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Breastfeeding advice

Newborn baby breastfeedingA comprehensive round-up of Mumsnet's best breastfeeding advice.

Unless you've been living on another planet during your pregnancy, you really can't have failed to notice that 'breast is best'. As all those posters and leaflets on breastfeeding advice will tell you, breastmilk is the most nutritionally superior food you can give your baby. Breastfeeding has a positive effect on your baby's health (and your own) that cannot be duplicated by formula milk, which is why both the NHS and World Health Organisation recommend you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months.

This is not to say that formula milk is rubbish. Formula is a perfectly adequate substitute for breastmilk but, let's be uncomfortably honest for a bit, it's not an equally good alternative. Breastmilk is what nature intended your baby to have – and what nature equipped you with breasts to dispense. 

"For humans, baby human milk is clearly is the normal food they should be receiving. Breastmilk is still the only milk that will be individually designed to your own child's needs." FairLadyRantALot

"I think we need to be absolutely honest with mothers and not patronise them by sugar-coating the facts. Just because formula-feeding is more common, it doesn't mean it's normal. Breastfeeding is, biologically, the default position." princessglitter


Mind you, just because breastfeeding is natural, it doesn't mean that doing it comes naturally. For every mother who's lactating like a fountain and loving it, there's another who's wincing at the prospect of a small mouth clamping down on her nipple yet again. And, frankly, there's no telling which type of mother you're going to turn out to be.

So, if the facts have persuaded you to give breastfeeding a go, take a look at Mumsnet's breastfeeding advice and gen up on the realities – good, bad and potentially wince-making – first.

The facts | Five things to know before you start | The best beginner's tips | Latching onGetting over initial problems | Engorgement | Constant feeding | Growth spurts | Weight gain | Milk supply | Dealing with negative comments | Coping with medical and physical problems | Cracked nipples | Blocked duct | Mastitis | Thrush | Breastfeeding helplines | How to do it in public | Breastfeeding and going back to work | Expressing breastmilk | Extended breastfeeding | Weaning from the breast | A word about self-weaning and nursing strikes | Mixed feeding | Bottlefeeding

  Breastfeeding advice before you start

Seven out of ten British mums breastfeed when their baby's born but, six weeks later, half of them have given up. Why? There are loads of different reasons but, underlying them all, pretty much, is one really basic problem: it just wasn't what women were expecting.

"I do think many women expect breastfeeding to be easy from day one, and forget that it's something mum and baby need to learn together." Shazronnie

Before you even try on your nursing bra, then, it's wise to make you sure you've got your expectations properly adjusted. To help you do this, we've asked Hunkermunker, one of Mumsnet's most respected breastfeeding advocates (visit her own website) to tell us the five most important pieces of breastfeeding advice:

1. It takes a bit of getting used to. "It can come as quite a shock to discover that, once the birth's over, you have to learn a new skill - with a pupil who is minutes old and doesn't appear to have read the 'how to suckle' manual."

2. It's always worth giving it a try. "Even if you're not really sure you want to do it for long – or at all. It's far easier, physically, to switch from breastfeeding to formula-feeding than the other way round - and, if you don't try it, you'll never know if it was going to be straightforward for you. Even if you're pretty sure breastfeeding's not for you, consider giving the first feed (or first few feeds) because your milk (or colostrum, as it's called at this stage) will be jam-packed with antibodies and all sorts of goodies that help to stabilise your baby's blood sugars, line her gut and generally ease her introduction to the world."

3. It pays to do your homework. "Many hospitals have policies that actively support breastfeeding mothers but the shift changes and inclinations of individual midwives may mean your own breastfeeding support is not as effective as it could be. Far better that you've spent a little time thinking and learning about it beforehand; you'll feel more empowered and capable (and if there's anything you need to feel just after you've had a baby it's empowered and capable). The NCT runs breastfeeding classes, so perhaps attend one of those before the birth. And make a note of the helpline numbers of the various breastfeeding charities. Find out, too, if there are breastfeeding drop-in clinics or baby groups near you and on which days they run."

4. It's good to talk. "Ask other women you know about their experiences of breastfeeding. It'll help you to get a picture of what it's like. But don't imagine you'll have a carbon copy of your mum/sister/auntie/grandma/best friend's experience. Remember, your baby's never been born before and you've never breastfed before. Your breastfeeding relationship with your baby is unique and you will work it out between you, learning as you go."

5. It gets easier. "Breastfeeding can be hard, especially in the early weeks when you're recovering from the birth and have the pretty relentless task of building your supply by feeding regularly. But it's ok and perfectly normal for it to be hard, as long as you can access decent support to make it easier for you. Many women would say that if you can manage the first six weeks of breastfeeding, the following weeks/months/years are a comparative doddle.

"My midwife said I should allow six weeks to get breastfeeding right, which sounded like a shocking amount of time. Then she said 'What's six weeks out of your life?' And I thought 'Yes, it's not long really.' That thought has stayed with me – and helped." NoBiggy 

Breastfeeding advice for beginners

With breastfeeding, as with most things in life, getting off to a good start is half the battle. To make your first nipper-to-nipple encounters go as smoothly as possible...

  • Get cuddling. As soon after the birth as you can. Lots of lovely skin-to-skin contact is one of the most effective ways to establish breastfeeding.

