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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.
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