Choosing a pediatrician for your children is a major decision. If you are planning to breastfeed your child, finding a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician is essential. Here are 14 questions that you can ask.
You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child?
I think in many cases, it takes a village to breastfeed a child!
I was fortunate to not have many issues with my first child when I was nursing him. He nursed well, and while he was smaller, he grew along his curve, so our doctors left us alone.
However, when Oliver was having trouble, I quickly found out that not all pediatricians are breastfeeding friendly. Upon doing more research, I found that unless a pediatrician took it upon themselves to take courses in breastfeeding (or breastfed their own children), the amount of education they received on the topic in med school was very minimal.
I believe one of the biggest reasons women don’t meet their breastfeeding goals is due to the lack of support or bad (usually well-intentioned) advice. Sadly, this occasionally comes from pediatricians, and it’s something we experienced with our second child’s first pediatrician. She was a lovely woman, but her feelings and advice on breastfeeding were more damaging than helpful.
This is in no way written to insult or degrade pediatricians. I think they are worth their weight in gold, and almost every pediatrician I have met has seemed to love their job and children. They can’t be experts in everything, and there are some that are more knowledgeable about breastfeeding. You want to feel like a team with your pediatrician and that you are on the same page!
And if you are a pediatrician reading this – know that if you take the time to be a breastfeeding-friendly practice, your name will be known far and wide in the breastfeeding community in your area.
If you want to breastfeed, I highly recommend interviewing pediatricians before your child is born and ask them these questions. I actually recommend everyone interview pediatricians before their child is born – they play such a huge part in your child’s upbringing (and I have a post at the end of this article that goes into that more – a must-read for all parents, whether they breastfeed or not!)
Be sure to download our printable questionnaire that you can take with you when interviewing a potential pediatrician!
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Questions to Ask
1) What Growth Chart does your office use?
When your doctor pulls out the growth chart, make sure you ask them if they are using the CDC growth charts or the WHO growth charts.
For any child under the age of two, the WHO growth charts should be used.
Kelly Mom has a lot of great information on this discrepancy. Basically, before 2006, the charts being used were based on babies who were not primarily breastfed for the first six months of life. Breastfed babies’ growth patterns are different than formula-fed babies, so the CDC charts, which represent babies who were not exclusively breastfed, don’t accurately represent their growth patterns.
Starting in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics said:
Infant growth should be monitored with the World Health Organization (WHO) Growth Curve Standards to avoid mislabeling infants as underweight or failing to thrive.
So make sure your doctor is using the WHO growth charts!
2) How long does a baby have to get back to their birth weight?
It is generally thought that babies should gain their birth weight by 10-14 days old. Unless they are really lethargic, showing signs of dehydration, lost more than 10% of their birth weight, it’s important to give them these two weeks.
Long story short – our pediatrician not knowing this caused our family a lot of unneeded stress, grief, and even a brief hospital stay. When we relayed what happened to our current pediatrician, she was shocked (he was 1/2 an ounce away from his birth weight at 10 days, which is good, but our old pediatrician felt otherwise).
3) When is supplementation necessary?
I think some doctors feel like formula is some kind of magical potion. If a baby is having trouble, the first thing they should do is help you figure out the problem. Insisting that you supplement right away can sometimes make problems worse – especially if WHY baby is having trouble isn’t looked at.
For instance, some babies might not be eating enough because they aren’t latching correctly. Others may have a tongue tie. There are many reasons why a baby may not be breastfeeding correctly, and the help of a qualified IBCLC can often solve those.
So ask your doctor when they would start to suggest supplementation. The doctor we see now told me that they do everything they can to help a mom breastfeed if that’s what she wants, and they only step in when needed. It’s good to be aware of what factors your doctor looks at.
This is a great article from The Milk Meg on questions you should ask when given the recommendation to supplement.
4) How is a supplementation recommendation given?
As I was leaving the office, quite distraught, the pediatrician said, “Oh don’t worry! Giving him a couple of bottles of formula a day won’t hurt your supply!”
