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Breastfeeding your Baby

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

Breastfeeding is good for your baby and for you. Experts recommend that you feed your baby only breast milk until he or she is 6 months old. Breastfeeding for the first 6 months can decrease your baby's risk for illnesses. These illnesses include respiratory (lung) infections, allergies, asthma, and stomach problems. Experts also recommend that you continue to breastfeed your baby until he or she is at least 12 months old after he or she starts eating solid foods. You can breastfeed longer if you choose to.


Seek care immediately if:

  • You are very depressed or have thoughts of hurting your baby.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your baby is feeding fewer than 8 times each day.
  • Your baby is 4 or more days old and has fewer than 6 wet diapers each day.
  • Your baby is 4 or more days old and has fewer than 3 to 4 bowel movements each day.
  • You have nipple pain while feeding or between feedings.
  • Your nipples look red, dry, cracked, or they have scabs on them.
  • You feel a lump in your breast that feels tender.
  • Your breasts become painful and swollen.
  • Your baby becomes jaundiced (skin and whites of the eyes are turning yellow).

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Ways that breastfeeding is good for your baby:

  • Breast milk gives your baby the best nutrition. Your breasts will first produce colostrum. Colostrum is rich in antibodies (proteins that protect your baby's immune system). Breast milk starts to replace colostrum 2 to 4 days after your baby's birth. Breast milk contains the protein, fat, sugar, vitamins, and minerals that your baby needs to grow. Your baby will need a vitamin D supplement soon after birth. Talk to your healthcare provider about the amount and type of vitamin D supplement that is best for your baby.
  • Breast milk is safe and easy for your baby to digest. Breast milk does not need to be prepared.
  • Breast milk helps your baby develop a strong immune system. The immune system helps fight off infection. Breast milk has antibodies and other substances that help protect your baby's immune system. This helps protect your baby from allergies and infections. Breastfed babies have a lower risk for allergy problems such as eczema. Eczema causes red, itchy, swollen skin. Breast milk can also help protect your baby against ear infections, diarrhea, and lung infections.
  • Breast milk decreases your baby's risk for certain medical conditions. Breastfed babies may have a lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They also have a lower risk of becoming obese or developing diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

Ways that breastfeeding is good for you:

  • Breastfeeding can help you recover faster after delivery. Breastfeeding right after the delivery of your baby helps stop bleeding from your uterus. It also helps shrink your uterus back to the size it was before your pregnancy. You may be able to lose weight by following a healthy diet if you are breastfeeding. This can happen because of the extra calories your body needs to support breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding may decrease your risk for postpartum depression and certain diseases. Breastfeeding may lower your risk of postpartum depression, and breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also decreases your risk of type 2 diabetes if you did not have gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Breastfeeding can make your bones stronger. This can help prevent osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
  • Breastfeeding has other benefits. Breastfeeding is a special experience that can help you bond with your baby. Breastfeeding can save you time and money because you do not have to buy and prepare milk.

How to help your baby latch on correctly:

Help your baby move his or her head to reach your breast. Hold the nape of his or her neck to help him or her latch onto your breast. Touch his or her top lip with your nipple and wait for him or her to open his or her mouth wide. Your baby's lower lip and chin should touch the areola (dark area around the nipple) first. Help him or her get as much of the areola in his or her mouth as possible. You should feel as if your baby will not separate from your breast easily. A correct latch helps your baby get the right amount of milk at each feeding. Allow your baby to breastfeed for as long as he or she is able.

Correct Latch-on Breastfeeding

Signs of correct latch-on:

  • You can hear your baby swallow.
  • Your baby is relaxed and takes slow, deep mouthfuls.
  • Your breast or nipple does not hurt during breastfeeding.
  • Your baby is able to suckle milk right away after he or she latches on.
  • Your nipple is the same shape when your baby is done breastfeeding.
  • Your breast is smooth, with no wrinkles or dimples where your baby is latched on.