"The more you keep a brand new baby skin-to-skin, the more frequently she's likely to come to the breast, hence the quicker your milk will come in." MrsBadger

  • Get comfy. Breastfeeding a newborn can take up to an hour (don't panic: they get quicker as they get older). So, you're going to need somewhere comfortable to sit.

"Set up 'feeding stations' in your house with snacks, drinks, TV remote, phone, pillows – and Mumsnet." StarlightMcKenzie

  • Get the 'latch' sorted. This is important: if you don't get your baby 'plugged in' right, she could end up not getting the nourishment she needs and you could end up with nipples that hurt or crack. There's a bit of a knack to it (and, like all knacks, it's easy when you know how and hugely frustrating when you don't) but, with a good latch, your baby will have more than just your nipple in her mouth, her lip will be curled back and you will be able to see her jaw moving as she sucks.

"This is what worked for me. Say you are going to offer the left side. Hold your baby along your right arm, with his head in the palm of your hand. Hold your left breast with your left hand as if you were holding a burger (if you know what I mean!) and move baby to burger." popsycal

"Hold your baby in close, so you couldn't even get a piece of paper between you. Then wait for a very open mouth and just pull her in closer. " Suebfc

"I also shaped my breast with finger and thumb before putting it in his mouth (not forcefully) to be sure he had enough of the nipple in." oregorenianabroad

So much for the theory. In practice, it may take you – and your baby – several tries to get this right. It may help you to look at pictures (find good ones at www.kellymom.com) and/or to ask a breastfeeding counsellor to check your latch for you.

"You can also try doing the 'breast crawl'. Lie in bed with no top on and put your baby, in just a nappy, face down on your tummy and let him find his own way onto the breast. Sometimes, they get a better latch by themselves than they do with us helping." MrsBadger

"If your baby's not on right, unlatch him them using your finger in her mouth to break the seal. I worried if I did this too often, she would lose interest and give up but she never did. So, my advice is do it as many times as you need till it feels right. Don't rush; save your nipples!" Rumple

  • Get position savvy. There are loads of different positions you can use to feed your baby, from the traditional arm cradle to the 'rugby hold' to simply lying down (and many more besides). It's worth trying a few out (your midwife should be able to show you how) to see which feel most comfortable.

"It may be that one of these positions works best for you when your baby's born, then a different one works better as time goes on and your baby gets bigger." Hunkermunker

  • Get help. And keep asking for it until you're happy. Your midwife, health visitor and/or breastfeeding counsellor should be able to offer you support and advice but, if you feel you need other expert help or even just some more reassurance, there are five excellent helplines you can call.

"In the first week, I had support from my midwife and an NHS breastfeeding counsellor and I still rang the La Leche League helpline countless times as I was quite unsure but desperate to get it right. I found it all really useful - especially the helplines as the women who answer the phone are real mums who have breastfed and have trained as counsellors and supporters." GillianLovesMarmite

  • Get real. Breastfeeding a newborn is a full-on occupation...

"If you think you're feeding too often, you probably have it about right." Pannacotta

For the first few weeks at least, you will probably be more or less sofa-bound, feeling like an overworked milch cow. It won't always be like this but, for now...

"You need to get your head round the idea that your job is to feed your baby and everything else is someone else's responsibility. The first few days especially, just feed, feed, feed. And, if in doubt, feed." IAteRosemaryConleyForBreakfast

If that all sounds like too much, then...

"Set yourself small goals. Say, 'I will try to feed my baby for two days'. Then, when you complete that time, give yourself a pat on the back and set yourself a new goal." chatee

Getting over initial problems


Once you've figured out the basic baby-to-breast connection thing, you may find breastfeeding a breeze. Or you may not. Or you may start off finding it a breeze, only for something new and unexpected to suddenly blow you off course. If you're feeling a little breeze-deprived, check out these solutions for the most common just-got-started-breastfeeding problems.

  • 'My breasts are huge and hard.' This is your milk 'coming in' (up till now, your baby's been drinking an antibody-packed 'pre-milk' called colostrum) and it tends to happen two to five days after the birth. Some women don't really notice it but others suddenly find themselves sporting bosoms of quite gargantuan proportions:

"Three days after giving birth, my norks swelled up – from melons to watermelons – rock hard and leaky." motherinferior

This engorgement (the technical term for watermelon-sporting) should only last a day or two but you may find things a rather hot and tender in the meanwhile. If so:

"Cabbage leaves! Put the cabbage in the fridge to cool, then peel off a leaf and put it around your breast, inside your bra. Works wonders." juuule

"Good sucking from your babe will help you out. Engorgement is miserable but it should pass really quickly." haditfortheday

And, if your breasts are now so pornstar-implant-rigid that your baby has trouble latching on:

"Just use your hand to express off a little milk first or put a warm flannel on your breast before a feed to soften things up a little. If all else fails, try feeding in the bath." Porpoise

  • 'It hurts'. Urban (and, sometimes, sadly, midwife) myth has it that 'if it hurts, you're definitely doing it wrong'. Which can be very dispiriting. So let's get some facts straight. It's certainly true that in the majority of cases pain while you're breastfeeding is the result of an incorrect latch...