She did not tell me that if I were to give him a bottle I should pump to keep up my supply. She just said that most parents have to supplement at some point, and this didn’t mean I would never get to nurse again!
If YOU want (or need) to supplement with formula, then that is completely up to you and fine! However, the fact of the matter is, the less stimulation of the breast, the less the baby will eat, and the less milk you will produce. Supplementing can be a slippery slope, and if you are doing it, it should be done under the care of an IBCLC.
5) What is the average weight gain for a breastfed baby?
The average weight gain for a breastfed baby changes as they get older. They tend to gain 5-7 ounces a week for months 0-4, 4-5 during months 4-6, and 2-3 from 6 to 12 months. These are averages, and some babies may gain a little less and some a little more. If they were born large or premature, these may change as well. But it’s a good rule of thumb.
Not all babies gain weight at the same rate. We noticed a pattern with our boys – they started out with a little bit slower weight gain and then really chunked up around 5-6 months. I think this partially had to do with both of them having reflux (and Jack’s weight gain slowed significantly around 10 months, which is when his reflux and other digestive issues started getting worse again).
Weight gain is certainly an indicator of well-being. They do need to gain weight! However, there are other factors that can and should be taken into account. Dr. Jay Gordon is a breastfeeding expert, and I think his article, “Look at the Baby, not the Scale” hits it right on the nose.
6) How do you recommend introducing solids in addition to breastmilk?
Until they turn one, an infant’s primary source of nutrition should be breastmilk or formula. Around six months, you can start introducing solids. Some pediatricians may recommend four months, but that is outdated advice, and six months is the most appropriate time according to many health professionals (along with signs of readiness).
Your pediatrician should encourage you to add them in slowly, but not to replace breastmilk with solids. They should roughly get the same amount of breast milk until they turn one.
7) When do you encourage weaning?
The average weaning age in the world is between 2 and 3, from what I’ve read. It is far earlier in the United States, and most women aren’t even breastfeeding by the age of one. Because of this, there is a stigma about breastfeeding past the age of one. But there is nothing wrong with it.
Breastfeeding should be encouraged for the entire year, and then for as long as mom and baby want to after that. I’m a big believer in gentle weaning (but that’s a topic for another day!)
If your pediatrician says that your baby should be weaned by a year and that you need to replace breast milk with cow’s milk, that’s a red flag. If you are breastfeeding regularly after a year, you don’t need to be offering cow’s milk on a regular basis.
8) How much should baby eat at different ages?
From about one month to six months, a breastfed baby needs 24-30 ounces per day. This does not increase with size or age, and recommendations for more come from formula recommendations.
There is no reason for a breastfed baby to be eating 40 ounces a day! If you are breastfeeding (not bottle feeding breast milk), just feed your baby and try not to worry about the ounces – just pay attention to diapers!
Until about one month, the amount baby eats increases until it gets to that 24-30 ounce mark at one month. The first few days they don’t need very much – colostrum is very nutrient rich and their tummies are super tiny!
9) Should I limit how long baby nurses for?
With few exceptions, you shouldn’t restrict how long a baby should nurse for. Oliver’s first pediatrician said I should not let him nurse for more than 10 minutes. When I visited with an IBCLC the next day (one of the best in-state), she was appalled at that.
In the beginning, breastfed babies take a long time to eat. If they are actively suckling and swallowing, it’s generally okay to let them continue.
10) When is formula better over breastmilk for supplementing?
If supplementing is necessary, the mother’s own breast milk or breast milk from a donor is the preferred supplement. This isn’t always possible, but it should be given as an option to the mom. When supplementing was brought up, our pediatrician was very hesitant to suggest that I could use my own milk.
Supplementing can lead to supply issues, bottle preference, etc. Make sure that if you are supplementing, you are doing so under the care of an IBCLC.
11) What factors do you look at for an appropriately growing breastfed baby?
