Get expert answers to the breastfeeding questions you may not feel comfortable asking your OB/GYN.
There are lots of embarrassing questions about breastfeeding—Does breast size matter? Can you still nurse your baby if you have bleeding nipples? Rest assured that most of what you're going through is perfectly normal (even if it doesn't seem so). Here are the most common breastfeeding questions, and the answers you crave.
1. Do smaller breasts produce less milk?
"Most women are capable of producing enough milk for their babies, no matter what size their breasts are," says Deedee Franke R.N., a board-certified lactation consultant and maternal child nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.
2. So why do some women produce more milk than others?
"Different breasts have different storage capacity," says Leigh Anne O'Connor, an international board certified lactation consultant. "The amount of milk is not dependent on breast size— it depends on mammary tissue." She notes that some small-breasted women produce plenty of milk (even an oversupply in some cases), while some large-breasted women have a hard time producing enough.
Producing enough milk is a common worry for most mothers, and yet most lactation consultants agree that that most moms are able to produce what their baby needs. Franke notes that there is a lot more overfeeding with bottle-feeding, so while moms may think they aren't producing enough, in reality, they are.
However, if you're having problems with nursing—or suspect that your supply is low—you should seek help. "There are many problems that can have a negative effect on a woman's milk production, so it is so important to get expert guidance early to prevent a decrease in milk supply," says Franke.
3. Does breast-reduction surgery impact breastfeeding?
"If you've had breast reduction surgery, that could impact your ability to make milk, but just because you've had the surgery doesn't mean you won't be able to breastfeed," says Aliza Bancoff, a birth and postpartum doula and director of the International Doula Institute. Talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor to see what options are available to you.
4. Is it supposed to hurt?
"Sore nipples are a common problem in the early weeks of breastfeeding," Franke says. "Usually that means the new mother needs some help with her positioning and latch, but it should not hurt." Getting help from a lactation consultant can make a huge difference.
5. My nipples are bleeding; can I still breastfeed?
If you have sore, cracked or bleeding nipples, you can and should still breastfeed, says Bancoff. "A small amount of blood in the milk will not hurt the baby." However, cracked nipples could indicate problems with your latch. Again, a few sessions with a lactation consultant can help.
6. Should I stop if I have thrush or mastitis?
As much as you may be tempted to stop nursing, breastfeeding your baby through thrush, mastitis, and clogged ducts actually helps. "Often nursing will help to release the clogs, and with mastitis you really need to have the milk flowing to get the infection out and to prevent more clogs," says O'Connor. However, you do want to treat the thrush and the mastitis as you continue nursing. In all cases, you want to heal the breasts and find the root of the problem.
7. I don't enjoy breastfeeding, is it okay just to pump?
"There are some mothers that physically don't enjoy the act of breastfeeding, but want to provide breast milk for their babies," says Franke. "It is an individual choice and an act of love and commitment." Basically you know what's best for you and your baby. If pumping and giving her breast milk works for you and your child, then don't feel guilty about doing that. You're providing her great nutrition and plenty of love.
8. Is it normal to leak in public?
"As a new mom's milk supply gets established it's not uncommon to experience some leakage," says Tracy Donegan, midwife and founder of GentleBirth. "Breast pads can be your best friend in the beginning as things settle down."
Some moms have their breast milk let down just by thinking about their baby or hearing a baby cry. "If that happens, bring your arms up firmly over your breasts for a minute or two and that will stop it," Donegan advises. Also, she notes that you you might leak during sex—and that's totally normal.
9. Is it okay to breastfeed in public?
While you may feel self-conscious at first, it's perfectly acceptable to nurse your baby in public. "In the United States, breasts are seen and advertised more on a sexual basis," says Franke. "In other countries, breastfeeding is more accepted in public." If you feel uncomfortable, you can always use a nursing cover-up; but don't feel pressured to do so. Breastfeeding is a natural activity and shouldn't be a cause of shame.
10. Why are my breasts hard as rocks?
Engorgement may happen three to five days postpartum and can make your breasts feel hard and painful, says Chandra Campana, LPC, IBCLC. "Warm compresses can be used prior to nursing, to aid in the removal of milk, and cold compresses after you nurse, to reduce tissue swelling," she notes. She also advises not to wait too long between feeds to avoid engorgement. "Babies should eat every three hours, or sooner with cues."