The Basics: Overview
Breastfeeding (also known as nursing) is very healthy for you and your baby. Breast milk is the only food or liquid your baby needs for the first 6 months after birth.
After 6 months, you will start to feed your baby other foods in addition to breast milk. Experts recommend continuing to breastfeed your baby for at least the first 12 months.
Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. You and your baby may need practice – and almost all moms need a little help, especially in the beginning. The good news is that it gets easier with time.
To get ready to breastfeed:
- Talk to your doctor or midwife about breastfeeding.
- Make a plan for after your baby is born.
Once your baby is born:
- Let your doctor or midwife know you want skin-to-skin contact with your baby right away.
- Nurse whenever your baby is hungry.
- Ask for help if breastfeeding is difficult.
The Basics: Age Guidelines
Does my newborn need any other foods?
No. Until your baby is 6 months old, she only needs your breast milk. In fact, giving babies things like rice cereal or baby food during the first 6 months can keep them from getting the nutrients they need from breast milk.
Here are some guidelines to help make sure your baby gets the nutrition she needs.
Birth to age 6 months:
- Feed your baby breast milk or formula (no juice, cow's milk, solid foods, or water).
- Give your baby any vitamins, minerals, or medicine that your doctor recommends.
Ages 6 months to 12 months:
- Keep breastfeeding your baby.
- Introduce your baby to new foods.
Age 12 months and older:
- Continue to breastfeed as long as it feels right for you and your baby.
- Keep adding new foods to your baby's diet.
The Basics: Health Benefits
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding gives you and your baby time to be close, get to know each other, and bond. Breastfeeding is a healthy choice for both moms and babies.
Benefits for your baby
- Is the best source of nutrition for most babies
- Changes to meet your baby's nutritional needs as she grows
- Helps protect your baby from infection and illness
- Is easier for babies to digest than formula
Benefits for you
Breastfeeding may help protect you from:
- Ovarian and breast cancer
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding can also help lower your baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The Basics: Common Questions
If you are worried about breastfeeding, you aren't alone.
It's normal to have concerns about breastfeeding! The information below may help answer some of your questions.
My baby really doesn't need other food or liquid for the first 6 months?
Right. Your breast milk is made just for your baby – it has exactly the right amount of calories. Giving your baby formula or other food or liquid can cause him to gain weight too fast, which can lead to health problems later.
Also, when your baby eats cereal or formula instead of breast milk, your body gets a signal that your milk isn’t needed and starts to make less milk. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body makes.
Will my baby be able to sleep through the night without other foods?
Many moms worry that their babies won't be full enough to sleep through the night with only breast milk. Actually, in the first couple of months, babies need to nurse every few hours, even at night – they aren't supposed to sleep through the night.
If I breastfeed, will I be the only one who can feed my baby?
Many moms think they won't get a break if they can't have someone else feed the baby. But you can learn how to pump and store breast milk so your baby can eat when you aren't there.
You can also get a baby sling or carrier to make going out with your baby easier. With practice, you may be able to breastfeed in the carrier.
It's also important to know that babies who breastfeed don't get sick as much as other babies. Over time, that can mean spending less time at home with a sick baby.
Take Action: Get Help
Here are some tips and resources for successful breastfeeding.
Talk to your doctor or midwife about breastfeeding.
While you are pregnant, tell your doctor or midwife that you plan to breastfeed. Ask what kind of support is available to help you learn what you need to know.
If you have a health condition or take any medicines, ask if it's okay for you to breastfeed. Keep in mind that most conditions and medicines won't keep you from breastfeeding.
Get help from a breastfeeding specialist.
Many hospitals and doctor's offices have breastfeeding specialists called lactation counselors or consultants. They can answer your questions about breastfeeding and help you get started.
Your doctor or midwife may refer you to a lactation counselor.
Get help from another mom.
Breastfeeding peer counselors are moms who breastfed their own babies and learned how to help other women start breastfeeding. Ask your doctor or midwife how to find a peer counselor near you.
After you start breastfeeding, it's normal to have lots of questions. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or lactation counselor as often as you need to.
Take Action: Cost and Insurance
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, health insurance plans must cover counseling and access to breastfeeding supplies for pregnant and nursing women. That means you may be able to get help with breastfeeding at no cost to you.
Talk to your insurance company to find out more. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
Learn more about WIC.
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a government program that can help you get healthy food for yourself and your baby. WIC offers breastfeeding support, too. Ask your doctor or midwife how to sign up for this no-cost program.
Take Action: Make a Plan
Make a plan for after your baby is born.
By pumping breast milk, you can provide food for your baby when you are apart. A lactation counselor can help you learn to pump and store breast milk.
If you plan to go back to work after your baby's birth, talk to your supervisor ahead of time about where you can pump and store breast milk at work. Most employers are now required by law to give you time and a place to pump milk at your job.
Get more information about:
Take Action: Breastfeeding Tips
Get close to your baby right away.
Tell your doctor, midwife, or nurse that you want to hold your baby skin-to-skin right after you give birth – and that you want to breastfeed within 1 hour. This will help you and your baby get off to a good start with breastfeeding.
At first, your milk will be yellow. This is called colostrum, and it’s very good for your baby. Your regular milk will come in after a few days, and your breasts will feel full.
Nurse whenever your baby shows signs of hunger.
Newborn babies need to nurse often – about every 2 hours. Nursing often is also important for you, because it tells your body to make enough milk.
Watch your baby for signs of hunger, like:
- Moving his head from side to side (called rooting)
- Being more alert
- Acting fussy
Give your baby vitamin D and iron.
Breast milk doesn't usually have enough vitamin D and iron in it, so most babies who breastfeed need to take vitamin D and iron.
Babies need vitamin D and iron to grow up healthy. Vitamin D helps babies grow healthy bones, and iron helps their brains develop.
Talk to your baby’s doctor about making sure your baby gets enough vitamin D and iron.
Take Action: Breastfeeding Problems
Ask for help if breastfeeding is difficult.
Breastfeeding is new for you and your baby, so it will take time and practice. It's okay to ask for help.
Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt.
You may think breastfeeding is a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s not normal for breastfeeding to be painful. If you have pain or any other problems during breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, nurse, or lactation counselor.
Ask for help so that you and your baby can enjoy breastfeeding.
Content last updated October 15, 2020
This information on breastfeeding was adapted from materials from the Office on Women’s Health and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Cria Perrine, PhD
Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention