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- Breastfeeding fact sheet – Find answers to common questions about breastfeeding
Ask a lactation consultant for help to improve your baby’s latch. Talk to your doctor if your pain does not go away or if you suddenly get sore nipples after several weeks of pain-free breastfeeding. Sore nipples may lead to a breast infection, which needs to be treated by a doctor.
Common breastfeeding challenges
- Sore nipples
- Low milk supply
- Oversupply of milk
- Plugged ducts
- Breast infection (mastitis)
- Fungal infections
- Nursing strike
- Inverted, flat, or very large nipples
- Breastfeeding a baby with health problems
- Breastfeeding and special situations
- More information on common breastfeeding challenges
Breastfeeding can be challenging at times, especially in the early days. But it is important to remember that you are not alone. Lactation consultants are trained to help you find ways to make breastfeeding work for you. And while many women are faced with one or more of the challenges listed here, many women do not struggle at all! Also, many women may have certain problems with one baby that they don’t have with their second or third babies. Read on for ways to troubleshoot problems.
Many moms report that nipples can be tender at first. Breastfeeding should be comfortable once you have found some positions that work and a good latch is established. Yet it is possible to still have pain from an abrasion you already have. You may also have pain if your baby is sucking on only the nipple.
What you can do
- A good latch is key, so visit the Bringing your baby to the breast to latch section for detailed instructions. If your baby is sucking only on the nipple, gently break your baby’s suction to your breast by placing a clean finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth and try again. (Your nipple should not look flat or compressed when it comes out of your baby’s mouth. It should look round and long, or the same shape as it was before the feeding.)
- If you find yourself wanting to delay feedings because of pain, get help from a lactation consultant. Delaying feedings can cause more pain and harm your supply.
- Try changing positions each time you breastfeed. This puts the pressure on a different part of the breast.
- After breastfeeding, express a few drops of milk and gently rub it on your nipples with clean hands. Human milk has natural healing properties and emollients that soothe. Also try letting your nipples air-dry after feeding, or wear a soft cotton shirt.
- If you are thinking about using creams, hydrogel pads, or a nipple shield, get help from a health care provider first.
- Avoid wearing bras or clothes that are too tight and put pressure on your nipples.
- Change nursing pads often to avoid trapping in moisture.
- Avoid using soap or ointments that contain astringents or other chemicals on your nipples. Make sure to avoid products that must be removed before breastfeeding. Washing with clean water is all that is needed to keep your nipples and breasts clean.
- If you have very sore nipples, you can ask your doctor about using non-aspirin pain relievers.
Let your baby’s doctor know if you think the baby is not getting enough milk.
Most mothers can make plenty of milk for their babies. But many mothers are concerned about having enough.
Checking your baby’s weight and growth is the best way to make sure he or she is getting enough milk. Let the doctor know if you are concerned. For more ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk, visit the How to know your baby is getting enough milk section.
There may be times when you think your supply is low, but it is actually just fine:
- When your baby is around 6 weeks to 2 months old, your breasts may no longer feel full. This is normal. At the same time, your baby may nurse for only five minutes at a time. This can mean that you and baby are just adjusting to the breastfeeding process — and getting good at it!
- Growth spurts can cause your baby to want to nurse longer and more often. These growth spurts can happen around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months of age. They can also happen at any time. Don’t be alarmed that your supply is too low to satisfy your baby. Follow your baby’s lead — nursing more and more often will help build up your milk supply. Once your supply increases, you will likely be back to your usual routine.
What you can do
- Make sure your baby is latched on and positioned well.
- Breastfeed often and let your baby decide when to end the feeding.
- Offer both breasts at each feeding. Have your baby stay at the first breast as long as he or she is still sucking and swallowing. Offer the second breast when the baby slows down or stops.
- Try to avoid giving your baby formula or cereal as it may lead to less interest in breast milk. This will decrease your milk supply. Your baby doesn’t need solid foods until he or she is at least 6 months old. If you need to supplement the baby’s feedings, try using a spoon, cup, or a dropper.
