8 Breastfeeding Questions, Answered

Can you really pump and dump? Can you drink caffeine and breastfeed?

Medically reviewed in May 2022

Updated on May 12, 2022

Mother breastfeeding her newborn in a bright and sunny room.
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Among the host of questions new parents face, many revolve around breastfeeding. You may wonder if you’ll have to change your diet to enhance the quality of your breast milk, if as an adoptive parent you can breastfeed, or if you can have a glass of wine while nursing.

You may also wonder how important it is to breastfeed in the first place. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life to promote optimal infant health and development. But it’s also okay to supplement with formula if your milk production is low. No one feeding method is perfect.

Lactation consultant and childbirth educator Teresa Merritt, RN, of Parkridge Health System in Chattanooga, Tennessee offers answers to some of your most pressing questions.

Woman using a breast pump to save milk for newborn instead of breastfeeding.
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Can you really pump and dump?

If you’d like to have a glass of wine, you’ve probably heard the term “pump and dump,” which refers to the process of expressing your breast milk, then discarding it if you’ve had alcohol to drink. But is it necessary?

It depends, says Merritt.

The alcohol level in your milk is about the same as the level in your blood, so pumping and dumping doesn’t necessarily speed removal of alcohol from milk. If you have one drink, you can wait two hours before it clears your body and then safely breastfeed.

If you have multiple drinks, however, or you have alcohol right before you need to express your milk, you may need to pump and discard your milk, says Merritt. Consuming any amount of alcohol has the potential to hamper milk production, as well as an infant’s growth and development.

A new mother sharing a coffee with a friend.
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Can you breastfeed and drink caffeine?

Having moderate amounts of caffeine while breastfeeding may be okay for most people. That said, your healthcare provider (HCP) may recommend you avoid caffeine (or significantly limit it) right after your child is born or if your child was born premature.

If you do have caffeine, stick to 200 milligrams (about two 8-ounce cups of coffee) or less per day and talk with your HCP to be sure it’s okay for you and your baby. Some babies are more sensitive to caffeine than others and may experience irritability or sleeping problems.

Mother smiling while breastfeeding her newborn.
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How should you handle breastfeeding around other kids?

If you have other little ones at home, you may be wondering how to approach the subject of breastfeeding. They’re likely to ask questions about what you’re doing and why, and it’s likely they’ll hang around to watch breastfeeding sessions, too. Merritt says approaching it straightforwardly is best.

Your body produces milk to feed your infant, it’s that simple. You can also emphasize how incredible our bodies are, Merritt suggests. By normalizing breastfeeding, you’re helping your kids understand how the human body works without shame or embarrassment.

Healthy foods, including salmon, avocado, and nuts, that are good for a woman who is breastfeeding.
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Are there certain diet recommendations?

It’s always important to fuel your body with a variety of nutritious foods, especially while you’re breastfeeding. With that in mind, there are some things you may want to know when it comes to your eating habits and nursing.

A 2016 study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that the quality of a woman’s diet is directly related to the nutritional quality of her breast milk. The study emphasized the importance of foods rich in fatty acids (found in foods like avocados and walnuts) and fat- and water-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, C, B6, and B12.

As for what to put on the menu, it’s best to stick with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Seafood is generally a healthy bet, too. Aim for 2 to 3 servings per week, but avoid fish with high amounts of mercury, like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and Ahi tuna. You should also check for local fish advisories in your area. Multivitamins cannot replace a nutritious diet, but they may be recommended for some women.

A glass of water being poured in order to stay hydrated.
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How much water do I need?

Breast milk is mostly water, so staying hydrated is crucial while breastfeeding. You may even notice that you are thirstier when nursing. To make sure you’re drinking enough fluids, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends up to 16 glasses of water per day. Another way to think of it is to drink a tall glass of water each time you nurse the baby.

Water is also in food, so eating plenty of water-rich fruits and veggies counts toward your daily intake. You can tell you’re drinking enough water if your urine is light yellow. If it’s dark yellow, that’s usually a sign you need to drink more water. Remember to skip soda: It’s not doing you or the baby any nutritional favors.

New mother holding her newborn before breastfeeding.
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How can I know my baby is getting enough to eat?

Merritt says there’s not a day that goes by that a parent doesn’t ask her this question—and she usually gets asked this question a dozen times a day.

In short, the term “milk drunk” can be helpful when trying to understand your child’s hunger. “You can tell when your newborn has had enough to eat because they will look like they are in a drowsy and relaxed state,” says Merritt. “At the beginning of a feeding, their hands are likely to be curled up and tight and they’ll appear more alert. By the end of the feeding, their hands will soften and open up, and they’ll be more relaxed.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that most newborns have an average of 8 to 12 feedings per 24 hours, or a feeding every two to three hours. During feedings, most babies breastfeed 10 to 15 minutes on each breast.

Another way to gauge if your child is getting enough to eat is by observing their diaper. In newborns, urination should occur every one to three hours or as little as four to six times a day. If your child is having less than four wet diapers a day or irregular bowel movements, see an HCP.

Couple in bed with their feet peeking out from the covers.
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Can women who are breastfeeding get pregnant?

ACOG recommends waiting four to six weeks after giving birth to start having sex again. Your body is going to need time to heal and it’s likely you may not feel up to it until then (or even later).

Once you do start having sex again, it is possible (even though you’re breastfeeding) for you to get pregnant if you’re not using birth control. There is a long-standing method that involves breastfeeding as a natural form of birth control, called lactation amenorrhea. Most HCPs do not recommend this method, however, as there are many circumstances that affect whether it can prevent pregnancy, such as the number of feedings a baby has and the women’s cycle history, says Merritt.

Talk with an HCP about which birth control method is right for you.

New mother breastfeeding her newborn while still in the hospital.
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Does breast surgery restrict women From breastfeeding?

Many people who have had a previous breast or nipple surgery—like breast reduction, lifts, or augmentation—wonder if those procedures will affect their ability to breastfeed. The answer depends on the type of procedure, says Merritt, since some surgeries affect milk supply more than others.

The good news is that regardless of the type of surgery, most people who have had surgery will be able to breastfeed in some capacity.

Most breast surgeries involve cutting the breast’s milk ducts and nerves, so that’s why there is the potential for breastfeeding issues later on. Whether you’ve had breast reduction or breast augmentation surgery, if the nipple and areola were not removed from the breast, you’re less likely to have milk supply issues.

If you’ve had breast surgery, you can monitor your baby to make sure they’re gaining the recommended amounts of weight and if not, you may need to supplement with formula or donor milk.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding. Alcohol. Page last reviewed: February 9, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding. Maternal Diet. Page last reviewed: September 2, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding. Breast Surgery. Page last reviewed: February 1, 2021.
James JE. Maternal caffeine consumption and pregnancy outcomes: a narrative review with implications for advice to mothers and mothers-to-be. BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine 2021;26:114-115.
Dror DK, Allen LH. Overview of Nutrients in Human Milk. Adv Nutr. 2018;9(suppl_1):278S-294S. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy022
Bravi F, Wiens F, Decarli A, et al. Impact of Maternal Nutrition on Breast-Milk Composition: A Systematic Review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Sep;104(3):646-62.
National Library of Medicine. Metoclopramide. Last Revision: December 20, 2021.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How Much Water Do You Need? Last reviewed March 2020.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nursing Your Baby? What You Eat and Drink Matters. Last reviewed March 2022.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A Partner's Guide to Pregnancy. Last reviewed: November 2020.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastfeeding Your Baby. Last updated: May 2021

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