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5 Breastfeeding Questions Answered

Benefits, Challenges, Pumping, and More

After the birth of my first daughter, breastfeeding became such an important part of my postpartum experience and my relationship with her. I was surprised by how special it felt to be able to feed my baby from my own body, providing her with important nutrients to help her grow and antibodies to help prevent illness. 

While I love breastfeeding and the special relationship it creates with my babies (I have two now), it is also incredibly challenging – both physically and emotionally. From achieving a proper latch to pumping at work, there are many issues that breastfeeding moms can encounter.

After my second baby was born, I learned all over again how to navigate the breastfeeding experience. While some aspects felt familiar, others posed new challenges. It is because of these many challenges that breastfeeding is not for everyone. It’s important to be in tune with what is best for yourself and your baby – whether that is breastfeeding, formula feeding, or a combination. I’d like to share some of the most common questions I receive from my patients.

1. What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

There are many benefits of breastfeeding, both for parent and baby. Breast milk stimulates the optimal growth, development, and function of the infant’s gastrointestinal system and helps to protect it from infection.
In comparison with formula, breast milk has been shown to decrease the risk of acute illnesses such as diarrhea, respiratory disease, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and sepsis. Evidence has shown that maternal vaccination for COVID and/or previous infection with COVID produces antibodies
in breast milk, which can help confer immunity in a baby who is too young to be vaccinated. Breastfeeding has also been shown to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. 

Additionally, there are long-term health benefits for children who have been breastfed. These include reduction in the incidence of certain chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, adult heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and celiac disease. 

Breastfeeding has significant benefits for the mother as well. Immediately after birth, breastfeeding can help with mother-infant bonding, reduction of postpartum blood loss, and postpartum weight loss. Women who breastfeed longer have lower rates of developing type 2 diabetes and hypertension in their lifetimes, and also have lower rates of breast and ovarian cancers. 

2. What are some common breastfeeding challenges?

While breastfeeding can be rewarding and special, it can be very uncomfortable at first and painful at times, as mothers learn the ins and outs of positioning and babies learn how to latch. For some, this pain is too significant on top of the other challenges of being a new parent and may lead some to discontinue or choose not to breastfeed. However, there are remedies for most breastfeeding issues.

Breast engorgement is the physiologic fullness of both breasts that typically occurs between three and five days postpartum. When engorgement occurs, it’s usually indicative that a mature milk supply is being secreted. It may also lead to difficulties with latching for your baby. Various remedies to help relieve this discomfort include application of ice and hot packs and hand expression to minimize the engorgement and soften breasts. 

While breastfeeding normally should not be painful, other causes of persistent breast pain include a poor latch, nipple abrasions, skin disorders, clogged ducts, or oversupply. Meeting with a lactation consultant can be very helpful to troubleshoot underlying issues that may be causing this pain. 

3. What are some tips and tricks for increasing your milk supply?

Maintaining one’s milk supply is one of the biggest stressors that breastfeeding moms deal with. The simplest way to maintain or increase your milk supply is to continue to stimulate your breasts to produce milk. In the first days and weeks after birth, it is important to breastfeed or pump every two to three hours to maintain your supply. If you decrease the number of times you nurse or pump throughout the day, your body will learn that it does not need to produce as much milk because the demand is not present. 

In addition to the time it requires, breastfeeding also demands a significant amount of energy from your body. You need an additional 500 calories per day over what you were eating prior to breastfeeding. It is important, however, to ensure these additional calories come in the way of healthy, nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, oats, beans, chia seeds, leafy greens, avocados, and complex carbohydrates. 

4. Pumping can be overwhelming. Do you have any advice?

As a working woman with a busy schedule, I know how difficult and tedious pumping can be. 

Fitting pumping breaks into your daily schedule can be daunting, let alone buying a pump and keeping up with its daily maintenance and cleaning. 

One tip I find helpful is to make the time you spend pumping special, just as you would if you were feeding your baby. You might try face-timing with your little one or looking at photos. Treat yourself to a cup of tea or coffee and a healthy snack. When you try to relax and create a stress-free environment during pumping, it can help make the experience more positive and facilitate milk let-down as well.

5. What are some resources for breastfeeding? 

In addition to talking to a lactation consultant through your OB/GYN or pediatrician, there are a variety of online resources. is a website I refer to regularly to help both myself and my patients.

Other reliable resources are and La Leche League International ( There is also a wonderful social media community that can provide a significant amount of support, including local Facebook groups. On Instagram, I recommend @legendairymilk. 

Breastfeeding is a personal commitment that comes with many challenges and rewards. This article addresses just a few of them. If you are trying it, I wish you luck and support

Maggie S. Sager, MD, is an OB/GYN at Virginia Physicians for Women and the mother of two daughters, ages two and seven months. She sees patients at VPFW’s St. Francis and Prince George offices and delivers babies at St. Francis. Learn more at VPFW.
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