- Limit or stop pacifier use while trying the above tips at the same time.
Ask a lactation consultant for help if you are unable to manage an oversupply of milk on your own.
Some mothers are concerned about having an oversupply of milk. Having an overfull breast can make feedings stressful and uncomfortable for both mother and baby.
What you can do
- Breastfeed on one side for each feeding. Continue to offer that same side for at least two hours until the next full feeding, gradually increasing the length of time per feeding.
- If the other breast feels unbearably full before you are ready to breastfeed on it, hand express for a few moments to relieve some of the pressure. You can also use a cold compress or washcloth to reduce discomfort and swelling.
- Feed your baby before he or she becomes overly hungry to prevent aggressive sucking. (Learn about hunger signs in the Tips for making it work section.)
- Try positions that don’t allow the force of gravity to help as much with milk ejection, such as the side-lying position or the football hold. (See the Breastfeeding holds section for illustrations of these positions.)
- Burp your baby frequently if he or she is gassy.
Some women have a strong milk ejection reflex or let-down. This can happen along with an oversupply of milk. If you have a rush of milk, try the following:
- Hold your nipple between your forefinger and middle finger or with the side of your hand to lightly compress milk ducts to reduce the force of the milk ejection.
- If baby chokes or sputters, unlatch him or her and let the excess milk spray into a towel or cloth.
- Allow your baby to come on and off the breast at will.
Ask your lactation consultant or doctor for help if the engorgement lasts for two days or more.
It is normal for your breasts to become larger, heavier, and a little tender when they begin making more milk. Sometimes this fullness may turn into engorgement, when your breasts feel very hard and painful. You also may have breast swelling, tenderness, warmth, redness, throbbing, and flattening of the nipple. Engorgement sometimes also causes a low-grade fever and can be confused with a breast infection. Engorgement is the result of the milk building up. It usually happens during the third to fifth day after birth, but it can happen at any time.
What you can do
- Breastfeed often after birth, allowing the baby to feed as long as he or she likes, as long as he or she is latched on well and sucking effectively. In the early weeks after birth, you should wake your baby to feed if four hours have passed since the beginning of the last feeding.
- Work with a lactation consultant to improve the baby’s latch.
- Breastfeed often on the affected side to remove the milk, keep it moving freely, and prevent the breast from becoming overly full.
- Avoid overusing pacifiers and using bottles to supplement feedings.
- Hand express or pump a little milk to first soften the breast, areola, and nipple before breastfeeding.
- Massage the breast.
- Use cold compresses in between feedings to help ease pain.
- If you are returning to work, try to pump your milk on the same schedule that the baby breastfed at home. Or, you can pump at least every four hours.
- Get enough rest, proper nutrition, and fluids.
- Wear a well-fitting, supportive bra that is not too tight.
If your plugged duct doesn’t loosen up, ask for help from a lactation consultant. Plugged ducts can lead to a breast infection.
It is common for many women to have a plugged duct at some point breastfeeding. A plugged milk duct feels like a tender and sore lump in the breast. It is not accompanied by a fever or other symptoms. It happens when a milk duct does not properly drain and becomes inflamed. Then, pressure builds up behind the plug, and surrounding tissue becomes inflamed. A plugged duct usually only occurs in one breast at a time.
What you can do
- Breastfeed often on the affected side, as often as every two hours. This helps loosen the plug, and keeps the milk moving freely.
- Massage the area, starting behind the sore spot. Use your fingers in a circular motion and massage toward the nipple.
- Use a warm compress on the sore area.
- Get extra sleep or relax with your feet up to help speed healing. Often a plugged duct is the first sign that a mother is doing too much.
- Wear a well-fitting supportive bra that is not too tight, since this can constrict milk ducts. Consider trying a bra without underwire.
Ask your doctor for help if you do not feel better within 24 hours of trying these tips, if you have a fever, or if your symptoms worsen. You might need medicine. See your doctor right away if:
- You have a breast infection in which both breasts look affected
- There is pus or blood in the milk
- You have red streaks near the area
- Your symptoms came on severely and suddenly
Even if you are taking medicine, continue to breastfeed during treatment. This is best for both you and your baby. Ask a lactation consultant for help if needed.
