As a lactation consultant for 21 years, registered nurse Barbara Plowden has helped thousands of moms learn how to breastfeed their babies. She educates and supports more than 400 Cedars-Sinai families every year through the Lactation Program.
“Breast milk is like medicine,” she says. “It helps fight infection and helps in brain development of the newborn.”
Barbara uses her expertise to soothe the anxiety that surrounds breastfeeding for many new and expectant moms. What questions does she hear most often? She shares 5 common questions—and their answers—below.
Is it normal to only have a small amount of colostrum, the first milk that comes out of the breast?
Barbara: Yes! Most moms start with just drops of the protein-rich colostrum that helps fight infection, which is important for newborns. This milk can be bright yellow because it is rich in beta carotene.
Moms will produce a couple of drops to a few teaspoons of colostrum in the first few days. As breastfeeding and pumping increase the milk changes color; this is called transitional milk.
By the second week, the milk will turn cloudy white as the body introduces water. Breast milk is 87% water, so this means your little one is getting enough liquid to keep hydrated.
You may continue to see elements of colostrum for the first 2 weeks of breastfeeding, but it will go away as the breast milk evolves to produce the carbohydrates and other nutrients the baby needs.
Will I have enough milk for my baby?
Barbara: The majority of moms have enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed their baby for as long as their little one wants. In the United States, the typical duration of breastfeeding is 6-12 months, but in other parts of the world it may be as long as 3-5 years.
Getting started on breastfeeding immediately after delivery leads to success and the increased production of breast milk. In the first week, the volume of breast milk will rapidly increase to satisfy the baby’s hunger.
In general, a newborn will eat 1 teaspoon of milk in the first 24 hours, and will double milk intake every day after. The mom’s body will produce enough milk as long as the child is being breastfed. As breastfeeding decreases, so does the amount of breast milk that is being produced because the body will naturally start to wean milk production. That usually happens when the child is being introduced to complementary foods, like puréed fruits and vegetables.
Moms can continue to give breast milk along with complementary foods as the child gets older. Most infants will start trying small pieces of cooked vegetables, meat, and soft cookies or crackers between 1 and 3 years of age. Some moms continue to breastfeed in the morning and at bedtime or give the remaining frozen breast milk supply as they wean from breastfeeding or pumping.
Is breastfeeding painful?
Barbara: Breastfeeding should not be painful, although there maybe initial discomfort as mom and baby get the hang of it.
Once a baby is successfully latched on the areola, the tongue and gums are massaging the milk duct and that is the key to proper breastfeeding and milk production. An incorrect latch, on the nipple for instance, will lead to pain and eventually low milk production.
If breastfeeding is painful, you should follow up with your lactation consultant or OB-GYN.
If I use a breast pump, how long can I store my breast milk?
Barbara: At home, breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days, in a standard freezer for 3-6 months, and in a deep freezer for 6-12 months. When thawed, breast milk is good for 24 hours. Most moms store the breast milk in storage bags, which are provided with the breast pump and have a place to write the time and date you’ve pumped it.
How long should I breastfeed for?
Barbara: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods such as puréed fruits and vegetables are introduced. The AAP also recommends continuation of breastfeeding for 12 months or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.
If mothers don’t have enough breast milk they can give formula. If that’s the case, always make sure to have a conversation with your pediatrician about what is best for the baby.