When it comes to birth and parenting, everyone and their mother has a ton of advice for moms to follow. And even with the experts—from doctors to midwives to nurses to lactation specialists—there’s often conflicting information to be had. And when a mom is nursing? It’s even more complicated.
While bottle feeding might seem more straightforward for parents, nursing is fraught with all kinds of dos and don’ts. Of course, some moms like the rules—a set of guidelines can help them learn to nurse and help them figure things out, especially in the beginning. But other moms just get frustrated—and sometimes, with all those “rules,” it seems like the easier alternative is to just not nurse at all.
The thing is, while plenty of the guidelines for nursing aim to help both the mom and her baby learn to work together, there are a bunch that are hit or miss. After all, every baby is different, and so is every mom. That means there’s a lot of variation in what works—and it can even be different for the same mom with different babies over the years.
Sure, there’s a lot of information out there that’s helpful—but here are 20 breastfeeding guidelines that moms don’t have to follow to make nursing happen.
20 Feed On Both Sides Every Time
In the early days when moms are trying to build up their milk supplies, nursing on both sides is pretty important. After all, you’ve got to tell your body that it needs milk, and not just on one half of the machine! But once your baby is a bit older—even just a few weeks old—it’s not strictly necessary to have your baby nurse on both sides. For a lot of moms, one side contains a full meal for the baby—and forcing him or her to switch sides mid-feed can result in an imbalance in nutrients—and a gassy baby from too much watery foremilk (the milk that comes out first to quench thirst).
19 Switching Sides At The Start
Have you seen the nursing “hacks” that suggest moms wear a bracelet or download an app to remind them which side the baby last nursed on? That might seem helpful, but what if we told you that you don’t even have to switch sides at the start of every feed? If you feel engorged or just a bit full on one side, clearly you’ll want to start with that one. But otherwise? Your baby might prefer whichever side they start on, or one side might even produce more so the baby favors it because of that. Regardless, you don’t have to have a fancy tracking app or move bracelets around to figure out which side to start with.
18 Stick To A Schedule
For babies who spent time in the NICU or who are otherwise unlikely to let you know when they’re hungry, sticking to a predictable feeding schedule is important. But for your average nursling who knows—and tells you—when they’re hungry, sticking to a specific schedule isn’t necessary. It can also be overly stressful for moms who feel like they can’t do anything but watch the clock until it’s time for the next feeding. Some babies eat every two hours, some babies go three or four or more—it’s all normal, as long as your baby is gaining lbs and acts full after eating.
17 Don’t Nurse To Sleep
Although there’s no science to back it up, plenty of doctors and other healthcare professionals tend to tell nursing moms that they shouldn’t feed their babies throughout the night. Those same doctors like to warn moms against nursing their babies to sleep, because they say the milk will pool up in the babies’ mouths and cause tooth decay. The thing is, while that may be true of artificial formula, breastmilk doesn’t contain the stuff that rots teeth—it just isn’t possible for extended nursing or nursing to sleep to cause tooth decay. That means nursing to sleep is totally up to mom and tot—not the doc or anyone else.
16 Abstaining From Adult Beverages
There are memes out there that highlight how much some moms miss wine or other grown-up beverages while they’re pregnant. But plenty of those mamas continue to avoid drinking once they’ve birthed their babies, and according to some studies, that’s not entirely necessary. In most cases, unless mom is indulging in more than one or two adult drinks, she may be okay to nurse a few hours later.
Timing her drinks can also help—some people say that feeding the baby right before having a glass of red means the alcohol will clear mom’s system before the next feeding. Mom should speak with her doctor and use her best judgment here.
15 Pumping & Dumping
A lot of lactation support professionals will tell moms to “pump and dump” after consuming a beer or glass of wine, moms may not have to—there may not be enough alcohol content in mom’s milk to hurt her baby at all. That means a new mom can enjoy her beverage with dinner or during a girls’ night out and not worry about her baby drinking the milk later. And while many experts say to feed the baby directly before drinking to reduce the amount of alcohol in the milk later, it’s not a guarantee that the alcohol will reach the milk anyway. Most of the time, pumping and dumping totally isn’t necessary. Again, mom should speak with her doctor and use the best judgment here.
14 Stop Nursing Pre-Medical Procedures
A lot of moms are wary of things affecting their milk, both in terms of yucky stuff getting into it and the potential for a decrease in supply. And in many cases, those moms are told that certain things will mess up their milk when they won’t. For example, most MRI technicians and other healthcare professionals will advise nursing moms to not nurse their babies after undergoing an MRI.
They caution moms against nursing because they say the dye used in MRIs can affect the baby—but according to many lactation professionals, the dye doesn’t pose an issue for breastfed babies. In any case, moms should do their own research instead of just cutting their babies off from the tap!
13 Pumping Extra Milk For Storage
As a mom who was always an “under-producer” while nursing, I completely understand the desire to build up a stash of milk. Especially for mamas who have to leave their babies for work or other commitments, it’s nice to know that your baby won’t run out of food while you’re away, or if something happens to your supply. And although it might be wise to have a few extra ounces on hand for daily feedings when you’re away, most moms don’t really need hundreds of ounces stockpiled in a deep freezer. After all, if the baby isn’t drinking it, what’s going to happen when it goes bad months or even a year or so later?
12 Time The Feeding Session
Most lactation consultants tell new moms to nurse their babies for at least twenty minutes at a time, if not longer. And it’s true that many new babies will “cluster feed,” which can mean a nursing session spanning way more than twenty minutes. But at the same time, there are also babies who eat so efficiently that they’re done in ten minutes or even less. So instead of timing the baby’s mealtime, it’s better to pay attention to how your baby acts after they’re done—if they relax and seem full, and are gaining appropriately, then they’re probably getting plenty in the few minutes that they do nurse!
