Feeding your baby
Breastfeeding is best
How is breastfeeding good for your baby?
Here’s why breast milk is best 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.
- Breast milk has fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexanoic 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 during sleep.
- 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. Your body makes as much breast milk as your baby needs. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you make. And there’s no waiting for you to mix up formula or get a bottle ready.
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.
Does a breastfed baby need vitamin supplements?
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.
Is breastfeeding good for babies with special needs?
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.
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 more quickly.
- It may help lower your risk for diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
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.
How many women breastfeed?
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.
Can all women breastfeed?
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
On the menu
- Newborn: Breast milk or formula
- 4-6 months: Cereal mixed with baby's milk
- 6 months: Pureed, cooked fruits and veggies
- 8 months: Cooked veggies and fine cut meats
- 9 months: Macaroni, crackers, pieces of fruit