Breast-feeding is feeding
a baby milk from the mother's breasts. You can feed your baby right at your
breast. You can also pump your breasts and put the milk in a bottle to feed
your baby. Doctors
advise breast-feeding for 1 year or longer. But your baby benefits from any
amount of breast-feeding you can do.
Breast milk is the only
food your baby needs until about 6 months of age. You do not need to give your
baby food, water, or juice. After that, you will gradually breast-feed less
often as your baby starts to eat other foods. But keep breast-feeding for as
long as you and your child want to. Your baby continues to get health benefits
from breast milk past the first year.
Breast-feeding lowers your
child's risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and many types of infections and allergies. Breast milk may also
help protect your child from some health problems, such as eczema, obesity,
asthma, and diabetes.1, 2
Breast-feeding has benefits for you too. You may recover from pregnancy, labor, and delivery
sooner if you breast-feed. You may also lower your risk for certain health problems, such as breast cancer.1
Almost all mothers
of newborns are able to breast-feed. Even if you have a health problem, such as diabetes, or if you have had breast surgery, you can likely still breast-feed. But some women should not breast-feed, such as those who are HIV-positive or have active tuberculosis.
Breast-feeding is a
learned skill—you will get better at it with practice. You may have times when
breast-feeding is hard. The first 2 weeks are the hardest for many women. But don't give up. You can work through most problems. Doctors, nurses, and
lactation specialists can all help. So can friends,
family, and breast-feeding support groups.
baby is born, plan ahead. Learn all you can about breast-feeding. This helps
make breast-feeding easier.
For each feeding, you go through
these basic steps:
Talk to your doctor right away if you
are having problems and aren't sure what to do. Don't be afraid to call even
if you don't quite know what it is that is bothering you. Your doctor is used
to parents of newborns calling. He or she can help you figure out if there is a
problem, and if so, how to fix it.
your baby whenever he or she is hungry. In the first 2 weeks, your baby will
breast-feed about every 1 to 3 hours. This schedule can make you very tired.
But know that your baby will soon start eating more at each feeding, and you
won't need to breast-feed as often.
Plan for times when you
will be apart from your baby. Use a breast pump to collect breast milk ahead of
time. You can store milk in the refrigerator or freezer for times when someone
else will be taking care of your baby.
Anything you put in your body can be passed to
your baby in breast milk. If you are breast-feeding, don't drink alcohol, take
drugs, or smoke. Before you take any kind of medicine, herb, or vitamin, ask
your doctor if it is safe.
Be sure to eat healthy, balanced meals and snacks to get enough of the vitamins and minerals
you need while breast-feeding. You need to eat extra calories and may need to keep taking your prenatal vitamins.
If you have questions about what to eat and what to avoid, talk with your doctor or midwife.
Learning about breast-feeding:
How to breast-feed:
Your health and nutrition:
Breast-feeding with special conditions:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Breast-feeding is a natural way to
nourish your baby. It benefits both you and your baby. But it's your decision whether to breast-feed.
Breast milk provides your baby with
vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and development. It also has the needed proteins,
fats, and other substances for growth.
Breast-feeding provides health benefits for your baby, such as:
To compare, baby formula does not help protect a baby
from infections and other health problems.
Soon after your baby is born,
breast-feeding helps your body recover from the stresses of pregnancy, labor,
and delivery. Breast-feeding also stimulates your body to release
oxytocin, which helps your
uterus contract, bleed less, and return more quickly to its prepregnancy size.
Breast-feeding also lowers
your risk for certain health problems, such as breast cancer or diabetes later on.1, 5
You may find that
losing weight is easier
with breast-feeding. But weight-loss rates after delivery vary among women.
Feeding your baby milk at
the breast is convenient, because you have a food
source that is ready at all times. You
don't have to do anything to prepare.
Breast-feeding is a personal choice. How you feed your baby is
your decision. Your thoughts and feelings about it are an important part of the
With proper planning, preparation, and support, most women are able to breast-feed successfully.
At your prenatal visits, talk to your doctor or midwife about your plans to breast-feed. He or she can help guide you through the planning and get you started after the baby is born. You may also be referred to a lactation consultant.
properly and prevent problems, you will need to learn the basics of breast-feeding. You will want to get ready before each feeding and find a position that is comfortable for you and your baby. Doing this will help you get your baby to latch on, so that you can provide a complete feeding each time. If you do have trouble with breast-feeding, get support from family, friends, your doctor, or a lactation consultant.
Being ready for a feeding will help you relax. And being relaxed will help your let-down reflex, which occurs just before or soon
after feeding begins. It's helpful to wear a loose blouse or a shirt that can be raised easily. If you want more privacy, use a lightweight blanket over your shoulder and chest to cover your breasts and your baby.
It is likely that you will have to breast-feed around other people, even strangers, when you are feeding your baby on demand. In many states and on federal property, your right to breast-feed in public is protected by law.
To get ready, you can also do things like:
Breast-feeding in the proper position will help your baby latch on and breast-feed correctly. There are several breast-feeding positions, such as the cradle hold, the football hold, and the side-lying position.