"After five weeks of hideously painful feeding, it was the teeniest change to my latch that made all the difference. Every health visitor, breastfeeding counsellor, midwife, Tom, Dick and Harry I saw told me my latch was fine and, then, just as I was despairing, one midwife spotted something amiss and helped me to fix it. Keep on asking for help until you can feed pain-free!" BroccoliSpears

But, even if your latch is perfect, it's perfectly possible for feeding time to have serious 'ouch' factor. Some women do seem to have nipples that need a bit of 'running-in'...

Breastfeeding helplines
  • National Breastfeeding Helpline
    0300 100 0212
  • National Childbirth Trust
    0300 330 0771
  • Breastfeeding Network
    0300 100 0210
  • La Leche League
    0845 1202918
  • Association of Breastfeeding Mothers 08444 122949

 "It's like when you go out for a ride on a bike - you're a bit saddle sore but you get used to it." harpsichordcarrier

...and others sometimes get a particularly toe-curling 'letdown' (the moment when the milk gets flowing in response to your baby's suckling)...

"I had very painful letdown with two of my three babies. It just felt like electric shocks on my chest when I was feeding. Not nice. I got through it by taking deep breaths, knowing that it wasn't doing any harm or damage, and, each time, it went away completely when baby was about eight to nine weeks old." fqueenzebra

Occasionally, the pain can be down to genuine problems with your baby (such as tongue tie) or you (cracked nipples, thrush, mastitis). Whatever you suspect the cause of your pain may be, get yourself checked out by someone who knows their breastfeeding onions. Don't, whatever you do, suffer in silence.

"I am a breastfeeding counsellor and what makes me cross is that women are told that pain in normal and they should just put up with it. It isn't normal and they shouldn't just put up with it. We can't always put it right - though with the right skills, we almost always can." tiktok

  • 'It takes too long'. Well, yes it does, but give it a few weeks and your not-so-newborn will be a super-fast milk slurper:

"It all changes so quickly. In a few weeks, you'll be doing a feed in 10 minutes or less." noonki

  • 'I've no kind of routine'. That's because breastfed babies don't really 'do' schedules at first. They digest breastmilk more easily, and therefore more quickly, than formula, so, odds-on, they're going to be ready for their next scoff sooner than their formula-fed mates.

This means, in the early weeks at least, that they're less easy to slot into a strict once-every-whatever-hours timetable.

"Don't clock-watch: routines and breastfeeding are not generally happy bedfellows. Avoid 'micro analysing' feed times and post on Mumsnet if you need support." Pannacotta

Breastfeeding experts will tell you that, to begin with, you should just feed 'on demand'. This doesn't mean attaching your baby to your nipple every time she whimpers (find out more about this in our crying, comforting and colic section). Crying can mean 'I want a sleep/nappy change/cuddle' as well as 'I want milk'); it means feeding your baby whenever she seems hungry.

Good hunger 'signals' include finger-sucking, lip-licking and rooting for an imaginary nipple, as well as crying.

Feeding frequently in the first weeks is normal (don't let anyone tell you otherwise) and helps you to build up a good milk supply. Routines and schedules can work very well with breastfed babies but only after both you and your baby have properly got into the breastfeeding swing.

"If regular feeding is important to you, then a sort of flexible scheduled feeding can work with a baby who is gaining weight and is happy, but I don't think it's a good idea to start off this way. Just ask any breastfeeding counsellor who takes calls from distressed and confused (and sometimes short of milk) mothers who've been trying to follow the routines in a book." tiktok

  • 'I haven't got enough milk.' Is your baby gaining weight and producing several wet and dirty nappies a day? Are you feeding on demand? Then you've probably got enough milk. Breastmilk operates on a kind of demand-and-supply basis – the more your baby wants (and asks for by suckling more), the more you make (see 'She's suddenly feeding all the time').

Unless you're mixed feeding (replacing some breastfeeds with formula feeds) it's pretty unusual not to have enough milk for your baby (although if you're worried, do get expert advice).

"It's perfectly normal to think that you don't have enough milk, especially in the evening. Chances are you have plenty and the best way to make more is to feed more." Can'tSleepWon'tSleep

"Have confidence in your own body. If it's clever enough to make a baby, it's more than clever enough to make milk which is very simple in comparison." belgo

  • 'She's suddenly feeding all the time'. Welcome to the full-on feeding frenzy that is the growth spurt. Your baby's appetite doesn't grow steadily but in little jumps. So, one day, she'll be all calm and settled; the next, she'll be ravenous for loads more milk than normal.

It's this sudden ravenousness that makes many mums think they've 'run out' of milk when, in fact, all their babies are doing by suckling more is stimulating their breasts to produce more milk.

"It's like putting a note out for the milkman, saying 'Extra pint tomorrow please!'" jamila169

Growth spurts tend to last a few days, then settle own (only to kick off again in a few weeks' time). They can happen at any time but (anecdotally) seem to be most common at three weeks, six weeks and three months. How do you cope? Keep your nerve, bag yourself a comfy place on the sofa and stick with it.

"Just keep feeding on demand. Don't be tempted to introduce formula because it'll only mean your breasts produce less milk. Growth spurts are tiring but they don't last long." MarsLady

  • 'She's crying and pulling off'. More than likely your milk's coming out too fast for her. You'd probably be squirming and crying if milk was rushing into your mouth faster than you could swallow it. Help your baby out by...