There are several factors to consider in regards to wellness – weight gain, meeting milestones, healthy-looking, generally content, and, one that I think is very important – if they are growing along their curve.
Some babies will just be small, and that’s okay. Not every baby can be in the 100th percentile. If they are growing along their curve – even if it’s a lower one – then this is a good sign.
Also, keep in mind that some babies do jump around at curves. My third child, Andrew, started at the 50th, dropped down to the 7th, and was there until about five months, and at a year, he’s at the 90th. Sometimes it takes time to settle a curve.
12) Do you have lactation support on staff?
While this isn’t necessarily a requirement, it can make a big difference if there is a lactation professional (an IBCLC, CLC, or a CBS, preferably) is ideal. I think it’s great when a pediatrician recognizes they can’t be an expert in everything and brings in someone who can focus on their breastfeeding patients.
13) What percentage of your patients are breastfed and are exclusively breastfed?
Having a higher percentage indicates that the staff is encouraging and supportive of breastfeeding. If they don’t know, or it is rather low, this shouldn’t be your deciding factor. But you should inquire about how they are able to support you in reaching your goals.
14) How do they feel about night nursing/waking?
Infant sleep is highly controversial. Most pediatricians, in my experience, tend to fall in that camp of recommending that babies don’t need night feeds past 4-6 months, and many act as if something is wrong with a baby if they are still waking to feed or nursing to sleep.
When we were looking for a new pediatrician for my first child, the topic of sleep came out. My son was about six months, and the doctor was flabbergasted when I said he still nursed through the night. He told me (and I quote), “You have to make him cry it out. And let him cry until he throws up. After that, don’t clean it up, because he’s manipulating you.”
You better believe I walked out of that office and never walked back in.
In my opinion, unless asked for advice on sleeping and night waking, it’s not really their place to make you feel that there is something wrong with your baby if they wake at night. This is a great article on why older babies and toddlers breastfeed at night.
My family doesn’t sleep train, and my kids wake through the night until they are weaned. It works for us, and my kids have turned out great. However, I’ve had at least one pediatrician tell me how bad this was, and that my son didn’t need to nurse.
I have had wonderful pediatricians for the past few years, and the ones that I have appreciated the most are the ones that don’t even broach the sleep topic unless I bring it up (which I never do!).
I’ve found that pediatricians who have breastfed their children (or have a spouse that has) are generally going to be breastfeeding-friendly. I have seen this time and time again with our different experiences with doctors. Those who have personal experience with breastfeeding tend to be the doctors we’ve jived with most.
So don’t be afraid to ask if they have experience with breastfeeding! I also think it’s appropriate to ask if they have taken any lactation courses – who knows, it might encourage them to do so!
Be Prepared and Educate Yourself
At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is educate yourself so you can advocate for yourself and your child. Your pediatrician is an important part of your child’s life, but it’s up to you to make decisions on their day-to-day care.
By taking one of our comprehensive online breastfeeding classes, you will be equipped with the knowledge you need to meet your goals. These classes are available 24/7 in a variety of formats.
Where to find a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician
This can be tricky! I recommend joining a local Facebook group and asking there. You can also reach out to your local La Leche League leaders. While they can’t specifically endorse someone, they can give your resources to find one.
All in all, I want to emphasize again that I think pediatricians are wonderful! It’s so important to find one that works well with your family. These are just some questions to keep in mind as you search for the perfect one for you! You may find a pediatrician you love who may not be as knowledgeable in lactation, and that’s okay. Just be willing to express your opinion, be knowledgeable, and have a great IBCLC on-call!
For more general advice on finding a pediatrician, be sure to read this post.
Other Breastfeeding Posts You May Enjoy:
- The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding as a Working Mom: Tips, Schedules and More
- 27 Common Breastfeeding Questions – and Answers!
- Breastfeeding During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know
Katie Clark is a Certified Lactation Educator, Certified Breastfeeding Specialist, and IBCLC student. She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.