking a medication that could harm your baby, such as drugs for treating cancer.

If you're not sure whether you should breastfeed your baby, speak to your midwife or health visitor for information and support. 

How long should I breastfeed for?

Exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk only) is recommended for around the first six months of your baby's life. Breastfeeding alongside family foods is best for babies from six months. 

You and your baby can carry on enjoying the benefits of breastfeeding for as long as you like. Breastfeeding into your baby's second year or beyond alongside other foods is ideal. 

Lots of mothers carry on breastfeeding when they go back to work or college – read more about breastfeeding after returning to work. You don't have to stop if you get pregnant again, either. 

See more about deciding when to stop breastfeeding.

Can I still breastfeed with more than one baby?

Twins, triplets and other multiples can be breastfed. In fact, because multiple babies are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight, breast milk is especially important for them.

When you start breastfeeding, you may find it easier to feed each of your babies separately. When you feel more confident, you can feed them at the same time. This may take a few weeks.

It can be really helpful to talk to other mothers who have breastfed twins, either at an antenatal group or at a twins group in your area. Triplets can be breastfed, either two together or then one after, or all three rotated at each feed. 

Read more about feeding twins or more.

Breastfeeding help and support

If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding, there is plenty of help and support available. You can:

  • talk to a friend or family member who has breastfed
  • ask your GP, midwife or health visitor
  • call a helpline – for example, the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212
  • look at reliable websites, such as the Breastfeeding Network
  • join a local breastfeeding support group – ask your health visitor for details

See more sources of help and support with breastfeeding.