Top of the page
Breastfeeding is feeding a baby milk from the mother's breasts. You can feed your baby right at your breast. You can also pump your breasts and put the milk in a bottle to feed your baby. Doctors advise breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond. But your baby benefits from any amount of breastfeeding you can do.
Breast milk is the only food your baby needs until about 6 months of age. You do not need to give your baby food, water, or juice. After that, you will gradually breastfeed less often as your baby starts to eat other foods. But keep breastfeeding for as long as you and your child want to. Your baby continues to get health benefits from breast milk.
Breastfeeding lowers your child's risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).footnote 1 Breast milk may also help protect your child from some health problems, such as infections, obesity, and diabetes.footnote 2
Breastfeeding has benefits for you too. You may recover from pregnancy, labour, and delivery sooner if you breastfeed. You may also lower your risk for certain health problems, such as breast cancer.footnote 2
Almost all mothers of newborns are able to breastfeed. Even if you have a health problem, such as diabetes, or if you have had breast surgery, you can likely still breastfeed. But some women should not breastfeed, such as those who are HIV-positive or have active tuberculosis.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill—you will get better at it with practice. Be patient with yourself and your baby. If you have trouble, doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants can all help. So can friends, family, and breastfeeding support groups.
Before your baby is born, plan ahead. Learn all you can about breastfeeding. This helps make breastfeeding easier.
For each feeding, you go through these basic steps:
Talk to your doctor right away if you are having problems and aren't sure what to do. Don't be afraid to call even if you don't quite know what it is that is bothering you. Your doctor is used to parents of newborns calling. He or she can help you figure out if there is a problem, and if so, how to fix it.
Feed your baby whenever he or she is hungry. That often works out to about 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. This schedule can make you very tired. But know that your baby will soon start eating more at each feeding, and you won't need to breastfeed as often.
Plan for times when you will be apart from your baby. Use a breast pump to collect breast milk ahead of time. You can store milk in the refrigerator or freezer for times when someone else will be taking care of your baby. Experts usually recommend waiting about a month until breastfeeding is going well before offering a bottle.
Anything you put in your body can be passed to your baby in breast milk. If you are breastfeeding, don't take drugs. Before you take any kind of medicine, herb, or vitamin, ask your doctor if it is safe.
If you are breastfeeding, limit alcohol. There isn't a lot of research about exactly how much alcohol can harm a baby. Having no alcohol is the safest choice for your baby. If you choose to have a drink now and then, have only one drink, and limit the number of occasions that you have a drink. Wait to breastfeed at least 2 hours after you have a drink to reduce the amount of alcohol the baby may get in the milk.footnote 3
Be sure to eat healthy, balanced meals and snacks to get enough of the vitamins and minerals you need while breastfeeding. You need to eat extra calories and may need to keep taking your prenatal vitamins.
If you have questions about what to eat and what to avoid, talk with your doctor or midwife.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Breastfeeding is a natural way to nourish your baby. It benefits both you and your baby. But it's your decision whether to breastfeed.
Breast milk provides your baby with vitamins and minerals for optimal growth and development. It also has the needed proteins, fats, and other substances for growth.
Breastfeeding provides health benefits for your baby, such as:
To compare, baby formula does not help protect a baby from infections and other health problems.
Soon after your baby is born, breastfeeding helps your body recover from the stresses of pregnancy, labour, and delivery. Breastfeeding also stimulates your body to release oxytocin, which helps your uterus contract, bleed less, and return more quickly to its pre-pregnancy size.
Breastfeeding also lowers your risk for certain health problems, such as breast cancer or diabetes later on.footnote 6
You may find that losing weight is easier with breastfeeding. But weight-loss rates after delivery vary among women.
Feeding your baby milk at the breast is convenient, because you have a food source that is ready at all times. You don't have to do anything to prepare.
Breastfeeding is a personal choice. How you feed your baby is your decision. Your thoughts and feelings about it are an important part of the decision.
With proper planning, preparation, and support, most women are able to breastfeed successfully.
At your prenatal visits, talk to your doctor or midwife about your plans to breastfeed. He or she can help guide you through the planning and get you started after the baby is born. You may also be referred to a lactation consultant.
To breastfeed properly and prevent problems, you will need to learn the basics of breastfeeding. You will want to get ready before each feeding and find a position that is comfortable for you and your baby. Doing this will help you get your baby to latch on, so that you can provide a complete feeding each time. If you do have trouble with breastfeeding, get support from family, friends, your doctor, or a lactation consultant.
