Written by Sarah Mansell Published on 25th May 2021

While all mamas are very aware of the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby, most new moms are left scratching their heads about some of the finer details. Like how the hell you’re supposed to know if they’re getting enough milk or niggles about painful sensations. Every day, moms are coming online and looking for advice, so we thought we’d answer a few of the most commonly asked questions.

How often should I feed in the first few days?

In the first week, your baby will likely want to feed very often and it could even be every hour in the first few days. Yes, every hour. They weren’t kidding when they said motherhood was tough. You can’t overfeed a breastfed baby, so whenever they want milk, give it to them. As a very rough guide, your baby should feed at least 8 to 12 times, or more, every 24 hours during the first few weeks. Wondering how to know when they’re hungry? They’ll usually get restless, suck their fist or fingers, make murmuring sounds or turn their head and open their mouth (rooting). 

How long should my baby nurse at each feeding?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to timings, but newborns might nurse for up to 20 minutes or longer on one or both breasts. As babies get older and more skilled at breastfeeding, they may take about 5–10 minutes on each side. There are a number of factors that might affect how long your little one is nursing, including whether your milk supply has come in (this usually happens 2–5 days after birth), your let-down reflex, and if your baby has a good latch. 

How long should I breastfeed?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for 1 year or longer. WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or longer. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their children for at least 1 year. The longer an infant is breastfed, the greater the protection from certain illnesses and long-term diseases. Further proof if you ever needed it that moms are actual living superheroes. The more months or years a woman breastfeeds (combined breastfeeding of all her children), the greater the benefits to her health as well.

Can I breastfeed after the COVID-19 vaccine?

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about when it comes to breastfeeding, we now have COVID-19 to contend with. So let’s be clear - the JCVI advice published on 30 December 2020 says there is no known risk in giving available COVID-19 vaccines to breastfeeding women. That means that when you’re breastfeeding you’ll be offered vaccination at the time you become eligible like everyone else. Although there isn’t much safety data for these specific vaccinations in breastfeeding, there’s no plausible mechanism by which any vaccine ingredient could pass to your baby through breast milk. You should therefore not stop breastfeeding in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

If I use a breast pump, how long can I store my breast milk?

Having a store of milk can be handy, especially if you’re going back to work or have social plans. But it’s not always 100% clear how long freshly expressed or pumped milk can be stored. According to the CDC, these are the recommended guidelines: at room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to 4 hours, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, and in the freezer for about 6 months although anything up to 12 months is acceptable. 

Is breastfeeding painful?

Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful but if you experience pain then you should contact a health professional for tailored advice because there could be a number of reasons why you’re hurting. When your breasts are full of milk, they might feel hard or painful. This is called engorgement and can only be relieved by either expressing or feeding. Blocked milk ducts are also a factor in breastfeeding pain and will feel like a small lump. Again, your baby is the best solution – place them with their chin pointing towards the lump so they can feed on that part of the breast. Mastitis (that dreaded word for all breastfeeding moms) is what happens when a blocked milk duct isn’t dealt with - it makes the breast feel painful and inflamed, and can make you feel very unwell with flu-like symptoms. If you don't deal with the early signs of mastitis, it can turn into an infection and you'll need to take antibiotics. If you have mastitis, you'll probably have at least 2 of these symptoms: a breast that feels hot and tender, a red patch of skin that's painful to touch, a general feeling of illness, as if you have flu, feeling achy, tired and tearful, a high temperature (fever). 

Still looking for answers? 

We have lots more advice for breastfeeding moms on the Elvie blog. But we always recommend seeking advice from your doctor. Breastfeeding is a beautiful way to bond with your little one and is also healthy for you and your baby, so it’s worth persevering and getting your questions answered.