Mastitis (mast-EYE-tiss) is soreness or a lump in the breast that can be accompanied by a fever and/or flu-like symptoms, such as feeling run down or very achy. Some women with a breast infection also have nausea and vomiting. You also may have yellowish discharge from the nipple that looks like colostrum. Or, the breasts may feel warm or hot to the touch and appear pink or red. A breast infection can occur when other family members have a cold or the flu. It usually only occurs in one breast. It is not always easy to tell the difference between a breast infection and a plugged duct because both have similar symptoms and can improve within 24 to 48 hours. Most breast infections that do not improve on their own within this time period need to be treated with medicine given by a doctor. (Learn more about medicines and breastfeeding in our Breastfeeding fact sheet.)
What you can do
- Breastfeed often on the affected side, as often as every two hours. This keeps the milk moving freely, and keeps the breast from becoming overly full.
- Massage the area, starting behind the sore spot. Use your fingers in a circular motion and massage toward the nipple.
- Apply heat to the sore area with a warm compress.
- Get extra sleep or relax with your feet up to help speed healing. Often a breast infection is the first sign that a mother is doing too much and becoming overly tired.
- Wear a well-fitting supportive bra that is not too tight, since this can constrict milk ducts.
If you or your baby has symptoms of a fungal infection, call both your doctor and your baby’s doctor so you can be correctly diagnosed and treated at the same time. This will help prevent passing the infection to each other.
A fungal infection, also called a yeast infection or thrush, can form on your nipples or in your breast because it thrives on milk. The infection forms from an overgrowth of the Candida organism. Candida exists in our bodies and is kept at healthy levels by the natural bacteria in our bodies. When the natural balance of bacteria is upset, Candida can overgrow, causing an infection.
A key sign of a fungal infection is if you develop sore nipples that last more than a few days, even after you make sure your baby has a good latch. Or, you may suddenly get sore nipples after several weeks of pain-free breastfeeding. Some other signs of a fungal infection include pink, flaky, shiny, itchy or cracked nipples, or deep pink and blistered nipples. You also could have achy breasts or shooting pains deep in the breast during or after feedings.
Causes of thrush include:
- Thrush in your baby’s mouth, which can pass to you
- An overly moist environment on your skin or nipples that are sore or cracked
- Antibiotics or steroids
- A chronic illness like HIV, diabetes, or anemia
Thrush in a baby’s mouth appears as little white spots on the inside of the cheeks, gums, or tongue. Many babies with thrush refuse to nurse, or are gassy or cranky. A baby’s fungal infection can also appear as a diaper rash that looks like small red dots around a main rash. This rash will not go away by using regular diaper rash creams.
What you can do
Fungal infections may take several weeks to cure, so it is important to follow these tips to avoid spreading the infection:
- Change disposable nursing pads often.
- Wash any towels or clothing that comes in contact with the yeast in very hot water (above 122°F).
- Wear a clean bra every day.
- Wash your hands often, and wash your baby’s hands often — especially if he or she sucks on his or her fingers.
- Put pacifiers, bottle nipples, or toys your baby puts in his or her mouth in a pot of water and bring it to a roaring boil daily. After one week of treatment, discard pacifiers and nipples and buy new ones.
- Boil daily all breast pump parts that touch the milk.
- Make sure other family members are free of thrush or other fungal infections. If they have symptoms, make sure they get treated.
Ask for help if your baby is having a nursing strike to ensure that your baby gets enough milk. The doctor can check your baby’s weight gain.
