Back to Health News & Stories

Breastfeeding Frequently Asked Questions

Have questions about breastfeeding? Review our list of breastfeeding FAQs and learn the answers to many questions new moms often ask.

This information is part of Virtua’s Breastfeeding resources collection. Please see our Breastfeeding Support Resources page to view the entire series.

Should I supplement with formula?

If you give your baby formula, they may want less breastmilk, decreasing your milk supply. Talk to your pediatrician if you’re worried your baby isn’t eating enough.

Does my baby need cereal or water?

Breast milk alone provides all the nutrition your baby needs, and it’s all they need for the first six months of life. If you give your baby cereal, they may want less breastmilk, decreasing your milk supply. Breastfed infants don’t need additional fluids, even in hot climates. Ask your pediatrician about when to add other foods to your baby’s diet.

Is it okay for my baby to use a pacifier?

If you want to give your baby a pacifier, it’s best to wait until they’re 3-4 weeks old to introduce it. This gives your baby time to learn how to latch well without creating nipple confusion.

When should I wean my baby?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding beyond your baby's first birthday and for as long as you and your baby would like. The most effortless and natural time to wean is when your child leads the process. But how you feel also is important in deciding when to wean.

Is my baby getting enough vitamin D?

Everyone needs vitamin D to build strong bones. Starting in the first few days of life, breastfed infants (including those supplemented with formula) should be given a 400 IU vitamin D supplement daily.

You can buy infant vitamin D supplements at a drug or grocery store. Sunlight is also a source of vitamin D, but it’s hard to measure how much sunlight your baby gets. And too much sun can be harmful.

Once you’ve weaned your baby from breast milk, talk to your pediatrician about continuing vitamin D supplements. Some children don’t get enough vitamin D through diet alone.

Is it safe to smoke, drink, or use drugs?

If you smoke, it’s best for you and your baby to quit as soon as possible. If you can't stop smoking, it’s still better to breastfeed because it can help protect your baby from respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome.

Be sure to smoke away from your baby and change your clothes to keep your baby away from the chemicals smoking leaves behind. Ask your primary care provider for smoking cessation help.

You should avoid alcohol, especially in large amounts. Having an occasional small drink is OK, but avoid breastfeeding for two hours after drinking it.

It’s not safe for you to use or be dependent on substances. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and PCP put your baby’s health and life at risk. Some reported side effects in babies include seizures, vomiting, poor feeding, and tremors.

Can I take medications if I’m breastfeeding?

Very few medicines aren’t recommended for use while breastfeeding. If you take medication, a small amount will pass into your breastmilk, but it won’t harm your baby.

For breastfeeding women with chronic health problems, stopping a medicine can be more dangerous than the effect it might have on the baby.

Discuss any new or current medicines you take with your primary care provider. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements.

Can I breastfeed if I’m sick?

You may think that if you’re sick, you shouldn’t breastfeed. But, common illnesses, such as colds, flu, or diarrhea, can't be passed through breastmilk. If you’re sick, your breastmilk will have antibodies that are passed to your baby, protecting them from the same sickness.

You should not breastfeed your baby in the following situations:

  • You’re infected with HIV or AIDS.
  • You’re using antiretroviral medications.
  • You have untreated, active tuberculosis.
  • You’re infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or II.
  • You’re taking prescribed cancer chemotherapy agents, such as antimetabolites, that interfere with DNA replication and cell division.
  • You’re undergoing radiation therapy (excluding some nuclear medicine therapies that only require a temporary break from breastfeeding).

What should I do if I have postpartum depression?

Symptoms of the baby blues, such as crying or feeling down or overwhelmed, are common and go away on their own in a few weeks after delivery. Postpartum depression is less common, more serious, and can last more than two weeks. Symptoms can include irritability, sadness, fatigue, insomnia or sleeplessness, excessive worry or a lack of interest in your baby, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

If you think you have postpartum depression, talk to your health care provider about treatment, which may include medication, talk therapy, or group support. If you have any thoughts about harming yourself or your baby, call 911 right away.

Research has shown that while antidepressants pass into breast milk, few problems have been reported in infants. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about the medications you’re taking.

Will my partner be jealous if I breastfeed?

If you prepare your partner in advance, they shouldn’t feel jealous. Explain that you need support, and discuss the important and lasting health benefits of breastfeeding. You also can emphasize how breastfeeding can save you money and sleep.

If your partner wants to get more involved, they can change and burp the baby, share chores, and sit with you and your baby to enjoy the special mood that breastfeeding creates. Your partner also can feed your baby pumped breast milk.

Do I have to restrict my sex life while breastfeeding?

There are no restrictions on having sex while you’re breastfeeding. If you experience vaginal dryness, you can try more foreplay and use a water-based lubricant. You may want to feed your baby or express some milk before having sex, so your breasts are more comfortable and less likely to leak.

I heard that breastmilk could have toxins in it from my environment. Is it still safe for my baby?

While certain chemicals have appeared in breastmilk, breastfeeding remains the best way to feed and nurture young infants and children. The advantages of breastfeeding far outweigh any possible risks from environmental pollutants.

Is it safe for me to get a vaccine when I'm breastfeeding? Does my breastfed baby need vaccines?

Most nursing mothers can be vaccinated safely. Breastfeeding after getting a vaccine won’t harm you or your baby or hurt the vaccine’s effectiveness. Vaccines also are important to your baby's health. Breastfeeding may also enhance your baby's response to certain immunizations, providing more protection.

Follow the vaccination schedule recommended by your pediatrician. If your baby misses a vaccine, talk to your pediatrician about getting your baby back on track. Breastfeeding your baby while or after they get a shot may soothe them and relieve pain.

What should I do if my baby bites me?

If your baby starts to clamp down, you can put your finger in their mouth and take them off your breast. If your baby continues to bite you, you can try the following:

  • Offer them a teething toy or a snack (if it’s an older baby), or let them drink from a cup instead.
  • Put your baby down for a moment to show that biting brings a negative consequence. You can then pick your baby up again to give comfort.

What do I do if my baby keeps crying?

Talk to your pediatrician if your baby doesn’t seem comforted by breastfeeding or other soothing measures. Your baby may have colic or feel discomfort or pain. You can also check to see if your baby is teething. Your pediatrician or a lactation consultant can help you find ways to soothe your baby and help them eat well.

Should my baby always nurse on both breasts?

It’s good to encourage your baby to nurse on both breasts at each feeding, but they may not always want to. Let your baby nurse on the first breast until finished, then attempt to burp the baby and offer the second breast. If your baby nursed well on the first breast and won't stay awake to nurse on the other, then start on that breast at the next feeding. As your baby becomes more alert for longer, they’ll probably nurse from both breasts at each feeding.

When should I burp my baby?

Breastfed babies don’t always burp, but you can try to burp your baby after nursing on each breast. Pat your baby on the back for about a minute, and then continue feeding on the second breast.

Likely, your baby isn’t taking in much air while breastfeeding because there’s no air in your breast, and your breast fills the baby's mouth. Your baby will burp less in the early days but may burp more as your milk supply increases.

How much water should I drink?

Try to drink water or an unsweetened beverage when you’re thirsty and each time you nurse your baby. You may find that you’re thirstier while you’re nursing. This is your body's reminder to replace the fluids that your baby is getting through your milk.