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 two 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.
How do you breast-feed?
For each feeding, you go through these basic steps:
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 breast-feed 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 breast-feed 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.
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 breast-feeding, 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 breast-feeding. 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
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
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