A nursing “strike” is when your baby has been breastfeeding well for months, and then suddenly begins to refuse the breast. A nursing strike can mean that your baby is trying to let you know that something is wrong. This does not usually mean that the baby is ready to wean. Not all babies will react the same to the different situations that can cause a nursing strike. Some babies will continue to breastfeed without a problem. Others may just become fussy at the breast, and others will refuse the breast entirely. Some of the major causes of a nursing strike include:
- Mouth pain from teething, a fungal infection like thrush, or a cold sore
- An ear infection, which causes pain while sucking
- Pain from a certain breastfeeding position, either from an injury on the baby’s body or from soreness from an immunization
- Being upset about a long separation from the mother or a major change in routine
- Being distracted while breastfeeding — becoming interested in other things around him or her
- A cold or stuffy nose that makes breathing while breastfeeding difficult
- Reduced milk supply from supplementing with bottles or overuse of a pacifier
- Responding to the mother’s strong reaction if the baby has bitten her
- Being upset about hearing arguing or people talking in a harsh voice while breastfeeding
- Reacting to stress, overstimulation, or having been repeatedly put off when wanting to breastfeed
If your baby is on a nursing strike, it is normal to feel frustrated and upset, especially if your baby is unhappy. It is important not to feel guilty or think that you have done something wrong. Keep in mind that your breasts may become uncomfortable as the milk builds up.
What you can do
- Try to express your milk on the same schedule as the baby used to breastfeed to avoid engorgement and plugged ducts.
- Try another feeding method temporarily to give your baby your milk, such as a cup, dropper, or spoon.
- Keep track of your baby’s wet diapers and dirty diapers to make sure he or she is getting enough milk. (Try our Diaper Checklist (PDF, 325 KB).)
- Keep offering your breast to the baby. If the baby is frustrated, stop and try again later. You can also try when the baby is sleeping or very sleepy.
- Try various breastfeeding positions, with your bare skin next to your baby’s bare skin.
- Focus on the baby with all of your attention and comfort him or her with extra touching and cuddling.
- Try breastfeeding while rocking and in a quiet room free of distractions.
Ask for help if you have questions about your nipple shape or type, especially if your baby is having trouble latching well.
Some women have nipples that turn inward instead of protruding, or that are flat and do not protrude. Nipples can also sometimes be flattened temporarily due to engorgement or swelling while breastfeeding. Inverted or flat nipples can sometimes make it harder to breastfeed. But remember that for breastfeeding to work, your baby has to latch on to both the nipple and the breast, so even inverted nipples can work just fine. Often, flat and inverted nipples will protrude more over time, as the baby sucks more.
Very large nipples can make it hard for the baby to get enough of the areola into his or her mouth to compress the milk ducts and get enough milk.
What you can do
- Talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant if you are concerned about your nipples.
- You can use your fingers to try and pull your nipples out. There are also special devices designed to pull out inverted or temporarily flattened nipples.
- The latch for babies of mothers with very large nipples will improve with time as the baby grows. In some cases, it might take several weeks to get the baby to latch well. But if a mother has a good milk supply, her baby will get enough milk even with a poor latch.
There are some health problems in babies that can make it harder to breastfeed. Yet breast milk and early breastfeeding are still best for the health of both you and your baby — even more so if your baby is premature or sick. Even if your baby cannot breastfeed directly from you, it’s best to express or pump your milk and give it to your baby with a cup or dropper.
Some common health problems in babies are listed below.
If your baby develops jaundice once at home, let your baby’s doctor know. Discuss treatment options and let the doctor know that you do not want to interrupt breastfeeding if at all possible.
Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin, a substance that is in the blood usually in very small amounts. In the newborn period, bilirubin can build up faster than it can be removed from the intestinal track. Jaundice can appear as a yellowing of the skin and eyes. It affects most newborns to some degree, appearing between the second and third day of life. The jaundice usually clears up by two weeks of age and is not harmful.
Two types of jaundice can affect breastfed infants — breastfeeding jaundice and breast milk jaundice.
- Breastfeeding jaundice can occur when a breastfeeding baby is not getting enough breast milk. This can happen either because of breastfeeding challenges or because the mother’s milk hasn’t yet come in. This is not caused by a problem with the breast milk itself.
- Breast milk jaundice may be caused by substances in the mother’s milk that prevents bilirubin from being excreted from the body. Such jaundice appears in some healthy, breastfed babies after about one week of age. It may last for a month or more and it is usually not harmful.
