Breast milk is the most complete single source of nutrition
for the first 6 months of life. There is no formula that duplicates breast
milk. Breast milk contains:
Antibodies and living cells that help
protect the infant from infections. They also promote healthy bacteria that
help the intestines to digest nutrients properly.
vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and development.
fats, and other substances that are especially adapted for the needs of a
Breast milk changes over time with a baby's nutritional
needs. The first milk produced is
colostrum, a sticky, yellowish liquid that contains
protein, minerals, vitamins, and antibodies. Colostrum is produced during
pregnancy and the first few days after delivery. The
transitional milk comes in after the colostrum,
followed by mature milk about 10 to 15 days after you deliver your baby.
Breast milk also changes during each feeding. The last milk in
the breast, called hindmilk, is higher in calories, nutrients, and fat and
helps satisfy your baby's appetite. To get to the hindmilk, breast-feeding (or
pumping) should continue on one breast until it is emptied. This usually
requires at least 10 to 20 minutes of feeding or pumping for each breast.
Breast milk is easy to digest, so breast-fed babies are rarely
constipated. Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if your baby is having hard bowel movements and goes many days between bowel movements.
Breast-feeding protects and helps your baby in ways that formula feeding
does not. These benefits include:
upper respiratory infections (such as colds),
ear infections, and lower respiratory infections (such
pneumonia). Breast milk has more than 50 components
that boost the immune system and help protect your baby. When illnesses occur,
they tend to be shorter and less severe. Fresh breast milk offers the highest
concentration of protective antibodies.1
Reduced risk for obesity. Breast-fed babies are less
likely than formula-fed babies to be overweight later in infancy and during
childhood and adolescence.2 Staying at a healthy
weight reduces the risk for certain conditions, such as
for at least 1 year is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the
American Association of Family Physicians, and the American College of
Obstetrics and Gynecology.2, 3
Children younger than one year of age may benefit from a vitamin D supplement. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are
right for your child in addition to your child's other vitamin and mineral needs, especially iron.
Hanna N, et al. (2004). Effect of storage on breast
milk antioxidant activity. Archives of Disease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 89(6): F518–F520.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3): e827–e841. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(2007). Breastfeeding: Maternal and infant aspects. ACOG Committee Opinion No.
361. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 109(2 pt 1): 479–480.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Current as of
April 12, 2013
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
April 12, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this