"Lying down – your milk comes out more slowly this way." Spidermama

"Letting her latch on then, as soon as the milk comes, pulling her off for about ten seconds, letting the 'fast' milk flow into a cloth/towel. Then let her latch back on when it slows down a bit." Clayhead

"Applying gentle pressure to your areola (the dark area around your nipple) to help stem the flow. And repositioning her so she sits up a bit more as you feed her." Thomcat

  • 'She's not gaining enough weight.' Breastfed babies are, generally speaking, leaner than formula-fed ones and tend to grow more slowly. Make sure whoever's weighing your baby is consulting the new height/weight charts that take this into account.

If they are, and they're starting to express concern at your baby's lack of weight gain, you need to consider carefully what to do next.

At this point, many health professionals recommend either switching to formula (often simply to keep track of your baby's intake) or at least 'topping up' with the odd formula feed. A breastfeeding expert would probably advise that, assuming that your latch is right and there are no other medical problems that could hamper the breastfeeding process, you should be wary of introducing formula because it can reduce your milk supply and so hasten the end of breastfeeding altogether.

"Formula is hardly ever medically necessary - although it can be a lifeline to a distraught mother and baby." tiktok

Obviously, what you decide to do is up to you and depends very much on your baby's particular circumstances and your own level of desperation. If you decide to keep plugging on with breastfeeding, you need to get plenty of expert support and do your utmost to make sure your baby has as much opportunity to feed as possible.

"Take your baby to bed and get loads and loads of skin-to-skin contact over the next two days in order to stimulate her to feed and to stimulate your milk supply." gabygirl

  • 'I'm ill.' You can breastfeed through most common illnesses, including colds, sore throats and stomach bugs. In fact, doing so will help protect your baby from going down with the same lurgy as you.

"You will pass on antibodies to your baby through your breastmilk, which should prevent her being ill, too." Laura032004

Be careful with medication, though: some medicines do pass into breastmilk, so, before you take any, always check with your GP or pharmacist that they are compatible with breastfeeding.

"I had quite a lot of antibiotics when I was breastfeeding. Nobody suggested that I stop. They did warn me it might cause runny poo in my baby but, frankly, with breastfed babies, who can tell?" beckybrastraps

Dealing with negative comments

They come out of nowhere the nanosecond you start to breastfeed (and sometimes even before that, when you're only just thinking about trying). They are the naysayers, the bearers of doom-laden warnings and the, frankly, not very helpful at all. So, to help you fend them off, here are some (polite) retorts:

1. You're feeding that baby too often. "No, I'm not – I'm building my supply. Breastfeeding works on a demand-and-supply basis. The more my baby feeds, the more milk my body will make."

2. You can't see how much your baby's taking. "As long as my baby's well attached and producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies, she's taking just what she needs. With a bottle the danger is that, precisely because you can see how much she's taking, you might be tempted to cajole her into taking more than she wants. And that could mean you end up with a baby who routinely eats more than she needs."

3. Nobody else can help you with the feeding. "Once I've got breastfeeding established, I can express my milk and share feeding that way. If you'd like to help, there are lots of other things I'd love a hand with, such as [insert as appropriate] cooking/cleaning/taking the baby round the block in the pram, perhaps?"

4. Your breasts will get saggy. "Actually, it's pregnancy that makes women's breasts change size and shape. Because a milk-filled breast is full and round, breastfeeding actually delays the post-natal boob-droop for a bit."

5. You've got small breasts, so you won't make enough milk. "The size of my breasts has absolutely no impact on the amount of milk they can produce." (Unless, of course, you've had breast surgery, in which case you may not be able to breastfeed at all.)

6. Your baby's six months old – it's officially time to stop. "No, you've got that wrong. The official advice is to breastfeed exclusively for six months. After six months, I can introduce my baby to other foods but it's recommended that I still keep breastfeeding for another six months – or more."

7. There's no harm in giving a bottle of formula now and then. "Actually, in the early days, while I'm still establishing my milk supply, regularly skipping a breastfeed to give formula could reduce the amount of milk my breasts produce, which could mean I find breastfeeding much harder work or even have to give it up altogether."

"My experience as a breastfeeding counsellor is that, once formula is introduced to a very young baby, it is quite quickly the kiss of death to breastfeeding." Pupuce

For more on this, see Mixed feeding.

8. Breastfed babies don't sleep through the night; formula-fed babies do. "I know lots of people think this but there's really no evidence to show it's true; in fact, in one of the few studies ever to investigate this, it was the breastfed babies who slept, on average, 30 minutes longer than the formula-fed ones."

"I'm breastfeeding my son who is four and a half months and he wakes every two to three hours through the night. I have been introducing a bottle of formula for the last few evenings to see if it would buy me a few more hours sleep and it hasn't. And, you know, I'm so thankful that I can still just pull him into bed with me, latch him on and go back to sleep. If I was formula-feeding, I'd be up and down the stairs all night and I'm sure it would have killed me by now.' Polaris

Coping with medical and physical problems

Sometimes, despite the best advice and the best intentions, breastfeeding can go painfully wrong – either because something's up with your breasts or because something's up with your baby.