Your baby’s doctor may monitor your baby’s bilirubin level with blood tests. Jaundice is best treated by breastfeeding more frequently or for longer periods of time. It is crucial to have a health care provider help you make sure the baby is latching on and removing milk well. This is usually all that is needed for the infant’s body to rid itself of excess bilirubin.
Some babies will also need phototherapy — treatment with a special light. This light helps break down bilirubin into a form that can be removed from the body easily. If you are having trouble latching your baby to the breast, it is important that you pump or hand express to ensure a good milk supply. The same is true if the baby needs formula for a short time — pumping or hand expressing will make sure the baby has enough milk when you return to breastfeeding.
It is important to keep in mind that breastfeeding is best for your baby. Even if your baby experiences jaundice, this is not something that you caused. Your health care providers can help you make sure that your baby is eating well and that the jaundice goes away.
See your baby’s doctor if he or she spits up after every feeding and has any of the other symptoms mentioned here. If your baby has GERD, it is important to continue breastfeeding. Breast milk is more easily digested than infant formula.
Some babies have a condition called gastroesophageal (GASS-troh-uh-SOF-uh-JEE-uhl) reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when the muscle at the opening of the stomach opens at the wrong times. This allows milk and food to come back up into the esophagus, the tube in the throat. Some symptoms of GERD can include:
- Severe spitting up, or spitting up after every feeding or hours after eating
- Projectile vomiting, where the milk shoots out of the mouth
- Inconsolable crying as if in discomfort
- Arching of the back as if in severe pain
- Refusal to eat or pulling away from the breast during feeding
- Waking up often at night
- Slow weight gain
- Gagging or choking, or problems swallowing
Many healthy babies might have some of these symptoms and not have GERD. But there are babies who might only have a few of these symptoms and have a severe case of GERD. Not all babies with GERD spit up or vomit. More severe cases of GERD may need to be treated with medication if the baby refuses to nurse, gains weight poorly or is losing weight, or has periods of gagging or choking.
Cleft palate and cleft lip
If your baby is born with a cleft palate or cleft lip, talk with a lactation consultant in the hospital. Breast milk is still best for your baby’s health.
Cleft palate and cleft lip are some of the most common birth defects that happen as a baby is developing in the womb. A cleft, or opening, in either the palate or lip can happen together or separately and both can be corrected through surgery. Both conditions can prevent babies from forming a good seal around the nipple and areola with his or her mouth, or effectively remove milk from the breast. A mother can try different breastfeeding positions and use her thumb or breast to help fill in the opening left by the lip to form a seal around the breast.
Right after birth, a mother whose baby has a cleft palate can try to breastfeed her baby. She can also start expressing her milk right away to keep up her supply. Even if her baby can’t latch on well to her breast, the baby can be fed breast milk by cup. In some hospitals, babies with cleft palate are fitted with a mouthpiece called an obturator that fits into the cleft and seals it for easier feeding. The baby should be able to exclusively breastfeed after his or her surgery.
If you leave the hospital before your baby, you can express milk for the hospital staff to give the baby by feeding tube.
Premature birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks gestation. Prematurity often will mean that the baby is born at a low birth weight, defined as less than five and a half pounds. Low birth weight can also be caused by malnourishment in the mother. Arriving early or being small can make for a tough adjustment, especially if the baby has to stay in the hospital for extra care. But keep in mind that breast milk has been shown to help premature babies grow and ward off illness.
Most babies who are low birth weight but born after 37 weeks (full term) can begin breastfeeding right away. They will need more skin-to-skin contact with mom and dad to help keep them warm. These smaller babies may also need more frequent feedings, and they may get sleepier during those feedings.
Many babies born prematurely are often not able to breastfeed at first, but they do benefit from expressed milk. You can express colostrum by hand or pump as soon as you can in the hospital. You can talk to the hospital staff about renting a hospital grade electric pump. Call your insurance company or local WIC Office to find out if you can get reimbursed for this type of pump. You will need to express milk as often as you would have breastfed, so around 8 times per a 24-hour period.
