Breast-Feeding - Topic Overview

What is breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding 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 breastfeeding for 1 year or longer. But your baby benefits from any amount of breastfeeding you can do.

Breast milk is the only food most babies need until about 6 months of age. You do not need to give your baby food, water, or juice. Some babies may be ready for solid foods at 4 or 5 months. Ask your doctor when you can start feeding your baby solid foods. You will gradually breastfeed less often as your baby starts to eat other foods. But keep breastfeeding for as long as you and your child want to. Your baby continues to get health benefits from breast milk past the first year.

Breastfeeding 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

Breastfeeding has benefits for you too. You may recover from pregnancy, labor, and delivery sooner if you breastfeed. You may also lower your risk for certain health problems, such as breast cancer.1

Can all women breastfeed?

Almost all mothers of newborns are able to breastfeed. Even if you have a health problem, such as diabetes, or if you have had breast surgery, you can likely still breastfeed. But some women should not breastfeed, such as those who are HIV-positive or have active tuberculosis.

Breastfeeding is a learned skill-you will get better at it with practice. You may have times when breastfeeding 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 breastfeeding support groups.

How do you plan for breastfeeding?

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

  • Early in your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife about breastfeeding.
  • Learn the basics of breastfeeding before your baby is born. The staff at hospitals and birthing centers can help you find a lactation specialist. Or you can take a breastfeeding 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 breastfeeding mothers.
  • Buy breastfeeding equipment, such as breast pads, nipple cream, extra pillows, and nursing bras. Find out about breast pumps, too.

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How do you breastfeed?

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 breastfeeding 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.

How often do you need to feed your baby?

Feed your baby whenever he or she is hungry. In the first 2 weeks, your baby will breastfeed 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 breastfeed 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.

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Do you need to limit what you eat and drink?

Anything you put in your body can be passed to your baby in breast milk. If you are breastfeeding, 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 breastfeeding. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about breastfeeding:

How to breastfeed:

Common problems:

Your health and nutrition:

Breastfeeding with special conditions:

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

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