It can happen early on or after months of problem-free feeding. Either way, it's hugely frustrating and dispiriting but, most of the time, with good advice and fair bit of determination, there is a way through it. Here's a rundown of the most common problems – with some tried-and-tested solutions.

If the skin of your nipples becomes broken, feeding your baby can feel like someone's attacking your breasts with broken glass. If this happens to you, you need to work hard at two things: helping the skin to heal and maintaining the supply of milk in the affected breast(s).

To help your nipples heal, you need to stop them drying out (this sounds counterintuitive, but, as tiktok says, "the old method of dry healing is no longer thought to be helpful; moist healing is the way to go"). Do this by (gently) applying a nipple cream or...

..."just rubbing a bit of breastmilk over them and leaving it there till it dries naturally." Botanist

You also need to find out why your nipples are cracking, so that once you're healing you don't have to go it again. The number one cause of cracked nipples is an incorrect latch, so get yours checked (yes, again). If that doesn't seem to be the cause, you should get an expert to check for other potential problems, such as poor positioning, tongue tie or thrush.

To maintain your supply, you need to keep feeding (or at least expressing) from the affected breast (sorry) while it heals. Ways to make this more bearable include:

  • trying a different feeding position
  • offering the other side first (so your baby's less likely to chow down in frantic hunger when she gets to it)
  • applying ice to your nipple just before your baby latches on
  • nipple shields (although many breastfeeding experts do frown at using them for too long)

"I had extremely sore, cracked and bleeding nipples, and nipple shields – the very thin, really flexible silicone ones – were the answer. My midwife recommended them, although she told me I'd get mixed reactions from professionals. I was able to stop using them within about five days because the soreness went completely." Alison222

This fungal infection doesn't just affect your nether regions; you can get it on your nipples or breasts, and your baby can also get it in her mouth, where it typically shows up as white, creamy patches. No one really knows why some women get it and others don't, but it does seem you're more likely to get it if you've been taking antibiotics.

Symptoms may include cracked nipple(s), intense pain while feeding and/or a shooting pain deep within your breast that continues between feeds.

"My nipples went a bit of a funny bright pink colour that really stood out from the colour of the areola, and I got a sort of itchy pain. The skin also peeled a bit." madmouse

Thrush can be very difficult to spot (sometimes, there are no symptoms at all) and even harder to treat:

"There's no real consensus on treating or even diagnosing thrush." tiktok

If you suspect you have it, you should see your GP: once diagnosed, it's essential both you and your baby are treated together (usually with antifungal cream) or you're likely just to keep passing it back and forth between you.

If you develop a tender lump in your breast, it could be a blocked duct. Basically, something has stopped your milk flowing freely in that area.

This can happen if your bra is too tight, if you've been sitting for hours with a seat belt across your breasts, if you've slept awkwardly – or (here we go again) if your baby is not latching on properly. You can sort this out by checking your latch, even if your baby is no longer a newborn and you've been breastfeeding happily for ages.

"Sometimes, with older babies, you don't pay enough attention to how they are fixed. You baby may have adopted a less efficient latch lately that you haven't noticed, especially if her teeth are coming in." mears

And then...

"Place warm flannels on your breast prior to feeds to encourage the milk to flow and ease the pain. Put your baby to the sore breast first and, as she feeds, very gently massage the affected part towards the nipple in small circular motions to assist the milk flow." pupuce

"I found a long, hot bath (as long and hot as you can manage) and lots of massage and expressing underwater really worked." AnybodyHomeMcFly

"Use a wide-toothed comb to literally comb your breast, over the lumpy bit, towards your nipple, whilst standing under a warm shower." HunkerMunker

About one in ten breastfeeding mothers gets mastitis (inflammation of the breast) at some point, usually when a blocked duct hasn't been successfully cleared. Typical symptoms are a sore, red, inflamed area on the breast, a burning pain in the breast and, sometimes, a fever, shivering and achiness.

If you have mastitis, you need to rest and feed your baby as often as possible (frequent feeding prevents engorgement and helps to clears the blockage). Treat the affected breast the same way you would a blocked duct and, if you're finding it very painful, ask your midwife to recommend a suitable painkiller.

Breast abscesses
For a small but unfortunate number of breastfeeding women, mastitis (particularly if it's not promptly spotted and treated) can lead to a breast abscess: a pus-filled hollow just under the skin (caused by bacterial infection), surrounded by hard, inflamed tissue that usually feels like a lump.
If you get an abscess, it will need draining – with a needle, if it's small, or through a small cut, if it's large. And, as ever with these things, the sooner you get the right treatment, the better: Mumsnetters who've had abscesses strongly recommend insisting on a referral to a breast-specialist consultant and, if you want to continue breastfeeding, seeking advice from a breastfeeding-specialist midwife.

If you continue to feel ill/feverish, see your GP, who may well prescribe some antibiotics – but this doesn't mean you need to stop breastfeeding...

"My GP's advice was to continue feeding, as otherwise my breasts would become engorged and that would make the mastitis worse. Also, for your baby, the benefits of breastmilk outweigh any potential problems with the antibiotics." WigWamBam

  • Biting baby

Once your baby starts teething, the pain in her gums will drive her to gnaw on almost anything she can find. Including your nipples. Obviously, this is not something you want to encourage. Screaming may seem like the only appropriate response but, sadly, it's likely to scare your baby so much she won't come near your breast again, let alone bite it (see A word about self-weaning and nursing strikes). Gentler anti-nipper-nip tactics include...

