6 Questions to Ask Your Midwife or Healthcare Professional to Avoid Common Breastfeeding Problems

A lot of new mums are interested in doing everything they can to enhance their breastfeeding experience and make sure they’re doing everything “correctly” in order to avoid any major problems.

They are often met with confusing advice and find themselves hearing a lot of well-intentioned but incorrect breastfeeding myths from friends and family. That’s why it’s so important for new mums to talk with their healthcare professionals (midwives, maternal child health nurses, GP's, lactation consultants) about their concerns and questions...

One of the best ways to avoid breastfeeding problems is to be open and to communicate early and often about things on your mind. The sooner you can clarify your thoughts and get your concerns out into the open, the easier things will be to manage.

It is important that you find a healthcare professional to work with who you feel comfortable with and whose advice is aligned with your values. If you do not agree with the recommendation they give you, you should feel free to talk to someone else.

Fortunately, there is plenty of good information and helpful resources for breastfeeding support in Australia. You don’t have to feel alone. There are plenty of breastfeeding experts and organisations like Australian Breastfeeding Association who can help you answer your questions and avoid (or anticipate) breastfeeding problems.

One of the best ways to get better prepared is to ask questions when talking to your midwife, doctor or other healthcare professional. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that is on your mind.

Even if you are afraid that you have a “silly question” – there’s no such thing as a silly question when you’re trying to get better informed about breastfeeding as a new mum.

You also might want to make a list of questions to bring to your next healthcare appointment. This is all new to you, and you are not expected to know everything! Start with this list of 6 common questions about breastfeeding that every mum has:

How Will I Know if My Baby is Getting Enough Milk?

The healthcare professional might answer that the best way to tell if your baby is getting enough milk is by paying attention to how your baby is acting, and how your body feels.

If your breasts feel softer after feeding, if your baby seems relaxed and satisfied after a feeding, all is well. Then, if your baby wets five or six disposable nappies or six to eight cloth nappies a day, hard work as that might be, you are both doing great!

Most importantly, if your baby's growth is on track, she is getting enough milk. For the most part, babies tend to get “enough” milk from breastfeeding, even if their mums don’t “feel” like it. The best indicator is really whether or not your baby is gaining weight, and thriving.

Some mothers wonder if their baby is getting enough milk because their breasts never feel “full” – but it’s best to judge by the overall health of your baby. Even if your breasts don’t feel “full,” your baby is probably getting everything they need.

Be sure to check back regularly with your maternal child health nurse visits and keep getting your baby weighed during the first weeks and months after birth to make sure the baby is on track for normal weight gain.

What Can I Do to Avoid Sore Nipples?

Yes, your nipples might get sore at first, particularly in the first 3-7 days. This is totally normal. However, if your nipples are so painful that it’s becoming difficult to continue breastfeeding, or you are noticing trauma to the nipple area, this is a sign to get some expert advice with breastfeeding.

The first thing to do is to check your baby’s latch, making sure the baby is attaching correctly to the nipple. A lactation consultant can help you with this. Many mums and babies need a bit of extra guidance to learn how to position themselves for best success with latching on to the nipple. It is a good idea to find out if there is a local breastfeeding clinic run by the council in your area.

A lactation consultant can help you to feel more confident with breastfeeding and can check to see if there are any other reasons for sore or damaged nipples and recommend the best help for you.

How Often Should I Breastfeed My Baby and for How Long?

Most health professionals will tell you that in breastfeeding, there is no “normal.” There is a wide range of breastfeeding behaviours depending on the baby. Some babies feed for short intervals many times per day, while other babies breastfeed for longer durations only a few times per day.

Babies’ breastfeeding needs will also change as the child gets older – most babies will gradually start to feed less frequently (and more efficiently) than they did when they were first born.

As discussed in this article there is no such thing as “too often” or “too long” if breastfeeding is comfortable for you and your baby. Studies have found that different infants breastfeed between 4 and 13 times per day, with a duration ranging from 12 to 67 minutes per feeding session.

So, instead of worrying about whether or not your baby is “normal,” just go with the flow (pun intended) and use this time to bond with your baby and learn from each other along the way.

Should I Supplement Breastmilk with Formula Milk?

If your baby is breastfeeding well, there is no need to supplement with formula milk. The reason is breastmilk is an amazing substance that delivers all of the nourishment and immune protection that the baby needs. Breastfed babies do not need additional supplies of fluoride or iron; breastmilk delivers just the right amount of iron to meet a newborn baby’s needs.

The Australian government recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed from birth to six months, since breastmilk provides everything that a baby needs for nutrition and growth.

After six months, your doctor may recommend a vitamin or iron supplement – and when you start to slowly introduce complementary foods baby will have access to meat and vegetables as well as many infant cereals and other “first foods” containing these types of vitamins and nutrients.

Are There Any Specific Foods and Beverages that I Should Avoid?

The simple answer to this question is no. The longer answer is to eat a balanced diet, and not be afraid to enjoy a wide range of spices and flavours. This will be a relief if during pregnancy you had to avoid a lot of foods that were not safe for pregnant women, or you no longer felt hungry for certain tastes.

Now is the time to resume eating the foods that you love. In fact, eating a wide range of foods, spices and seasonings will pass the flavours on to your baby through the breastmilk – and this might help your baby to become a more adventurous eater in the future. Also make sure to stay well hydrated by drinking to your thirst, around six to eight glasses of water per day.

Can I Drink Tea and Coffee with Caffeine?

The Australian government recommends that breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women, and women who may become pregnant limit their caffeine intake to 300 mg per day (or less).

Depending on the type of coffee or tea that you drink, this amount of caffeine is equal to 2 or 3 cups of coffee per day, or 6 to 10 cups of tea (different varieties of tea have different amounts of caffeine).

Read this article from the Australian Breastfeeding Association for full details and portion sizes.

However, even though caffeine is generally safe to drink, it’s still important to keep in mind that babies under the age of 6 months have difficulty with metabolizing caffeine. Drinking too much caffeine while breastfeeding can make your baby irritable or disturb their sleep. Also, check with your doctor to see if you are taking any medications that contain caffeine.

Even if you are having trouble adjusting to life as a breastfeeding mum, or if you have worries or concerns about what breastfeeding will mean for you and your baby, it’s important to remember that most breastfeeding problems can be avoided or corrected.

You are not alone – there is plenty of help out there, from lactation consultants, Australian Breastfeeding Association, other mums, our MyMedela app and of course, your own healthcare professionals who are there to answer your questions. So please ask questions early and often. Get the help that you and your baby both deserve!

What are your thoughts? What other questions do you have about breastfeeding? Please share in the comments below, or join in the conversation on the Medela Australia Facebook page.