As you start to
breast-feed, try different positions to find those that
are most comfortable for you and your baby. For example, use the cross-cradle
hold at one feeding, and then use the football hold at the next. Feeding in different
positions may reduce nipple soreness. Also, start each new
feeding with the opposite breast you started with at the last feeding. This
routine helps you to empty each breast completely.
For more help with finding the best position, see the topic Breast-Feeding Positions.
A proper latch helps prevent problems such as sore nipples, blocked milk ducts, breast infections, and poor infant weight gain. An improper latch is painful and frustrating. It causes some women to stop breast-feeding.
The steps to get your baby latched on are about the same for all breast-feeding positions. Latching on in the cross-cradle position is an easy one to start with.
When your baby is done breast-feeding, you can break the latch by using your pinky finger. Place one finger into the corner of your baby's mouth. This will gently break the seal. You can also use your pinky to break the latch if you experience pain after your baby first latches on. Then you can start again.
If you don't break the latch before you remove the baby from your breast, your nipples may become sore, cracked, or bruised.
Let your baby feed until he or she is satisfied.
To learn more about babies' feeding patterns, see Feeding and Diapering Habits.
The first two weeks of breast-feeding usually are the most challenging. You may have other times when you need extra help. Know who you can contact, such as friends and family who have breast-fed or a lactation consultant. Other support is available through local hospitals or clinics and support organizations, such as La Leche League.
A healthy lifestyle—including having a balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, and being active—is important while you breast-feed. It can help you have more energy and reduce stress. It can also help you build a healthy milk supply.
It's also important to know what to avoid. Anything you put in your body can be passed to your baby in breast milk.
Some moms notice that certain foods make their babies more fussy. You may want to keep track of what you eat and how your baby acts.
If you have special dietary needs, talk to a dietitian. He or she can help you plan healthy meals.
Having a new baby and breast-feeding take time to get used to. Take it easy on yourself. Find ways to help yourself cope in the first few months. Learning more about how your baby will grow and change may be helpful to you too. For more information, see the topic Growth and Development, Newborn.
Knowing your baby's feeding and diapering habits are important, especially during the first few months of breast-feeding. There are usually patterns to how often he or she feeds and how often you will change his or her diaper. You may also notice changes in how long each feeding lasts and begin to recognize signs that your baby is getting enough milk. As your baby gets older, you may add supplements and other foods and eventually you will reach the time for weaning.
recommendation is to feed your baby on demand. This means that you breast-feed whenever you notice signs that your baby is hungry, such as when he or she is eagerly sucking on fingers or rooting. This strategy also helps you produce more milk and ensures that the
baby is well nourished.
During the first few days or weeks,
on-demand feedings usually occur every 1 to 3 hours (about 8 to 12 feedings in a
24-hour period). You may have to
wake a sleepy baby to feed in the first few days after
birth. These early feedings often are short. Sometimes a newborn breast-feeds
for only a few minutes on each breast or only on one breast. These feedings are
important to increase your milk supply over the first few days. Try
to let your baby breast-feed at least 15 minutes on a breast. This allows your
baby to get the foremilk, which has water and needed nutrients, and
hindmilk, which has more fat and calories to satisfy
your baby's appetite. Over time, feeding sessions will become longer.
At around 3
months of age, feedings may become less frequent. Your baby is able to
drink more milk at one time and your milk supply naturally increases as your baby's needs increases.
typically increase during growth spurts. When your baby has a growth spurt, he or she may seem to be hungry more often. By feeding your baby on demand, you increase your milk supply.
After about 2 to 4 days, you will have increased your milk supply at each
feeding to satisfy your baby for a longer period. After the growth spurt, the number of feedings will
then gradually decrease.
It is common to wonder if your baby is getting enough milk. Most babies lose weight in the first several
days after birth but regain it within a week or two. Weight gain is more rapid
after mature milk is produced, about 10 to 15 days after you deliver your baby.
After breast-feeding is established, your baby will also get more
hindmilk, which provides additional fat and calories.
signs that your baby is getting enough milk, such as having regular dirty and wet diapers. If you still have concerns, see When to Call a Doctor.
If you aren't sure if your baby is
getting enough milk, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you to find
the problem, if one exists. Don't supplement your breast-fed baby's diet with
formula unless your doctor recommends it. Extra feedings with formula can
interfere with your breast milk production and may lead to early weaning.
By monitoring your baby's diaper habits, you can get a sense of whether he or she is getting enough breast milk. You may be surprised at
the number of diapers your newborn goes through every day. Expect to change your newborn's diaper often. Breast-fed babies usually have a small stool after every feeding for about the
first 4 to 8 weeks. Stools may be yellow, seedy-looking, and soft or runny. Gradually the pattern changes, and your baby will start to have larger stools.
The number of diapers
a newborn wets is sometimes hard to know, because disposable diapers
are so effective at wicking moisture.