"Gently pulling your baby into your boob a bit more, so you block her nose and she has to let go to breathe through her mouth." assumedname

"I used to feed him with one hand millimetres away from his chin and watch him closely. As soon as I saw his mouth shape change in an 'I'm just about to bite you' fashion, I grabbed hold of his chin, pulled it down, pushed him away from my boob, tapped him gently on the nose and gently said, 'No!'. I found it lasted a couple of days but was soon over. The anticipation's the worst bit though." HunkerMunker

  • Physical problems that stop your baby breastfeeding

There are some babies who are born with physical problems – such as an unusually shaped or cleft palate, tongue tie, or torticollis (twisted neck) – that mean they find it very difficult to breastfeed.

You could be doing your bit to textbook perfection but your baby just can't do her bit properly. Or, in the case of a baby with reflux (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease), she can do the feeding bit properly but, because the muscle ring that closes off her stomach doesn't work properly, she just throws it all back up afterwards.

If you suspect your baby has any of these problems, see your GP as soon as you can. There are often treatments that can help, whether you are able/up to carrying on with breastfeeding or not.

  • Physical problems with you

Many women find it difficult to breastfeed but some find it next to impossible – even with loads of expert help. In some cases, it's a clear physical inability to get the milk from breast to baby.

"I was completely and utterly unable to breastfeed both my sons. I have inverted nipples of the variety that when sucked only go to being flat, rather than out. So although I produced copious amounts of milk, for weeks and weeks, I was completely unable physically to breastfeed." Oireallyshouldn't

In other cases, the cause may be less clear (and could be a combination of several different factors). But, whatever the reason, there's no point beating yourself up about it (see Dealing with guilty feelings in our bottlefeeding section) If you've given it a really good go and, after expert advice, still aren't getting anywhere, be proud of the efforts you've made – and move on.

How to do it in public

One of the undoubted plus points of breastfeeding is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. Until there comes the day when the 'anywhere' in question is the middle of a crowded shopping centre – and your baby ain't going to settle for 'anytime' but right now.

If the prospect of attaching a small child to your breast in full view of a couple of hundred strangers has you all-asquirm with embarrassment, you need these reassuringly discreet words of Mumsnet wisdom.

First, there's the dress code:

"Wear baggy tops (not buttoned). And choose your feeding bras carefully! Try them on and practise getting them undone one-handed without having to have a great big rummage under your top." SoupDragon

Then there's the delicate task of latching on without letting it all hang out:

"At first, I would use a muslin square: I'd tuck one corner under my bra strap on the side I was feeding and use the other end to shield my daughter's head. But after a while, I just got really good at putting her on and no longer needed the muslin square." MammyShirl

"I used to turn away to latch on – the moment of most exposure – then turn around when full gluggage was in operation." cod

"Practise feeding your baby in front of a mirror first. I did that and realised that other people could see nothing, not even a flash from the front when I was getting him on and off. I, of course, could see everything because I was on the other side looking down." adath

And, finally, there's the development of thick skin (remember, it's not illegal or immoral to feed your baby in public and, in many countries, including Scotland, it's your legal right to be left to do so in peace).

"I was terrified of breastfeeding in public after I witnessed a poor woman being shouted out by a teenage girl whilst she was breastfeeding in a cafe. I wasn't sure if I could ever do it in public. But I started out feeding in changing rooms, then, after a few months, I no longer cared. I'd feed anywhere. It takes a while to learn how to latch on discreetly but you'll soon be an expert. The more confident and natural you are when you breastfeed in public, the less people will notice and the more comfortable others who do notice will be." Bekki

"Over the years, I have noticed that when I ask for permission to breastfeed, it seems to create an uncomfortable atmosphere, so, these days, I just get on with it and that seems to go down better. I think, after the initial shock, people get over it pretty quickly." Nance 

Breastfeeding and going back to work

It's possible to carry on breastfeeding once you've gone back to work but, in all honesty, if your baby's over six months, it's a tall order and, if your baby's under six months, it a really tall order.

You basically have two options:

  • Leave expressed breastmilk for your baby while you're at work and breastfeed morning and evening

This can work well if your baby's on solids and only needs one or two other milk feeds during the day.

"I went back to work when my daughter was five and a half months. I used to feed her when she woke, then I expressed milk twice a day – mid-morning and mid-afternoon – at work. I'd also built up an emergency freezer supply of expressed breastmilk before I went back to work. My biggest bit of advice? Don't stress about milk quantities. Your baby will make up for lost time mornings and evenings and other days." Pidge

But trying to express more than two bottles a day is asking a lot, especially when you're adjusting back to work life. It's certainly not everyone's idea of work-life balance to be spending every lunchbreak locked in a poky room with only a breastpump for company. (Find more about how to express milk here.)

  • Switch to formula during the day and breastfeed morning and evening

This is probably the only sustainable option if your baby's under six months and needs frequent feeds in the day. Remember that if you do this, your milk supply will diminish so you will have to formula-feed 9am-5pm at weekends, too.