How often to breastfeed your baby:

  • Your baby may let you know when he or she is ready to breastfeed. He or she may be more awake and may be moving more. He or she may put his or her hands up to his or her mouth. Crying is normally a late sign that your baby is hungry. You should breastfeed your baby between 8 and 12 times each day. This includes waking to breastfeed him or her during the night. If your baby is sleeping and it is time to feed, lightly rub your finger across his or her lips.
  • Your baby may breastfeed for about 15 to 20 minutes on each breast. Some babies breastfeed for a shorter or longer amount of time. Let your baby feed from each breast until he or she stops on his or her own.

Breastfeeding a premature baby:

  • Some premature babies are not able to eat on their own and need to be fed through a tube. Even if your premature baby cannot feed directly from your breast, he or she can still be given breast milk. It can be expressed or pumped and then fed to your baby. As your baby grows and develops, he or she may learn to breastfeed. Express milk after your baby is born so that he or she can receive antibodies from colostrum. When you express milk from your breasts, you stimulate them to make more milk.
  • Breast milk is especially good for premature babies who have a very low birthweight. Premature babies are at risk for medical problems because their immune system is not fully formed. The antibodies and nutrients found in colostrum and breast milk can help to protect a premature baby against medical problems. Breast milk helps your baby's eyes, brain, and digestive system develop.

When not to breastfeed:

  • Your baby has galactosemia, a condition that keeps his or her body from breaking down galactose (a form of sugar found in breast milk).
  • You have active tuberculosis (TB) that has not been treated for at least 2 weeks.
  • You have HIV or AIDS.
  • You use illegal drugs, or you drink alcohol often or in large amounts.

Prevent breastfeeding problems:

  • Work with your healthcare provider or lactation specialist. Write down questions or concerns about breastfeeding to ask during your appointments.
  • Help your baby get a good latch. Gently break suction and reposition if your baby is only sucking on the nipple. Talk to a lactation consultant if you need help with your baby's latch. If you have sore nipples, offer your baby the nipple that is less sore first. Your baby's suction is usually harder when he or she first starts breastfeeding. Breastfeed 8 to 12 times each day. Frequent breastfeeding can help decrease breastfeeding problems.
  • Ask about your medicines. Talk to your healthcare provider before you take any medicines. This includes all prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Some medicines may decrease the amount of breast milk you make. Other medicines may enter your breast milk and affect your baby.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine goes into your breast milk. Your baby is exposed to these chemicals through breastfeeding and inhaling cigarette smoke. Smoking can also decrease the amount of breast milk you make. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol passes from your breast milk to your baby. If you choose to drink alcohol, breastfeed your baby before you drink alcohol. Do not breastfeed your baby for at least 2 hours after you have 1 drink. One drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

Care for yourself while you are breastfeeding:

  • Get enough rest. You may have a hard time resting while you are caring for your newborn. Ask for help from family and friends so that you can get the rest you need.
  • Eat healthy foods. A healthy meal plan can keep you healthy and support milk production. You need extra calories each day while you are breastfeeding. Your healthcare provider may also have you take vitamins, including pregnancy vitamins and vitamin D. Talk with him or her before you take any vitamins or supplements.
  • Drink more liquids. You need about 8 to 12 cups of liquid each day to prevent dehydration and keep up your milk supply. Drink liquids throughout the day. Also drink a beverage each time you breastfeed. Choose liquids that do not contain caffeine. Examples are water, juice, and milk.
  • Manage stress. Increased stress can decrease the amount of breast milk you make. Relaxation can help decrease your stress and help you feel better. Deep breathing, meditating, and listening to music also may help you cope with stress. Talk to your healthcare provider about other ways to manage stress.

For support and more information about breastfeeding your baby:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    345 Park Boulevard
    Itasca , IL 60143
    Phone: 1- 800 - 433-9016
    Web Address:
  • La Leche League International
    957 North Plum Grove Road
    Schaumburg , IL 60173
    Phone: 1- 847 - 519-7730
    Phone: 1- 800 - 525-3243
    Web Address:

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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