8 Facts About Breastfeeding

Mother breastfeeding her baby

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Many people characterize breastfeeding as a beautiful and seamless bonding experience between a nursing parent and their baby. While this is certainly the case for many parents, there's no denying that breastfeeding can come with certain challenges.

While there are various modern developments available to help make breastfeeding easier, it's important to be able to discern which advice is appropriate. Especially if you are struggling with breastfeeding, it can help to know these important details.

Breastfeeding Shouldn't Hurt

It's certainly common for breastfeeding to be painful for new parents—at least at first—but you don't have to just deal with it.

Most of the time, breastfeeding pain can be prevented or resolved. Remedies include ice packs, ointments such as lanolin, over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), or breathing and relaxation techniques.

As you treat the pain, you want to also determine the cause of it. A lactation consultant is a great resource to help you determine if your baby may have a poor latch and show you how to correct it.

Low Milk Supply Can Happen

While many lactating parents are able to produce a healthy milk supply (or excess supply, in some cases) for their babies, a small percentage experience a true low supply. Common, reversible causes include a poor latch, not breastfeeding often enough, or a baby that isn't breastfeeding long enough at each feeding.

Low breast milk supply can also be the result of an underlying medical issue, previous surgery, or even medication, so it's always wise to talk to your doctor to determine if you may need to supplement with formula.

There Is No Set Amount of Time to Nurse

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends alternating breasts at each feeding to ensure you're establishing a full milk supply. This will bring comfort for both you and baby, as your baby will be getting enough milk, and you'll feel relief from having enough milk being removed from both breasts.

However, there is no set amount of time you need to have your baby on each breast. It can vary anywhere from five to 20 minutes on each side, depending on several factors, including how hungry your baby is at the moment.

There's also no set length of time to continue breastfeeding. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and then breastfeeding with complementary foods for as long after that as both parent and baby desire. But you can breastfeed for a few months or a few years, depending on your circumstances and preferences.

Formula Is a Safe Alternative

While the AAP considers breast milk the healthiest way to feed a baby, it concurs that infant formula is a safe alternative for babies whose parents can't or choose not to breastfeed. Infant formula is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure it complies with the nutritional requirements in the federal Infant Formula Act.

All formulas sold in the U.S. are required to meet the same nutrient specifications to meet the nutritional needs of infants.

Some Medications Are Safe While Breastfeeding

According to the AAP, most medications and immunizations are safe to take or receive while breastfeeding. Still, it's important to inform your child's pediatrician of all medications you take so they can confirm they won't pose a risk to your baby.

You Can Breastfeed With Mastitis

Mastitis, also referred to as a breast infection, involves painful swelling or inflammation of the breast tissue and is commonly caused by issues such as engorgement, blocked milk ducts, or fatigue. While you may need to take antibiotics to get over the infection, you can continue to breastfeed during this time.

In fact, continuing to breastfeed (or expressing your milk with a breast pump) may help to bring you relief by keeping your breast milk flowing.

You Can Breastfeed in Public

As of 2018, breastfeeding in public is a protected right in all 50 states. Certain public spaces (such as airports) may offer designated nursing rooms, but you are not obligated to use them if it's not convenient.

And if no such option is offered, you're certainly not obligated to pump or breastfeed in the restroom. Additionally, while it may make you feel more comfortable to use a nursing cover, the law doesn't require you to do that either.

Pumping Is Compatible With Breastfeeding

Many new parents pump milk for a variety of reasons, from having to return to work, wanting to split nighttime feedings with a partner, or even if they simply have a baby who won't latch properly.

Pumping is a perfectly healthy way to continue to maintain your supply and ensure your baby is eating enough. Many parents feed their baby at the breast some of the time and pump some of the time without issues.

A Word From Verywell

While many parents dream of being able to breastfeed their infants, it's not always smooth sailing. It's good to make sure you're educated on all the options available to you and to feel comfortable bringing up potential issues with your provider to help you find a solution. Remember: A happy and healthy baby also needs a happy and healthy parent.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S Department of Agriculture. WIC Breastfeeding Support. Low milk supply.

  2. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-41. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3552

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP advises most medications are safe for breastfeeding mothers.

  4. Pustotina O. Management of mastitis and breast engorgement in breastfeeding women. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2016;29(19):3121-5. doi:10.3109/14767058.2015.1114092

  5. National Conference of State Legislatures. Breastfeeding state laws.

Additional Reading

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.