"When I went back to work and my daughter went to nursery, I was expressing milk for her but, eventually, this got too much. I constantly had either a baby or a pump attached to my boobs. So she went on to formula at nursery. I still breastfeed in the morning and when I get back from work and it is a lovely relaxing time for both of us. It is also a wonderful way to force my husband into making our dinner whilst I'm 'making' hers!" prufrock

Expressing breastmilk

Expressing or pumping breastmilk ranks right up there with having a midwife inspect your stitches as one of the most gloriously undignified acts of new parenthood.

Hunching half-naked in a chair with one breast squeezed down a plastic funnel is not a sexy look – even before the schlurp-schlurp-drip of milk hitting bottle kicks in. But, for all its aesthetic downsides, you make come to love your breast pump: it is a breastfeeder's passport to a night out or (even better) an undisturbed night in.

Expressing can take a little while to master but things will run (out) a lot more smoothly if you:

  • Find the right pump

Do you want a hand-operated one (generally cheaper and smaller but often more fiddly to operate) or an electric one (pricier and noisier but often better at getting the milk out)? Annoyingly, you probably won't know which sort will work best for you till you've tried both sorts.

"I could never get anything out with a manual but found it easy with an electric." docket

"I hired an electric pump and felt like a cow. Yuk!" bluecow

For many women, it's the noise factor that swings it:

"I used a manual pump because it was silent. I wanted to be able express at work discreetly – or watch TV at the same time if I was at home!" aloha

  • Hold your horses

Don't start pumping until you (and your baby) have got the feeding-from-the-breast thing licked. You need time to build up your milk-dispensing confidence. Some people feel ready within the first couple of weeks, and are happy to spend time pumping in the day in return for the promise of a few extra hours' kip at night. Others find breastfeeding a newborn takes up enough of their day already, and prefer to wait a while before having to find time to express as well. (Obviously, if you're expressing instead of breastfeeding – because your baby's in special care, for example – that's a completely different story.) 

  • Pick your moment

You'll probably find it easier to express at certain times of day than others. Pumping success can often be as much psychological as physical – if you feel you have 'full' breasts, you're more likely to relax and 'release' more milk.

"The best time to express for me was while I was at work! I used to work afternoons only and about 3pm when I was starting to flag, I would get up, grab my bag and disappear to the comfy sofa in the first aid room for about 20 minutes with a coffee, a book and a snack. It actually only took about five minutes to express enough but no one at work knew that!" Bron

  • Lower your expectations

Hardly anyone fills a bottle first go (or second or third). As with most parental tasks, practice makes, well, a little bit better next time.

"It takes a while to get expressing going well. You need to give your body time to adjust to the extra demand." mellin

And, however small the amount of milk you collect, don't panic that your breasts are running dry:

"The amount you produce when you're expressing has nothing to do with the amount you've actually got." motherinferior

  • Refine your technique

The hardest thing about expressing is that your baby isn't there. Pumps can 'suck' like your baby but they can't don't give you that gooey maternal feeling that helps get your milk flowing. Cue alternative milk-trigger tactics such as:

"I used to feed the baby on one side and express on the other." madness

"Start while your pump's still nice and warm from the steam steriliser. The heat helps get things flowing." motherinferior

"I found it a lot easier if I was in the right mood. If stressed, it didn't work. They used to recommend us to think about our babies but actually I found if you think about sex, it worked better. They don't tell you that in NCT classes!" fennel

And, once you're 'in production', here are some neat ways to max up the flow:

"If you're using a hand pump, try to mimic your baby's suck pattern. So, fast and shallow (not much pressure) to begin with and then, when the milk begins to flow, change it to long and deep (more pressure). If you watch a baby feeding, that is what they do." throckenholt

"Try switching to the other breast when the first breast slows. Switching back and forth will produce more milk than pumping for a set time on first one and then the other." motherinferior

  • Store your stash

You can keep expressed milk in the fridge (at 4C or below;  the back of the fridge is better than the door) for five days, for up to two weeks in the freezer compartment of the fridge or for up to six months (date it or you'll forget!) in the freezer (at -18C or below). You should always defrost frozen breastmilk in the fridge - and never refreeze it once it's been thawed.

A word to the wise: it's always (crushingly) possible that, after all the pumping palaver, your baby may be not at all keen on taking a bottle of your expressed milk. (Don't leave it till the restaurant's booked and your babysitter's arrived to find this out.) In this situation, see our tips in Switching from breast to bottle.

Extended breastfeeding

For all the talk of the challenges of breastfeeding, some women enjoy it so much that they carry on long after other mothers have stopped. Being generally a rather feisty bunch, they do argue a bit about what actually defines you as a 'extended breastfeeder' (carrying on after six months? a year? two? five?), so we're going to duck out of that with a classic piece of Mumsnet wit:

"I think that after a year, your breasts are extended enough for it to be called extended breastfeeding." Hunkermunker

There is, of course, nothing wrong (and, from a general health point of view, actually quite a lot right) with extended breastfeeding. But it's certainly not considered 'the norm', in Britain at least, as people will only be too happy to tell you.