11 Burping Babies After
Burping is something that parents have done with their babies for centuries, but what if we told you that it wasn’t really necessary? For breastfed infants, it’s usually not necessary to burp them after a feeding since they maintain an airtight seal while snacking. Of course, if your baby frequently unlatches, takes breaks from eating, or gulps air (a sign of an inefficient latch), then you may still notice a bit of gas after they eat. In general, though, burping isn’t something that’s completely necessary—especially if your baby falls to sleep right after eating. No point in waking them up again to burp!
10 Stop Feeding At Night
While many nursing moms are eager to stop night feedings in order to get more sleep, not every mama is so exhausted that she wants to stop feeding through the night. And depending on mom’s schedule, her baby might need those night feedings. Some babies change up their feeding schedules to eat more when mom is around, even if that means waking throughout the night and mostly refusing bottles during the day in favor of the “real thing” at night. Of course, many parenting “experts” claim that cutting out night feedings is essential for moms and babies, but really, it’s up to the mom and baby duo’s preference.
9 Pumping Between Feedings
With many new moms, it’s like a race to see how much milk you can make in the least amount of time. So in addition to feeding your newborn every couple of hours, you may also be told that you should pump in between feedings to further encourage your milk supply. But many experts say that moms don’t need to do this, and instead, just putting the baby to feed as often as he’s interested is the way to go. Of course, this is mostly advised if your baby is healthy and full-term—other babies may need more structure to ensure they’re getting enough to eat early on.
8 Checking Baby In Daily
Plenty of new mamas are understandably nervous about their little nurslings getting enough to eat. In the early days, many lactation consultants and pediatricians will advise (or require) checking the baby to make sure he or she is eating enough. But there are other ways to make sure the baby is eating enough, and moms don’t always need to resort to purchasing baby scales or frequenting the doctor’s office for no reason other than to use their scale! Babies visibly relax when they’re full, and moms can check to ensure their latch is good and listen for swallowing that indicates they’re getting enough milk. So in most cases, healthy babies don’t need daily checking.
7 Waking Tots To Feed
Another suggestion many professionals give new moms is that they should wake their babies to eat. And while this might be good advice for babies who are preemies or who have other health concerns, most healthy babies don’t need to wake to eat. If they get hungry, they will wake on their own! Of course, this applies to babies who are eating well on their own and who don’t have any other conditions that can affect their ability to wake up to feed. Thus, the advice to sleep when baby sleeps is definitely welcome and likely won’t have an adverse effect on your milk production.
6 Feeding Full Time
Most nursing advocates think that moms should nurse 100 percent of the time if they’re able. But some moms aren’t able to, and other moms flat-out prefer not to! The thing is, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Moms can combine bottle feeding and nursing—even bottle feeding with donor milk if they want—and it won’t hurt the baby. Nursing advocates are often insistent about getting as much of mom’s milk into the baby as possible, but the thing is, it’s not always the healthiest or most efficient for moms. And yes, the baby is important—but so is mom’s mental and physical health!
5 Quit Cold Turkey When Pregnant
Lots of mamas plan their babies close enough together that they’re still nursing their first child while expecting their second. And even for mamas whose new babies are unexpected surprises, there’s still the question of whether or not to continue nursing while pregnant. The thing is, although many “experts” will advise that moms wean while pregnant, there’s usually no need to. If the mom is not high-risk in her pregnancy or experiencing any conditions that can affect the nursling’s health, there’s no reason why she can’t continue nursing and then nurse both the toddler and the newborn when the time comes.
4 Tapering Off Vs Tandem
Though nursing while pregnant is something many doctors don’t recommend, they seem to be even more resistant to moms tandem nursing—nursing both the newborn and the older baby. But moms can tandem feed if they want to, and their bodies often “figure things out” on their own. While the recommendation is to always nurse the newborn first to ensure she gets everything she needs, there’s no hard and fast rule about it. After all, mom’s body will custom-make milk to suit each baby’s needs and appetite, and often, babies will each choose their own “side” to stick with—making it even harder to follow the advice of well-meaning pediatricians.
3 Eating Healthy 24/7
Sure, every mom (and everyone else, for that matter) should aim to eat healthy all of the time. But the thing is, treats in moderation give us life—so why deny ourselves the indulgence every once in a while? And despite what some billboards may have nursing moms thinking, just because mom eats a hamburger, that doesn’t mean her baby is literally consuming a fast food burger and a bit too much cholesterol. Even breastmilk from a mom who eats takeout for every meal is still nutritionally superior to many other infant food sources—and there’s nothing wrong with mom enjoying some convenience food every so often.
2 Nursing In Quiet
Some babies are really particular about when and where they eat, especially as they get older outside of the newborn stage. And while many well-meaning nursing advocates suggest finding a quiet and/or dark place to feed your baby, that’s not only not always feasible, but it’s also not always what the baby wants. After all, many tots don’t care where they eat and they’ll be happy to enjoy a meal practically anywhere. Besides, people often suggest moms excuse themselves to nurse their babies for the comfort of other people who may be in the vicinity—and seriously, who has time to worry about that when the baby is hungry?
1 Starting Solids On Schedule
Baby led weaning has gained plenty of support in the past decade, and research has shown that babies who start solids later rather than sooner tend to fare better in terms of how well they eat throughout childhood. Still, most pediatricians recommend starting babies on properly prepared baby food around age six months or so. But at this point, if a baby starts eating too many solids, a breastfeeding mom’s milk supply may drop, causing her to wean early at the disadvantage of her little one. After all, mom’s milk fulfills all of the baby’s nutritional needs to age one and beyond—hence the phrase “food before one is just for fun” catching on in nursing advocate circles.