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Breast-Feeding - Topic Overview

What is breast-feeding?

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

Can all women breast-feed?

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.

How do you plan for breast-feeding?

Before your baby is born, plan ahead. Learn all you can about breast-feeding. This helps make breast-feeding easier.

  • Early in your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife about breast-feeding.
  • Learn the basics of breast-feeding before your baby is born. The staff at hospitals and birthing centers can help you find a lactation specialist. Or you can take a breast-feeding class.
  • Plan ahead for times when you will need help after your baby is born. Many women get help from friends and family or they join a support group to talk to other breast-feeding mothers.
  • Buy breast-feeding equipment, such as breast pads, nipple cream, extra pillows, and nursing bras. Find out about breast pumps, too.

How do you breast-feed?

For each feeding, you go through these basic steps:

  • Get ready for the feeding. Be calm and relaxed, and try not to be distracted. Get some water or juice for yourself. And have two or three pillows to help support your baby while he or she is nursing.
  • Find a breast-feeding position that is comfortable for you and your baby, such as the cross-cradle or the football hold. Make sure the baby's head and chest are lined up straight and facing your breast. It's best to switch which breast you start with each time.
  • Get the baby latched on properly. Your baby's mouth needs to be wide open, like a yawn, so you may need to gently touch the middle of your baby's lower lip. When your baby's mouth is open wide, quickly bring the baby onto your nipple and areola (the dark circle around your nipple).
  • Provide a complete feeding. Let your baby nurse for at least 15 minutes. Be sure to burp your baby after each breast.

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.

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