8 Most Common Breastfeeding Questions

From pumping and dumping to when you can get pregnant again, we’ve got the answers

Medically reviewed in May 2022

Updated on April 21, 2023

Person breastfeeding their newborn in a bright and sunny room.
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Among the host of questions new parents face, many may revolve around breastfeeding. You may wonder if you’ll have to change your diet to enhance the quality of your breast milk, if breastfeeding is a reliable form of birth control, or if you can have a glass of wine while nursing.

You may also wonder whether breast feeding is the best option for you and your family. While the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life to promote optimal infant health and development, supplementing or even using formula exclusively are also options that can help keep your baby well nourished.

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

Person using a breast pump to save milk for newborn
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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. Does it work, and is it even necessary?

It depends, says Merritt.

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

But it’s important to stick to that one drink if you’re nursing—and wait for it to flush out of your system—since consuming any amount of alcohol not only has the potential to hamper milk production, it can affect an infant’s growth and development.

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

When you’re up several times a night with a newborn, that mug of coffee can start to look like a lifeline in the morning. And for most people, drinking a moderate amount of caffeine while breastfeeding is perfectly fine (stick to a limit of around 200 milligrams, or two 8-ounce cups of coffee, per day).

If your child was born prematurely or has colic or sleeping problems, however, talk to your doctor about whether you should cut down or eliminate caffeine for the time being.

Parent smiling while breastfeeding their newborn.
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How should you handle breastfeeding around other kids?

The first time you breastfeed your new baby in front of your older children (or any other children), they will probably be very curious, ask questions, and even want to get an up-close look at what’s going on. And you should let them! Merritt says it’s best to approach the moment as straightforwardly as possible.

You can simply explain that your body produces milk to feed your baby. 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 someone who is breastfeeding.
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Are there foods you should or shouldn’t eat?

There may be no better incentive for eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins, than knowing that the quality of your diet may be directly related to the quality of your breast milk. A 2016 study published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a connection between the two and emphasized the importance of foods rich in fatty acids and fat- and water-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, C, B6, and B12. You can load up on these vitamins by including walnuts, avocados, carrots, leafy greens, citrus fruits, eggs, and fortified cereals in your meals.

Seafood is also a great addition to your diet when you’re breastfeeding, since fish such as salmon and sardines are great sources of fatty acids. Aim for 2 to 3 servings per week, but avoid fish with high amounts of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and Ahi tuna. Ask your doctor if you should be taking a multivitamin to fill in any nutrition gaps.

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

Breast milk is mostly water, so staying hydrated is crucial. 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 (though a lot of that can come from foods, such as melons, soups, berries, and vegetables). One good strategy is to keep a water bottle next to you when you’re nursing, and make sure it’s always refilled.

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. If you’re getting bored with plain water, try adding cut-up fruit to your glass, or mixing it up with decaffeinated iced tea or unsweetened fruit juice.

New parent holding their newborn before breastfeeding.
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How can you know your baby is getting enough to eat?

Merritt says she gets asked this question every single day, sometimes a dozen times a day.

Most newborns will need to eat every two to three hours, and they’ll usually spend about 10 to 15 minutes on each breast, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.“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.” This is sometimes even called being “milk drunk.”

Another way to gauge if your child is getting enough to eat is by peeking in their diaper. In newborns, urination should occur every one to three hours. If your child is having less than four wet diapers a day or irregular bowel movements, see your pediatrician.

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

The very short answer to that is yes.

At your six-week postpartum checkup, your HCP may give you the all clear to start having sex again (though it may take longer than that for you to feel ready—everyone has their own timeline). At that point, you should discuss birth control options with your doctor, even if you’re still breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding can act as a natural form of birth control, it is by no means foolproof, and there are many circumstances that can affect how well it works, such as the number of feedings the baby has per day and your menstrual cycle history, says Merritt. So if you are having sex and you are not interested in becoming pregnant again right away, take the safer route by using birth control.

New parent breastfeeding their newborn while still in the hospital.
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Does breast surgery restrict people from breastfeeding?

Many people who have had a previous breast or nipple surgery—such as a breast reduction, lift, augmentation, or a partial mastectomy or top surgery—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. If the nipple and areola were not removed from the breast during surgery, for example, you’re less likely to have milk supply issues.

Of course every case is different, but the good news is that many people who have had surgery will be able to breastfeed in some capacity.

If you’ve had breast surgery and choose to breastfeed, talk to your HCP about the best way to monitor your baby to make sure they’re gaining the recommended amount of weight; 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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