Breastfeeding is best
Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life. It helps your baby grow healthy and strong.
Breastfeeding helps protect your baby from many illnesses. Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who aren’t breastfed.
Your breast milk changes as your baby grows so he gets exactly what he needs at the right time.
It’s best to feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months.
Why is breastfeeding good for your baby?
- Breast milk has hormones and the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help your baby grow and develop. Breast milk has antibodies that help protect your baby from many illnesses. Antibodies are cells in the body that fight off infection. Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who aren’t breastfed. Breastfed babies don’t have as many ear, lung or urinary tract infections. And they’re less likely to have asthma, certain cancers and diabetes (having too much sugar in your blood) later in life. They’re also less likely to be overweight.
- Breast milk has fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), that may help your baby’s brain and eyes develop. It may lower the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old.
- Breast milk is easy to digest. A breastfed baby may have less gas and belly pain than a baby who is fed formula. Formula is a man-made product that you buy and feed your baby.
- Breast milk changes as your baby grows so he gets exactly what he needs at the right time. For example, for the first few days after giving birth, your breasts make a thick, yellowish form of breast milk called colostrum. Colostrum has nutrients and antibodies that your baby needs in the first few days of life. It changes to breast milk in 3 to 4 days. Breast milk is always ready when your baby wants to eat. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you make. Most breastfeeding moms make as much breast milk as their babies need.
In the United States, most new moms (about 4 in 5 or 80 percent) breastfeed their babies. About half of these moms breastfeed their babies for at least 6 months.
Is breastfeeding good for babies with special needs?
Yes. Some babies are born premature (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or with birth defects or other medical conditions. Breastfeeding a baby with special needs like these can help her grow and protect her from illness. But you may need help to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby.
Talk to your health care provider or lactation consultant about breastfeeding your baby with special needs. A lactation consultant is a person with special training in helping women breastfeed.
Is any amount of breastfeeding good?
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.
Is breastfeeding good for mom?
Yes. Breastfeeding your baby helps you because:
- It increases the amount of a hormone in your body called oxytocin. This helps your uterus (womb) go back to the size it was before you got pregnant. It also helps stop bleeding that you have after giving birth.
- It burns extra calories. This helps you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight (your weight before pregnancy).
- It may help lower your risk for diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
- It can help you bond with your baby.
Breastfeeding also delays the return of your period. But this can make it hard to know when your body can get pregnant again. Use birth control when you start having sex again. Talk to your provider about birth control that’s safe to use when you’re breastfeeding.
Is breastfeeding safe for all moms and babies?
No. Breastfeeding may not be safe for your baby if you have certain medical conditions, take certain medicines or have other problems, like using street drugs or abusing prescription drugs. You can pass some infections, medicines and drugs to your baby through breast milk. Some can be very harmful to your baby. Talk to your provider if you think you have a condition that may make breastfeeding unsafe for your baby.
See also: Breastfeeding your baby in the NICU
Last reviewed: April, 2016