Once your baby is ready to breastfeed directly, skin-to-skin contact can be very calming and a great start to your first feeding. Be sure to work with a lactation consultant on proper latch and positioning. Many mothers of premature babies find the cross cradle hold helpful. (See the Breastfeeding holds section for an illustration.) It may take some time for you and the baby to get into a good routine.
Twins or multiples
Many twin and multiple babies are smaller or born premature. Please see the Premature and/or low birth weight section for other tips for caring for these babies. Also, talk with a lactation consultant about more ways you can successfully breastfeed.
Many breastfeeding basics are the same for twins or multiples as they are for one baby. Learn more about these important topics:
The benefits of human milk to mothers of multiples and their babies are the same as for all mothers and babies — possibly greater, since many multiples are born early. But the idea may seem overwhelming! Yet many of these moms find breastfeeding easier than other feeding methods because there is nothing to prepare. Many mothers have overcome challenges to successfully breastfeed twins and more even after going back to work.
It will help to learn as much as you can about breastfeeding during your pregnancy. You can:
- Take a breastfeeding class.
- Find Internet and print resources for parents of multiples.
- Join a support group for parents of multiples through your health care provider, hospital, local breastfeeding center, or La Leche League International.
- Let your health care provider and family members know that you plan to breastfeed.
- Keep in mind that even if your babies need to spend time in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), breastfeeding is still possible, with some adjustments.
- Find a lactation consultant with multiples experience before the babies are born so that you know where to turn for help. Ask her where you can rent a breast pump if the babies are born early.
Making enough milk
Most mothers are able to make plenty of milk for twins. Many mothers fully breastfeed or provide milk for triplets or quadruplets. Keep these tips in mind:
- Breastfeeding soon after birth and often is helpful for multiples the same way it is for one baby. The more milk that is effectively removed, the more milk a mother’s body will make.
- If the babies are born early, double pumping often will help the mother make more milk.
- The doctor’s weight checks can tell you if your babies are getting enough breast milk. For other signs that your babies are getting enough breast milk, see the How to know your baby is getting enough milk section.
- It helps to have each baby feed from both breasts. You can “assign” a breast to each baby for a feeding and switch at the next feeding. Or, you can assign a breast to each baby for a day and switch the next day. Switching breasts helps keep milk production up if one baby isn’t eating as well for a bit. It also gives babies a different view to stimulate their eyes.
Breastfeeding twins and more may take practice, but you and your babies can find your ideal positions and routine. Keep trying different positions until you find ones that work for you. For some mothers and babies, breastfeeding twins at the same time works well. Others find individual feedings to work better. Still others find that it depends on the time — you may feed one baby at a time at night and feed two babies at the same time during the day. Lastly, as your babies grow, you may find that you need to change your feeding routine.
Below are some positions that may work for you:
- Double clutch (“football”) — Place both babies in the clutch hold. You will need pillows at your side (and maybe one on your lap) and you will place the babies on the pillows with their legs going toward the back of the chair or couch. If you are placing the babies in front of you, try to keep their whole bodies turned toward you, their chests against your chest. Their bodies must not be facing up. This is very important to help prevent nipple pain and to make sure that the babies are getting enough milk.
- Cradle-clutch combination — Place one baby (usually the easiest to latch or stay latched) in the cradle position and then position the second baby in the clutch position.
- Double cradle — Place the babies in front of you with their legs overlapping, making an X across your lap.
Even though full, direct breastfeeding is ideal, many mothers of multiples feed their babies breast milk or some formula by bottles at times. It is important to work with your doctor, your baby’s doctor, and a lactation consultant to figure out what works best for your family.
Breastfeeding during pregnancy
Breastfeeding during your next pregnancy is not a risk to either the breastfeeding toddler or to the new developing baby. If you are having some problems in your pregnancy such as uterine pain or bleeding, a history of preterm labor or problems gaining weight during pregnancy, your doctor may advise you to wean. Some women also choose to wean at this time because they have nipple soreness caused by pregnancy hormones, are nauseous, or find that their growing bellies make breastfeeding uncomfortable. Your toddler also may decide to wean on his own because of changes in the amount and flavor of your milk. He or she will need additional food and drink because you will likely make less milk during pregnancy.
