Breastfeeding

Definition

Deciding to breastfeed is a decision only you can make. It deserves careful thought.

Experts agree that breastfeeding your baby for any length of time, no matter how short it is, will provide rewards for both you and your baby. Breast milk is the natural food source for infants younger than 1 year.

Breastfeeding may take time and practice. However, with help from nurses, breastfeeding experts, your doctor, or support groups, you can enjoy the benefits and rewards of breastfeeding.

See also:

  • Age-appropriate diet for children
  • Breast milk - pumping and storage
  • Formula feeding
  • How to breastfeed
  • Overcoming breastfeeding problems
  • Self-care for mothers who breastfeed

Alternative Names

Nursing; Lactation; Deciding to breastfeed

Function

Food Sources

Side Effects

Recommendations

BENEFITS FOR YOUR BABY

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the first 6 months of life.

  • It contains the right amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.
  • It provides the digestive proteins (enzymes), minerals, vitamins, and hormones infants need.
  • It has antibodies from the mother that can help the baby fight infections.

Infants who breastfeed are less likely to have:

  • Allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Gas, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Skin diseases (such as eczema)
  • Stomach or intestinal infections
  • Wheezing
  • Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis

Breastfed babies may have a lower risk for developing:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity or weight problems
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Tooth decay

BENEFITS FOR MOM

Moms who breastfeed a baby also have some benefits and rewards:

  • A unique bond between mother and child
  • Easier weight loss
  • Less likely to have menstrual periods as long as you breastfeed
  • Lower risk for breast cancer and certain ovarian cancers
  • Possible lower risk for osteoporosis
  • Lower risk of heart disease and obesity

Breastfeeding can save time and money, including:

  • Lower cost for feedings, up to $1,000 savings per year
  • No bottle cleaning
  • No formula preparation (breast milk is always available at the right temperature)
  • Reduced risk of breast cancer, some types of ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis

CAN I BREASTFEED MY BABY?

Some things can change your plans to breastfeed. How and what your baby eats may depend on your baby's health and your health. However, most babies, even preemies, can breastfeed if you get the help of a lactation consultant.

Some babies are unable to drink enough breast milk by breastfeeding, due to:

  • Birth defects of the mouth (cleft lip or cleft palate)
  • Difficulty sucking
  • Digestive problems (galactosemia)
  • Premature birth
  • Small size
  • Weak physical condition

See a lactation consultant if you have:

  • Breast cancer or other cancer
  • Breast infection or breast abscess
  • Poor milk supply (uncommon)
  • Previous surgery or radiation treatment

Breastfeeding is not recommended for mothers who have certain health problems, such as:

  • Active herpes sores on the breast
  • Active, untreated tuberculosis
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS
  • Nephritis
  • Serious illnesses (heart disease or cancer, for example)
  • Severe malnutrition

For more information see:

  • Breastfeeding tips
  • Breastfeeding support group

An excellent resource is the La Leche League International -- www.lalecheleague.org.

References

Payne PA, Tully MR. Breastfeeding promotion. In: Ratcliffe SD, Baxley EG, Cline MK, Sakornbut EL, eds. Family Medicine Obstetrics. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 4.