Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life. It has many benefits for your baby and for you.
Breastfeeding is a natural thing to do, but sometimes it takes practice and patience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re having trouble. You may just need a little extra support to get started.
There are lots of people who can help you. They include:
- Your health care provider. This is the person who takes care of you during pregnancy.
- A lactation consultant. This person has special training to help women breastfeed. You can find a lactation consultant through your health care provider or your hospital. Or go to the International Lactation Consultants Association.
- A breastfeeding peer counselor. This is a woman who breastfed her own children and wants to help and support mothers who breastfeed. She has training to help women breastfeed, but not as much as a lactation consultant. You can find a peer counselor through your local WIC nutrition program. Or visit womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding or call the National Breastfeeding Helpline at (800) 994-9662.
- A breastfeeding support group. This is a group of women who help and support each other with breastfeeding. Ask your provider to help find a group near you. Or go to La Leche League.
If you’re thinking about breastfeeding:
- Find a health care provider for you and your baby who supports breastfeeding.
- Find out if the hospital where you’ll have your baby supports breastfeeding. Ask if there is a lactation consultant on staff.
- Take a breastfeeding class. Many hospitals offer these classes.
- Add breastfeeding to your birth plan. A birth plan is a set of instructions you make about your baby’s birth. Fill out the plan with your partner. Then share it with your provider, your family and other support people. It’s best for everyone to know ahead of time that you plan to breastfeed.
Most women can start breastfeeding within 1 hour after their baby is born. A nurse or lactation consultant can help you get started:
- Tell the nurses that you want to breastfeed.
- Ask to have your baby stay in the room with you so you can breastfeed him when he needs to eat.
- Ask your nurses, the lactation consultant and your baby’s provider to help make sure breastfeeding is going well before you leave the hospital.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! It may take time and practice before you and your baby are comfortable breastfeeding. Here’s what you can do:
- Talk to your provider, your baby’s provider or a lactation consultant.
- Talk to a breastfeeding peer counselor or join a support group.
- Talk to a friend who’s had a good experience breastfeeding. Ask for advice and information.
- Ask your partner for help. Ask your partner to attend a breastfeeding class with you. Or have him feed your baby a bottle of expressed milk (milk that you pump from your breast). This can help your partner share in the feeding experience.
- Learn about breastfeeding from books and DVDs. Your local library may have some good resources.
Last reviewed February 2012
See also: Breastfeeding and medications, prescription drugs, Breastfeeding your baby in the NICU, Using a breast pump, Keeping breastfeeding safe
Most common questions
How much vitamin D should my baby get?
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).
How often should I nurse my baby?
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.
What solids foods should I start my baby on?
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.
When should I give my baby solid foods?
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:
- She can sit with support.
- She shows a good head neck control when seated.
- She shows a desire for food by opening her mouth, drooling and leaning forward.
- She begins to chew and brings her hands to her mouth.
- She begins to handle objects with the palm of her hand.
- She swallows pureed food and the extrusion reflex starts to go away (tongue-thrust reflex).