Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life. It helps him grow healthy and strong. It also can protect him from many illnesses.
Here’s why breast milk is best for your baby:
Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who are fed formula. Breastfed babies don’t have as many ear, lung or urinary tract infections as babies who are fed formula. Breastfed babies may be less likely to have asthma, certain cancers and diabetes (having too much sugar in your blood) later in life. They also may be less likely to be obese.
Yes. Breast milk doesn’t have enough vitamin D for your baby. Vitamin D helps make bones and teeth strong and helps prevent a bone disease called rickets. Give your baby vitamin D drops starting in the first few days of life. Talk to your baby's provider about vitamin D drops for your baby.
If you’re a vegan, you need extra vitamin B12. A vegan is someone who doesn’t eat meat or anything made with animal products, like eggs or milk. If you’re a vegan, ask your provider about taking a B12 supplement to make sure you and your baby get the right amount.
Yes. But many premature babies or sick babies cannot feed from the breast right away. Giving your premature or sick baby breast milk can help her grow and protect her from illnesses.
If you have a premature baby, your breast milk is different than if you had a full-term baby. Your breast milk has what your premature baby needs at his stage of development.
If you have a baby with special needs, you may need extra help to make breastfeeding work. You may need to pump your breast milk to help build up your milk supply.
Yes. It’s best to feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months. This means no water, formula, other liquids or solid food—just breast milk. But any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby’s health and development. Even breastfeeding for a short time is good for your baby.
Yes. Breastfeeding your baby helps you because:
Breastfeeding also delays the return of your period. But that makes it hard to know when your body can get pregnant again. If you and your partner don’t want another baby right away, use birth control when you start having sex again.
About 3 out of 4 women (75 percent) in the United States breastfeed their babies. About 2 out of 5 women (about 40 percent) breastfeed their babies for at least 6 months.
No. Some moms shouldn’t breastfeed for medical and other reasons. Learn more about when it’s not OK to breastfeed.
Last reviewed February 2012
See also: Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding and medications, prescription drugs, Breastfeeding help, Breastfeeding your baby in the NICU, Breastfeeding: What dad can do, Keeping breastfeeding safe, Using a breast pump, A visit with a breastfeeding support group
Vitamin D is important to help avoid a bone-weakening disease called rickets. All babies should receive 400 IU of vitamin D per day, starting in the first few days of life. This includes breastfed babies and babies who drink less than 1L of infant formula per day.
Our skin makes vitamin D when it gets sunlight. But too much sunlight can be harmful, too. In fact, babies 6 months and older and young kids should stay away from direct sunlight and wear sunscreen at all times when out in the sun. However, sunscreen stops the skin from making vitamin D. The best way to get enough vitamin D is by giving your baby liquid multivitamin drops with vitamin D. They can be found in many pharmacies, and you won't need a prescription for it. Just be sure you've filled the dropper to no more than 400 international units (IU).
All babies are different and have different feeding patterns. In general, breastfed newborns need to eat 8 to 12 times in 24 hours (about once every 2 to 3 hours), for about 30 minutes each time. Breast milk is easily digested so it may be difficult to time when you should nurse your baby.
Newborns may need to feed more frequently than older babies. They may need to be fed on demand. As your milk supply is established and the baby grows, the baby's feeding patterns may change and she may go longer between feedings. Remember, breastfeeding is a natural skill, but it’s also a learned skilled. Be patient and give yourself (and your baby) time to master this new ability.
Begin with a single-grain iron-fortified cereal such as rice, barley or oatmeal. Mix it with breast milk or infant formula. Start with a small amount once a day. It's hard to tell how much your baby will eat. At first, most of her food will probably end on her bib or face. Be patient and help your baby learn this new skill. It's important that meal time is a pleasant time. This will build the foundation of healthy eating habits. If your baby cries, shows no interest in feeding or turns her head away from the spoon, stop feeding her. She is trying to tell you that she's full or she doesn’t want anymore. You should never force her to eat more than what she wants.
Breast milk is the best food for most babies. It's best to give only breast milk for the first 6 months of life. Some babies might be ready to start solid foods between 4 to 6 months of age. When your baby is between 4 to 6 months, she may begin to show signs that she's ready to try some solid foods alongside her breast milk or formula. Watch for her developmental cues (signs) and she'll let you know when she's ready. Some signs that show your baby might be ready to start solid foods are: