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 goes smoothly for most people. For others, it 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.
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.
Infants who breastfeed are also less likely to have:
- Ear infections
- Gas, diarrhea, and constipation
- Skin diseases (infantile eczema)
- Stomach or intestinal infections
- Wheezing, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis
Breastfed babies may have less risk for developing:
BENEFITS FOR MOM
Moms who breastfeed their babies also enjoy some benefits and rewards:
- A unique bond between mother and child
- Easier weight loss
- Less chance of bleeding after childbirth
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
While you are breastfeeding, you are less likely to have your menstrual periods.
Some circumstances can change your plans to breastfeed. How and what your baby eats may depend on the infant's physical condition and your health after birth. However, with help from a consultant, most babies -- even premature babies -- can breastfeed.
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
- Serious illnesses (heart disease or cancer, for example)
- Severe malnutrition
See breastfeeding tips for ways to overcome common problems. Health care professionals, such as physicians, dietitians, nurses, and nurse-midwives, can help answer your questions.
An excellent resource is the La Leche League International -- www.lalecheleague.org.
See also: Beastfeeding support group
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:section D.
CDC. Breastfeeding. Page last reviewed: July 30, 2010.
Reviewed By: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; and Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.