Knowledge centre

Breastfeeding is recommended for two or more years because of its importance to the health of the mother, the baby, and the family. Breastfeeding mothers may worry about their baby’s breastfeeding behaviours, patterns, and sounds, their baby’s milk intake, or the quality of their milk. Knowing the range of what is normal, how to support the baby at the breast, how to prevent problems, and when to seek help is critical to breastfeeding success. 

Babies are not little adults. They have unique behaviours, appearances, and needs which sometimes cause unnecessary concern for families. Examples include spitting, choking at the breast, stooling, solid foods, and sleep patterns. One frequent cause of concern is crying, which happens when babies are bothered by hunger, pain, or not having other needs met. It is important to know the cause of the crying so it can be eliminated or minimized and thereby limit the stress on babies and their families.

Occasionally breastfeeding babies do not grow well. This can be due to illness in the baby or to breastfeeding problems that keep them from taking in enough milk; knowing the difference is critical for the baby’s health. There are numerous causes of infant hunger and similarly numerous tools to address and fix this. Knowing these allows mothers to identify the problem and maximize the amount of breast milk they can give their babies.

Nipple pain is common in breastfeeding mothers. With proper treatment and a little time, it usually stops. Nipple pain can start right after giving birth or can develop after a pain-free period. It is important that mothers identify the cause of pain quickly and accurately in order to start appropriate treatment. Breast pain is a little less common but this too is generally fixable. Nipples and the area behind the nipple can be abnormal and cause nipple pain and latching problems. 

Illness in a baby can result in difficulty breastfeeding, poor growth, or an unhappy baby. Sick and premature babies may require extra feeding support until they are well and their mothers may need to use various breastfeeding tools to help their babies transition to full breastfeeding. Mothers too, may be ill and require medication, surgery, or hospitalization; these need not interfere with breastfeeding.

Expressing milk from the breast is a valuable tool if the baby is unable to breastfeed effectively or to support breastfeeding for periods of mother-baby separation. Expressing can be done by hand (manual expression) or by pumping. Effective expressing needs proper techniques, and if pumping, appropriate equipment. Expressed milk must be safely stored.

Successful breastfeeding is much more likely with support from partners, family, friends, health-care providers, the workplace, and society. Breastfeeding is not always possible or desired. If weaning, mothers should ensure that it is safe for themselves and their baby.