Being ready for a feeding will help you relax. And being relaxed will help your let-down reflex, which occurs just before or soon after feeding begins. It's helpful to wear a loose blouse or a shirt that can be raised easily. If you want more privacy, use a lightweight blanket over your shoulder and chest to cover your breasts and your baby.
It is likely that you will have to breastfeed around other people, even strangers, when you are feeding your baby on demand. In some areas, your right to breastfeed in public is specifically protected by law. In other areas, your right to breastfeed in public is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
To get ready, you can also do things like:
Breastfeeding in the proper position will help your baby latch on and breastfeed correctly. There are several breastfeeding positions, such as the cradle hold, the football hold, and the side-lying position.
As you start to breastfeed, try different positions to find those that are most comfortable for you and your baby. For example, use the cross-cradle hold at one feeding, and then use the football hold at the next. Feeding in different positions may reduce nipple soreness. Also, start each new feeding with the opposite breast you started with at the last feeding. This routine helps you to empty each breast completely.
For more help with finding the best position, see the topic Breastfeeding Positions.
A proper latch helps prevent problems such as sore nipples, blocked milk ducts, breast infections, and poor infant weight gain. An improper latch is painful and frustrating. It causes some women to stop breastfeeding.
The steps to get your baby latched on are about the same for all breastfeeding positions. Latching on in the cross-cradle position is an easy one to start with.
If you need to take the baby off the breast (for example, to reposition), you will need to break the baby's latch on your nipple. To break your baby's latch, put one finger into the corner of his or her mouth. This will gently break the latch. Then you can start again. If you don't break the latch before you remove the baby from your breast, your nipples may become sore, cracked, or bruised.
Let your baby feed until he or she is satisfied.
To learn more about your baby's feeding needs, see Feeding Patterns.
The first two weeks of breastfeeding usually are the most challenging. You may have other times when you need extra help. Know who you can contact, such as friends and family who have breastfed or a lactation consultant. Other support is available through local hospitals or clinics and support organizations, such as La Leche League.
A healthy lifestyle—including having a balanced diet, getting plenty of rest, and being active—is important while you breastfeed. It can help you have more energy and reduce stress. It can also help you build a healthy milk supply.
It's also important to know what to avoid. Anything you put in your body can be passed to your baby in breast milk.
Some moms notice that certain foods make their babies more fussy. You may want to keep track of what you eat and how your baby acts.
If you have special dietary needs, talk to a dietitian. He or she can help you plan healthy meals.
Having a new baby and breastfeeding take time to get used to. Take it easy on yourself. Find ways to help yourself cope in the first few months. Learning more about how your baby will grow and change may be helpful to you too. For more information, see the topic Growth and Development, Newborn.
Knowing your baby's feeding habits and diaper-change patterns is important, especially during the first few months of breastfeeding. There are usually patterns to how often he or she feeds and how often you will need to change his or her diaper. You may also notice changes in how long each feeding lasts and begin to recognize signs that your baby is getting enough milk. As your baby gets older, you may add supplements and other foods and eventually you will reach the time for weaning.
The general recommendation is to feed your baby on demand. This means that you breastfeed whenever you notice signs that your baby is hungry, such as when he or she is eagerly sucking on fingers or rooting. This strategy also helps you produce more milk and ensures that the baby is well nourished.
You may have to wake a sleepy baby to feed him or her in the first few days after birth. These early feedings often are short. Sometimes a newborn breastfeeds for only a few minutes on each breast or only on one breast. These feedings are important to increase your milk supply over the first few days. Let your baby decide how long to nurse. This allows your baby to get the foremilk, which has water and needed nutrients, and hindmilk, which has more fat and calories to satisfy your baby's appetite. Over time, feeding sessions will become longer.
At around 3 months of age, feedings may become less frequent. Your baby is able to drink more milk at one time and your milk supply naturally increases as your baby's needs increases.
Needs typically increase during growth spurts. When your baby has a growth spurt, he or she may seem to be hungry more often. By feeding your baby on demand, you increase your milk supply. After about 2 to 4 days, you will have increased your milk supply at each feeding to satisfy your baby for a longer period. After the growth spurt, the number of feedings will then gradually decrease.