If you keep nursing your toddler after your baby is born, you can feed your newborn first to ensure he or she gets the colostrum. Once your milk production increases a few days after birth you can decide how to best meet everyone’s needs, especially the new baby’s needs for you and your milk. You may want to ask your partner to help you by taking care of one child while you are breastfeeding. Also, you will have a need for more fluids, healthy foods, and rest because you are taking care of yourself and two small children.
How much milk you can produce depends on how your surgery was done and where your incisions are, and the reasons for your surgery. Women who have had incisions in the fold under the breasts are less likely to have problems making milk than women who have had incisions around or across the areola, which can cut into milk ducts and nerves. Women who have had breast implants usually breastfeed successfully. If you ever had surgery on your breasts for any reason, talk with a lactation consultant. If you are planning breast surgery, talk with your surgeon about ways he or she can preserve as much of the breast tissue and milk ducts as possible.
Adoption and inducing lactation
Many mothers who adopt want to breastfeed their babies and can do it successfully with some help. Many will need to supplement their breast milk with donated breast milk from a milk bank or infant formula, but some adoptive mothers can breastfeed exclusively, especially if they have been pregnant before. Lactation is a hormonal response to a physical action, and so the stimulation of the baby nursing causes the body to see a need for and produce milk. The more the baby nurses, the more a woman’s body will produce milk.
If you are adopting and want to breastfeed, talk with both your doctor and a lactation consultant. They can help you decide the best way to try to establish a milk supply for your new baby. You might be able to prepare by pumping every three hours around the clock for two to three weeks before your baby arrives, or you can wait until the baby arrives and start to breastfeed then. Devices such as a supplemental nursing system (SNS) or a lactation aid can help ensure that your baby gets enough nutrition and that your breasts are stimulated to produce milk at the same time.
Using milk from donor banks
If you can’t breastfeed and still want to give your baby human milk, the best and only safe place to go is to a human milk bank. You should never feed your baby breast milk that you get directly from another woman or through the Internet. A human milk bank can dispense donor human milk to you if you have a prescription from your doctor. Many steps are taken to ensure the milk is safe. Donor human milk provides the same precious nutrition and disease fighting properties as your own breast milk.
If your baby was born premature or has other health problems, he or she may need donated milk not only for health, but also for survival. Your baby may also need donated milk if she or he:
- Can’t tolerate formula
- Has severe allergies
- Isn’t thriving on formula
You can find a human milk bank through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). HMBANA is a multidisciplinary group of health care providers that promotes, protects, and supports donor milk banking. HMBANA is the only professional membership association for milk banks in Canada, Mexico and the United States and as such sets the standards and guidelines for donor milk banking for those areas. You can also contact HMBANA if you would like to donate breast milk.
To find out if your insurance will cover the cost of the milk, call your insurance company or ask your doctor. If your insurance company does not cover the cost of the milk, talk with the milk bank to find out how payment can be made later on, or how to get help with the payments. A milk bank will never deny donor milk to a baby in need if they have the supply.
Read more from womenshealth.gov
Your Guide to Breastfeeding — This easy-to-read publication provides women the how-to information and support needed to breastfeed successfully. It explains why breastfeeding is best for baby, mom, and society and how loved ones can support a mother's decision to breastfeed. Expert tips and illustrations help new moms learn how to breastfeed comfortably and how to overcome common challenges.
Explore other publications and websites
Breastfeeding a Cleft Lip-Palate Baby (Copyright © SMILES) — This fact sheet provides helpful information on the possible uncertainties associated with breastfeeding and caring for a child with a cleft lip, palate, or both a cleft lip and palate.
Breastfeeding after a Natural Disaster (Copyright © Organization of Teratology Information Services) — This fact sheet answers questions about what a mother could be exposed to during a natural disaster that might be passed to her baby in breast milk. It explains how to keep your breast milk as safe as possible and what to do if you have to use formula.