"I am finding all the comments very hard. Someone asked how my daughter was the other day and I said she was teething again. Cue another ten-minute discussion on how it's just 'wrong' to feed once they've got teeth. I feel very sad about it. Up until now, I'd been proudly feeding in public. Now I feel like the freaky breastfeedy lady." Caz10

"People seem to be fine with some extended breastfeeding but everyone has a strange internal cut-off point of acceptability: 'It's OK as long as they're not walking', for example. And I think the whole Little Britain Bitty crap has made it acceptable to laugh at breastfeeding generally." Jenkeywoo

How you choose to deal with the Bitty brigade is obviously up to you (though we like Tommy's laugh-em-off approach: "I just say in a jokey, slightly resigned way, 'Yes, I'm still feeding him: can't seem to stop.'") But those who've had to kick the comments into touch before you will say that extended breastfeeding has its very special compensations.

'I've fed mine to two and three years old. It has just petered out naturally. I'll never forget my second son looking up at me with utter satisfaction, wiping his mouth and saying, 'Ugga shide' (other side). I can't even remember a day when they stopped. It was seamless." spidermama

Weaning from the breast

However much you love (or loathe) breastfeeding, some day it has to end. And whether than day comes after a year or more (as the baby-health experts recommend) or earlier than that (for whatever reason), you may find it brings with it a bit of physical and emotional fall-out.

If the decision to wean from the breast is yours (see A word about self-weaning and nursing strikes, if it's your baby who's taking the lead), you'll definitely find it easier if you can:

  • Go slow. Gradually cutting out feeds over several weeks is much easier on your baby and your breasts. (Bear this in mind if you've a 'deadline' such as going back to work.) Drop the feeds one by one, starting with the one your baby seems least interested in. If your baby's on solids, that's likely to be the feed after her biggest meal of the day.

"Cold turkey isn't recommended because you'll end up engorged and susceptible to mastitis. I found it best to start with the feeds that coincided with a normal meal, replacing them with a beaker. I clung on to any feeds which resulted in a sleep!" SoupDragon

  • Have alternatives ready. If your baby's under a year old, you'll need to replace the breastfeeds you're dropping with bottles of formula. So, unless you really want to crank up the challenge, it's wise to make sure your baby will actually take a bottle before you start (if she won't, see our tips in Switching from breast to bottle).

If she's over a year, you can offer her full-fat cow's milk instead, preferably in a beaker (then you won't have to wean her off the bottle habit later).

If your baby's just shy of her first birthday and you don't want to introduce formula or bottles, you don't have to – as long as she's well established on solids, including plenty of dairy products, and you're careful to phase the breastfeeds out very slowly, not dropping the last feeds until after she's old  enough to have cow's milk.

  • Be persistent. If you're trying to wean an older baby (or toddler) off the breast and you're not able to wait for her to self-wean, you may meet with a little (or a lot of) resistance. Again, dropping the feeds slowly will help your child adjust to the new way of things, as will being calmly consistent (no 'Oh, all right then, just this once!' relapses, thank you). And sometimes a little inventive...

"Offer a drink from a cup. Tell her she can have a feed later – and then distract her like mad." mears

  • Treat yourself gently. Hanging up your nursing bra can send your body into a bit of a spin, especially if you stop rather abruptly.

"It's like having two rock solid footballs in your bra." mamachat

If your breasts are painful, try the old chilled cabbage-leaf trick again, wear a supportive bra, take a painkiller and avoid banging into anything at chest height. Try not to express to relieve the engorgement: it'll only trigger your breasts to produce more milk.

You may also find your emotions take a bit of a hormonal nosedive. This is normal, if a little heavy on tissue usage. Every time you well up because you're sad (or guilty or secretly relieved) at having given up, remind yourself that breastfeeding is only one stage of a lifetime of parenting – and there are plenty more just-as-special (and just-as-challenging) stages to come. You should also...

"Reclaim your body for yourself and enjoy it, knowing you have done the best you could for your kids." ProfessorGrammaticus  

A word about self-weaning and nursing strikes

Breastfeeding experts will tell you that, left to her own devices, your child will one day decide for herself that she's had enough of the breastmilk thing. Trouble is, that day may not always coincide with your own hopes, plans or inclinations. And that could leave you feeling a bit shaky.

"It can be very upsetting – breastfeeding is very bound up with giving love in the mother and child relationship, and a child rejecting your milk can be extremely distressing." FrannyandZooey

If your baby's very clearly had enough of breastfeeding, though, you're probably going to have to accept it (especially if she's over 18 months). But it's worth knowing that a younger baby can self-wean without really meaning it. This is called a 'nursing strike' and it's a kind of temporary hissy fit about breastfeeding that can be caused by anything from illness to a change of routine – or even having got a bit of a fright while feeding.

"The other day, I yelled at my son for biting me as he breastfed and he refused to nurse for hours afterwards." ZebraX

Babies who go on a nursing strike can usually be persuaded to get back to the 'breastface'. It may take some time and a fair bit of coaxing, though...

"Try when your baby is sleepy, lure your baby to the breast, go somewhere quiet, keep skin to skin, try co-bathing. Don't fight, be patient. Try feeding in an unusual position: lying down, say, or standing up or twirling yourself around as you latch her on." tiktok

"If the strike continues for more than a day, don't forget to express milk to maintain your supply, stay comfortable, and reduce the risk of plugged ducts and mastitis." 97PerCentGingerbread

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Last updated: over 3 years ago