It is common to wonder if your baby is getting enough milk. Most babies lose weight in the first several days after birth but regain it within a week or two. Weight gain is more rapid after mature milk is produced, about 10 to 15 days after you deliver your baby. After breastfeeding is established, your baby will also get more hindmilk, which provides additional fat and calories. Look for signs that your baby is getting enough milk, such as having regular dirty and wet diapers. If you still have concerns, see When to Call a Doctor.
If you aren't sure if your baby is getting enough milk, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you to find the problem, if one exists. Don't supplement your breastfed baby's diet with formula unless your doctor recommends it. Extra feedings with formula can interfere with your breast milk production and may lead to early weaning.
Feeding your baby will change through the first year. When your baby reaches 6 months of age, you can start adding other foods besides breast milk. Experts recommend breastfeeding babies for up to 2 years and beyond and giving only breast milk for the first 6 months.footnote 7
Doctors usually recommend against supplementing a breastfed baby's diet with formula, food, or water during the first 6 months, even during a growth spurt. Supplementing can decrease your milk production. Early bottle feedings can also make it harder for your baby to latch on to your breast.
Although breastfed babies get excellent nutrition, breastfed babies need 400 IU of vitamin D each day from a supplement. Some babies may need more vitamin D each day. Ask your child's doctor. Vitamin D for babies is usually a liquid supplement that you add to a bottle of breast milk with a dropper or drip into your baby's mouth.
It's best for you and your baby if you breastfeed for up to 2 years or longer. Your baby will continue to benefit. As your baby grows older, look for signs that your baby is ready to wean, such as refusing to breastfeed or showing interest in drinking from a cup. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about weaning.
Whenever you decide to wean, keep in mind that suddenly stopping breastfeeding may be harder for both you and your baby than a gradual decrease in feeding frequency.
To learn more about weaning, see the topic Weaning.
Pumping and storing your milk allows you to breastfeed while working or just getting some time away from your baby. It's a good idea to have a plan for when you'll need to pump, select the right breast pump for you, and know how to store milk safely. These will help set you and your baby up for long-term breastfeeding success.
If you often feed your baby pumped breast milk, your milk supply may decrease. This is because your body releases less prolactin than it does when you feed your baby at the breast. To help keep your milk supply when you pump frequently:
You may sometimes doubt your ability to successfully breastfeed. It's common to have questions and struggles sometimes. You may notice that your baby is having problems. Or you may have problems during feeding or problems with your breasts. Remember, most breastfeeding issues are easily resolved when you know what to expect and have support from others, including your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant.
If you have other concerns or aren't sure if you should see your baby's doctor, see When to Call a Doctor.
Feeding babies with special conditions
Some babies are born with problems that interfere with their ability to breastfeed right away. But many of these babies can be fed breast milk using special techniques, such as cup-feeding or a feeding device called a supplemental nursing system. Feeding a premature baby or a baby with cleft palate or cleft lip may be challenging. Your doctor or a lactation consultant can guide you on feeding techniques.
Most women can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and ibuprofen (such as Advil) while breastfeeding to help relieve discomfort from some of these problems. But talk to your doctor before taking any medicine (prescription or non-prescription).
If you have other concerns or aren't sure if you should see your doctor, see When to Call a Doctor. For problems related to technique or positioning, you also can talk to or visit a lactation consultant.
Call your doctor now if you have:
Call your doctor today if you have:
Call your doctor today if your baby:
CitationsPublic Health Agency of Canada, et al. (2011). Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada. Available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/dca-dea/stages-etapes/childhood-enfance_0-2/sids/pdf/jsss-ecss2011-eng.pdf.Victoria CG, et al. (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: Epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet, 387(10017): 475-490. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01024-7. Accessed January 16, 2018.American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3): e827–e841. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full. American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Breastfeeding. In RE Kleinman, ed., Pediatric Nutrition Handbook, 6th ed., pp. 29–59. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. Public Health Agency of Canada, et al. (2011). Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada. Available online: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/dca-dea/stages-etapes/childhood-enfance_0-2/sids/pdf/jsss-ecss2011-eng.pdf.Victoria CG, et al. (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: Epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet, 387(10017): 475-490. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01024-7. Accessed January 16, 2018.Health Canada, et al. (2012). Nutrition for healthy term infants: Recommendations from birth to six months. A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/infant-nourisson/recom/index-eng.php.
Adaptation Date: 3/15/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.