Alternative names
Nursing; Lactation


Breastfeeding is giving human breast milk to infants to meet their nutritional needs.

See also:

  • Breastfeeding tips  
  • Overcoming breastfeeding problems  
  • Breastfeeding mothers - self-care  
  • Formula feeding  
  • Age-appropriate diet for children


Choosing how and what to feed your baby is a personal decision that deserves careful and thorough consideration. Breast milk is the natural nutritional source for infants less than one year of age.

Most healthcare professionals (including the American Academy of Pediatricians and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates and Practitioners) recommend breastfeeding for your baby’s first year.

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the first six months of life. It contains appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and provides digestive enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and hormones that infants require. Breast milk also contains antibodies from the mother that can help the baby resist infections.

Experts agree that breastfeeding your baby for any length of time, regardless of how short, is of benefit to you and your baby.

You can provide your baby with breast milk by either breastfeeding or by feeding your baby breast milk from a bottle.

Breastfeeding your baby (directly from the breast):

  • can only be done by you  
  • can be done exclusively or can be supplemented with bottle feedings

Feeding your baby breast milk (which has been expressed):

  • can be given with a bottle (by you or others)  
  • requires regular pumping of milk from your breasts  
  • requires appropriate handling and storage of milk  
  • requires appropriate preparation of bottles and nipples

Most doctors advise strictly breastfeeding for the first couple of weeks, until breastfeeding is firmly established, rather than switching back and forth to a bottle. This recommendation is based on the possibility of nipple confusion which can cause sucking and feeding problems for infants who are switched between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. After two months of age, most babies adapt to bottle nipples easily.

Breastfeeding is a natural function, but is not necessarily a natural instinct for mothers. Most mothers need information about how to feed their babies. Mothers also need support, encouragement, and assistance after birth to enjoy feeding and caring for their babies.


Research shows that breastfed babies may have less frequent:

  • ear infections  
  • stomach or intestinal infections  
  • low iron levels in the blood (iron-deficiency anemia)  
  • skin diseases (infantile eczema)  
  • infant allergies

Breastfed babies may have less risk of:

  • digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea  
  • becoming overweight or obese  
  • developing high blood pressure  
  • developing diabetes  
  • developing Tooth decay

Moms who breastfeed their babies enjoy:

  • no bottle cleaning  
  • no formula preparation  
  • lower cost  
  • easier weight loss  
  • less postpartum bleeding  
  • enhancement of the unique bond between mother and child

Moms who breastfeed their babies should:

  • understand that ANY medications you take may enter the breast milk and affect your baby (check with your physician or lactation consultant about which are safe, and do not stop any prescribed medication without discussing with your provider first)  
  • maintain adequate nutrition  
  • drink plenty of fluids, especially water, every day  
  • get plenty of rest  
  • take good care of your nipples and breasts  
  • relax and enjoy the experience


If you run into any problems, contact a lactation consultant. Moms who breastfeed may experience:

  • nipple soreness  
  • breast engorgement  
  • leaking breasts  
  • let-down reflex (other than during breastfeeding)  
  • difficulty knowing how much milk the baby is drinking

Moms who breastfeed their babies may feel confused by lack of experience or support, afraid or ashamed to ask for help for such a “natural” activity.

Most problems can be easily managed with guidance from a lactation consultant.

Cow’s milk by itself is not an adequate source of complete nutrition for infants. Commercially prepared formulas for bottle feeding are excellent sources of nutrition for babies who do not breastfeed.


Some circumstances can change your plans to breastfeed. How and what your baby eats may ultimately depend on the infant’s physical condition and your health after birth. However, with help from a consultant, most babies - even premature babies - can breastfeed.

Some babies are unable to adequately breastfeed due to:

  • premature birth  
  • small size  
  • weak physical condition  
  • difficulty sucking  
  • birth defects of the mouth (cleft lip or cleft palate)  
  • digestive problems (breast milk jaundice, galactosemia)

See a lactation consultant if you have a breast infection or breast abscess, breast cancer or other cancer, previous surgery or radiation treatment, or inadequate milk supply (uncommon).

Some mothers are advised NOT to breastfeed due to health problems such as:

  • serious illnesses (heart disease or cancer, for example)  
  • nephritis  
  • active, untreated tuberculosis  
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS  
  • active herpes lesions on the breast  
  • severe malnutrition


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Mamikon Bozoyan, M.D.

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