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Breastfeed Your Baby

The Basics

Breastfeeding is very healthy for you and your baby. Try to breastfeed your baby for at least the first 12 months. Breast milk is the only food or liquid your baby needs for the first 6 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. But it does get easier with time.

How can I learn to breastfeed my baby?
To get ready for breastfeeding:

  • Talk to your doctor or midwife about breastfeeding.
  • Make a plan for after your baby is born.
  • Get close to your baby right away.
  • Nurse whenever your baby is hungry.
  • Ask for help if breastfeeding is difficult.

Use these questions and answers to learn how to breastfeed.

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 rice cereal, baby food, or formula during the first 6 months can keep them from getting the nutrients they need from breast milk.

Here are some guidelines to help you make sure your baby gets the nutrition she needs.

Birth to age 6 months:

  • Feed your baby breast milk only (no water, juice, non-human milk, or foods).
  • Give your baby any vitamins, minerals, or medicine that your doctor recommends.

Ages 6 months to 12 months:

  • Keep breastfeeding your baby.
  • Start feeding your baby foods that are recommended by your doctor.

Age 12 months and up:

  • Keep feeding your baby new foods that are recommended by your doctor.
  • Continue to breastfeed as long as it feels right for you and your baby.

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
Breast milk:

  • Has just the right amount of protein, fat, sugar, and water to help your baby grow
  • Helps protect your baby from infection and illness
  • Is easier for babies to digest than formula

Benefits for you
Breastfeeding:

  • Can save your family thousands of dollars
  • Burns calories and may help you lose some of your pregnancy weight
  • May help lower your risk of diabetes, depression, and some types of breast and ovarian cancers

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.

Is breast milk really all my baby needs?
Yes! Your milk has exactly the right balance of calories and nutrients. Giving your baby formula or other foods can cause him to gain weight too fast, which can lead to health problems later.

Will my body make enough milk for my baby?
Yes. Every time your baby nurses, your body gets a signal to make more milk. When your baby gets cereal or formula instead of breast milk, your body misses out on that signal. Without that signal, your body will start to make less milk.

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, babies under age 6 months aren't supposed to sleep through the night because that increases their risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Giving your baby only breast milk for the first 6 months can help lower your baby's risk of SIDS. Learn more about keeping your baby safe during sleep.

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 other carrier to make going out with your baby easier. With practice, you may be able to feed your baby in the carrier without anyone noticing!

It's also important to know that babies who are breastfed are often healthier than babies who aren't. And that can mean less time spent at home with a sick baby.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Here are some tips and resources for breastfeeding success.

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 how to breastfeed.

If you have a health condition or take any medicines, make sure it's okay for you to breastfeed. Most conditions and medicines won't keep you from breastfeeding.

Get help from a breastfeeding specialist.
Many health centers, clinics, and hospitals have lactation (breastfeeding) experts to answer all your questions and help you get started.

Your doctor or midwife may refer you to one of these experts. They are usually called lactation counselors, consultants, or specialists.

Get help from another mom.
Breastfeeding peer counselors are moms who breastfed their own babies and took classes to learn how to help other women start breastfeeding. Ask your doctor or midwife how to find a peer counselor near you.

After you begin breastfeeding, it's normal to have lots of questions. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or lactation counselor as often as you need to.

What about cost?
Support for breastfeeding is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. This help includes counseling and access to breastfeeding supplies for pregnant and nursing women.

Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get help with breastfeeding at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out what this means for you. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Find out about WIC.
WIC is a government program that can help you get healthy food for yourself and your baby. Ask your doctor or midwife to help you sign up for this no-cost program. Find out more about WIC.

Make a plan for after your baby is born.
You can provide breast milk for your baby even when you are apart. A lactation counselor can help you learn to pump and store breast milk for your baby to have while you are away.

If you plan to go back to work after pregnancy, talk to your supervisor ahead of time about where you can pump and store your breast milk at work. Most employers are now required by law to give you time and a place to pump milk for your baby.

Get more information about:

Get close to your baby right away.
Tell your doctor, midwife, or nurse that you want to cuddle with 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 (“coh-LOSS-trum”), and it’s very good for your baby. Your regular milk will come in after a couple of days, and your breasts will feel full.

Nurse whenever your baby is hungry.
Newborn babies need to nurse often – usually about every 2 hours. And it's normal if your baby nurses more often than that. Nursing regularly is also important for you, because it signals your body to make enough milk.

Watch your baby for signs of hunger, such as:

  • Moving his head from side to side (called rooting)
  • Being more alert
  • Acting fussy

Check out these simple steps to breastfeeding success [PDF - 1.3 MB].

Ask for help if breastfeeding is difficult.
Breastfeeding is new for you and your baby, and it will take time and practice. Keep in mind that most women are able to work through any problems they have with breastfeeding at first.

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 during breastfeeding, it may be a sign that your baby isn’t getting all the milk he needs.

Talk to your doctor, nurse, or lactation counselor if you have pain or any other problems. Ask for help so that you and your baby can enjoy breastfeeding.

Give your baby vitamin D.
Babies need vitamin D for healthy bone growth. Even if you take extra vitamin D, your breast milk won’t provide enough vitamin D for your baby. Talk to your baby’s doctor or nurse about how to make sure your baby gets enough vitamin D.

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