Breastfeeding and Returning to Work (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) — Going back to work and keeping up with breastfeeding can be a challenge for many new mothers. This publication answers some commonly asked questions about how to transition back to work after having a child and still maintain a breastfeeding schedule.
Breastfeeding During Pregnancy (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication has information on the benefits and risks of continuing to breastfeed if you become pregnant. It also outlines what to expect with regards to your milk supply and changes that may occur to your body during pregnancy.
C-Section: A Safe Birthing Option (Copyright © Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) — One in four U.S. women deliver their babies via Caesarean birth, commonly called C-section. This fact sheet provides information on how the procedure is performed, risks associated with C-section, and recovery after the surgery.
Can I Breastfeed My Adopted Baby? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication discusses options for breastfeeding adopted babies. It explains induced lactation and links to articles from mothers who have breastfed their adopted children.
Colic (Copyright © Yale New Haven Childrens Hospital) — This publication provides information on how to take care of your colicky baby and includes tips to help take care of yourself and when to call your doctor.
Extended Breastfeeding and the Law (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication discusses the evidence in favor of extended breastfeeding and how mothers can cope with reports of abuse or neglect from people who think extended breastfeeding is abnormal or wrong.
FAQ on Breastfeeding Twins (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication provides information on breastfeeding twins. It includes positioning techniques, feeding plans, and ways to care for oneself.
FAQ: How Do I Prevent Sore Nipples? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication provides information on what you can do to help heal or prevent sore nipples after breastfeeding. It gives suggestions on how to properly position the baby at the breast in easy-to-follow steps.
Herbs at a Glance: Fenugreek — This fact sheet provides basic information about the herb fenugreek—common names, uses, potential side effects, and how it can be used to stimulate milk production if you are breastfeeding.
How Can I Deal with My Leaking Breasts (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication discusses nursing pads, patterned clothing, and frequent breastfeeding as ways to deal with leaking breasts.
If Breastfeeding Is So Natural, Why Doesn't It Seem to Come Naturally? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication encourages mothers not to give up on breastfeeding when they face challenges.
Is Thrush Causing My Sore Nipples? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication defines thrush and discusses what causes it and how to relieve it.
LactMed: Drugs and Lactation Database — The Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) is a peer-reviewed and fully referenced database of drugs to which breastfeeding mothers may be exposed. Among the data included are maternal and infant levels of drugs, possible effects on breastfed infants and on lactation, and alternate drugs to consider.
My Breast Hurts. What Can I Do? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This fact sheet explains the causes and treatments for sore breasts.
Overcoming Breastfeeding Problems — This publication provides information on common breastfeeding problems, including nipple soreness, engorgement, let-down reflex problems, inadequate milk supply, plugged milk ducts, breast infection, and thrush.
Travel and Breastfeeding — This fact sheet provides general information about travel for women who are breastfeeding.
What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding my Toddler? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication describes how breastfeeding your toddler can help his or her ability to mature and understand discipline, as well as provide protection from illness and allergies.
Will the Breast Surgery I had in the Past Prevent Me From Being Able to Breastfeed My Baby? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication explains some of the complications that a mother who has had breast surgery may experience. It also provides a list of signs that the baby is not getting enough milk.
Would Weaning Make My Life Easier? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication encourages mothers to look at the reasons why they feel weaning will be easier than continuing to breastfeed. It also offers suggestions on dealing with the barriers to breastfeeding that they may be experiencing.
Connect with other organizations
American College of Nurse-Midwives
Breastfeeding After Reduction
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS
Human Milk Banking Association of North America
International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA)
La Leche League International
Maternal and Child Health Bureau, HRSA, HHS
National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, (WIC) USDA
Womenshealth.gov, OWH, HHS
World Alliance For Breastfeeding Action
Zachary Williamson Memorial Foundation
Content last updated August 1, 2010.
Resources last updated August 1, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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