Feeding your baby will change through the first year. When your baby reaches 6 months of age, you can start adding other foods besides breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast-feeding babies for at least the first year and giving only breast milk for the first 6 months.6
Doctors usually recommend against
supplementing a breast-fed baby's diet with formula, food, and/or water during the first 6 months, even during a growth spurt. Supplementing can decrease your milk production. Early bottle feedings can
also make it harder for your baby to latch on to your breast.
Although breast-fed babies get the best possible nutrition, they will probably need certain vitamin or nutritional supplements (especially iron) to maintain or improve their health. Talk with your doctor about how much and what
sources of supplements are right for your child. Vitamin D for babies is usually
a liquid supplement that you add to a bottle of breast milk with a dropper or
drip into your baby's mouth.
It's best for you and your baby if you
breast-feed for a full year. If you keep breast-feeding beyond
1 year, your baby will continue to benefit. After the first year, look for
signs that your baby is ready to wean, such as refusing to breast-feed or showing interest in drinking from a cup. Talk to your doctor if you have
questions about weaning.
Whenever you decide to wean, keep in
mind that suddenly stopping breast-feeding may be
harder for both you and your baby than a gradual decrease in feeding
To learn more about weaning, see the topic Weaning.
Pumping and storing your milk allows you to breast-feed while working or just getting some time away from your baby. It's a good idea to have a plan for when you'll need to pump, select the right breast pump for you, and know how to store milk safely. These will help set you and your baby up for long-term breast-feeding success.
If you often feed your baby pumped breast milk, your milk supply may decrease. This is because your body releases less prolactin than it does when you feed your baby at the breast. To help maintain your milk supply when you pump frequently:
You may sometimes doubt your ability to successfully breast-feed. It's common to have questions and struggles sometimes. You may notice that your baby is having problems. Or you may have problems during feeding or problems with your breasts. Remember, most breast-feeding issues are easily resolved when you know what to expect and have support from others, including your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant.
If you have other concerns or aren't sure if you should see your baby's doctor, see When to Call a Doctor.
Some babies are born with problems that interfere with their ability to breast-feed right away. But many of these babies can be fed breast milk using special techniques, such as cup-feeding or a feeding device called a supplemental nursing system. Feeding a premature baby or a baby with cleft palate or cleft lip may be challenging. Your doctor or a lactation consultant can guide you on feeding techniques.
Most women can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Advil) while breast-feeding to help relieve discomfort from some of these problems. But talk to your doctor before taking any medicine (prescription or nonprescription).
If you have other concerns or aren't sure if you should see your doctor, see When to Call a Doctor. For problems related to technique or positioning, you also can talk to or visit a lactation consultant.
Call your doctor now if you have:
Call your doctor today if you have:
Call your doctor today if your baby:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers a
variety of educational materials about parenting,
general growth and development, immunizations, safety, disease prevention, and more. AAP guidelines for various conditions and links to other
organizations are also available.
La Leche League International (LLLI) offers information and
encouragement—mainly through personal help—to all mothers who want to
breast-feed their babies. It also offers support and information about
breast-feeding babies with various disabilities, such as cleft lip or cleft
palate. Call for information about a chapter in your area.
The March of Dimes tries to improve the health of babies
by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and early death. March of Dimes
supports research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies'
lives. The organization's website has information on premature birth, birth
defects, birth defects testing, pregnancy, and prenatal care.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (NICHD) is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The
NICHD conducts and supports research related to the health of children, adults,
and families. NICHD has information on its Web site about many health topics.
And you can send specific requests to information specialists.
The Office on Women's Health is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides women's health information to a variety of
audiences, including consumers, health professionals, and researchers.
Lawrence RM, Lawrence RA (2009). The breast and
physiology of lactation. In RK Creasy et al., eds., Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 125–142. Philadelphia:
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 128(5): 1030–1039.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Breastfeeding. In RE Kleinman, ed., Pediatric Nutrition Handbook, 6th ed., pp. 29–59. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Grummer-Strawn LM, Mei Z (2004). Does breastfeeding
protect against pediatric overweight? Analysis of longitudinal data from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance
System. Pediatrics, 113(2): e81–e86.
Stuebe AM, et al. (2005). Duration of lactation and
incidence of type 2 diabetes. JAMA, 294(20): 2601–2610.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on
Breastfeeding (2005). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 115(2): 496–506.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Diagnosis and prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children (0–3 years of age). Pediatrics, 126(5): 1040–1050. Available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/126/5/1040.
Krebs NF, et al. (2011). Infant feeding section of
Normal childhood nutrition and its disorders. In WW Hay et al., eds.,
Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed.,
chap. 10, pp. 277–288. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Martin RM, et al. (2005). Breastfeeding in infancy
and blood pressure in later life: Systematic review and meta-analysis.
American Journal of Epidemiology, 161(1):
Owen CG, et al. (2006). Does breastfeeding influence
the risk of type 2 diabetes in later life? A quantitative analysis of published
evidence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 84:
Stuebe AM, et al. (2005). Duration of lactation and
incidence of type 2 diabetes. JAMA, 294(20): 2601–2610.
Wagner CL, et al. (2008). Prevention of rickets and
vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. American Academy of
Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 122(5):
October 31, 2011
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
& Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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