What to Know About Breastfeeding Before Baby is Born

Breastfeeding has benefits for your baby that can last a lifetime. It also can be challenging – and sometimes even frustrating – for new mothers. Here are answers to a few common questions that can be helpful to know as you make plans for welcoming your new little one.

1. What are breastfeeding benefits for babies?

Breastmilk can help protect babies from illness and provide future protection of risk for conditions such as:

  • Asthma
  • Childhood obesity
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Ear infections
  • Eczema
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • SIDS
  • Type 2 diabetes

2. What are breastfeeding benefits for moms?

You may have heard that breastfeeding can help you lose the baby weight, and that can be true. Breastfeeding can also help with healing from giving birth and may help lower risk for type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and certain types of breast cancer.

3. How often do babies need to breastfeed?

Babies may need breastfeeding eight to 12 times or more (in 24 hours) for about 15-20 minutes per breast. Your baby will determine the length of time based on satisfaction. Signs that your baby is hungry and wants to feed include putting hands in mouth or moving their mouth, rooting for your breast or increased activity.

4. How long should moms expect to breastfeed?

Ideally, babies should have breast milk only for the first six months. After that, if you can, breastfeed until at least one year old. The longer the better for the baby’s health.

5. What challenges can new moms expect?

We don’t like to think about challenges, yet knowing in advance what’s “normal” can help you access resources to stay with the decision to breastfeed. Especially at first, you may experience discomfort and tenderness, but it shouldn’t be painful. You may also need to work with your baby to help him or her latch on properly. Nipples may be sore or cracked and your breasts may swell. Please don’t despair! A lactation consultant can be helpful, as well as finding a support group with other new moms where you can learn from each other.

6. What are foods to eat or avoid when breastfeeding?

Avoid fish and shellfish with high levels of mercury, such as swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel. Opt instead for lower mercury options like shrimp, salmon, light canned tuna, pollock, cod and catfish (up to two 6-oz. servings per week). Limit alcohol and caffeine, especially with alcohol, because it can be toxic to your baby. If you drink alcohol, limit to one serving or less of beer or wine at least two hours before feeding. Keep up your energy by eating a well-balanced diet and getting as much rest as you can. Talk with your doctor about medications or supplements you take to be sure that they are ok for your baby, too.

Ask for help from the maternity nurses or the hospital lactation consultant the first few times you breastfeed. The more often you breastfeed, the more milk your breasts will produce and feel more natural breastfeeding your baby.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Healthy Women

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