The Basics: Overview
Breastfeeding (also known as nursing) is very healthy for you and your baby. Breast milk or formula is the only food or liquid your baby needs for about the first 6 months after birth.
At about 6 months, you’ll start to feed your baby other foods in addition to breast milk. Experts recommend continuing to breastfeed your baby for at least the first 12 months — and for as long as you want after that.
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. The good news is that it gets easier with time.
To get ready to breastfeed:
- Talk to your doctor or midwife about breastfeeding
- Make a plan for after your baby is born
Once your baby is born:
- Let your doctor, nurse, or midwife know you want skin-to-skin contact with your baby right away
- Nurse whenever your baby is hungry
- Ask for help if breastfeeding is difficult
The Basics: Age Guidelines
Does my newborn need any other foods?
No. Until your baby is about 6 months old, they only need breast milk or formula. In fact, giving babies things like rice cereal or baby food too early can keep them from getting the nutrients they need from breast milk or formula.
Most babies are ready for solid foods around age 6 months — don’t start giving your baby solid foods before age 4 months.
Here are some guidelines to help make sure your baby gets the nutrition they need.
Birth to about age 6 months:
- Feed your baby breast milk or formula (no juice, cow’s milk, solid foods, or water)
- Give your baby any vitamins or minerals that your doctor recommends, like vitamin D or iron supplements
About ages 6 months to 12 months:
- Keep breastfeeding your baby
- Introduce your baby to a variety of new foods, including foods high in iron and zinc — like fortified infant cereal, meat, seafood, and beans
Age 12 months and older:
- Continue to breastfeed as long as it feels right for you and your baby
- Keep adding new foods to your baby’s diet
The Basics: Health Benefits
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
- Is the best source of nutrition for most babies
- Changes to meet your baby’s nutritional needs as they grow
- Helps protect your baby from infection and illness
- Lowers your baby’s risk of obesity, asthma, and type 1 diabetes
- Is easier for babies to digest than formula
Benefits for you
Breastfeeding can help protect you from:
- Ovarian and breast cancer
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding can also help lower your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The Basics: Common Questions
If you’re worried about breastfeeding, you’re not alone.
It’s normal to have concerns about breastfeeding! The information below may help answer some of your questions.
My baby really doesn’t need other food or liquid for the first 6 months?
Right. Your breast milk is made just for your baby — it’s the best form of nutrition in the first 6 months of life. Giving babies other food or liquid before their bodies are ready for it can cause health problems.
Also, when your baby eats cereal or formula instead of breast milk, your body gets a signal that your milk isn’t needed and starts to make less milk. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body makes.
Will my baby be able to sleep through the night without other foods?
Your baby may wake up to nurse — but that’s normal. Many parents worry that their babies won’t be full enough to sleep through the night with only breast milk. Actually, in the first couple of months, babies need to nurse every few hours, even at night — they aren’t supposed to sleep through the night.
What if breastfeeding doesn’t work for me?
Breastfeeding has many benefits for you and your baby — but sometimes, health problems or other factors may mean breastfeeding isn’t an option. In those cases, formula is a safe alternative to breast milk. Donor milk — breast milk someone has pumped and donated to a “milk bank” — may also be an option. Find information about donor milk.
If I breastfeed, will I be the only one who can feed my baby?
Not necessarily. Many moms think they won’t get a break if they breastfeed. But you can learn how to pump and store breast milk so your baby can eat when you’re not there.
Use these resources to:
Take Action: Get Help
After you start breastfeeding, it’s normal to have lots of questions. Here are some tips and resources to help you breastfeed.
Talk to your doctor, nurse, or midwife about breastfeeding.
While you’re pregnant, tell your doctor, nurse, or midwife that you plan to breastfeed. Ask what kind of support is available to help you learn what you need to know.
If you have a health condition or take any medicines, ask if it’s okay for you to breastfeed. Keep in mind that most conditions and medicines won’t keep you from breastfeeding.
Get help from a breastfeeding specialist.
Many hospitals and doctor’s offices have breastfeeding specialists called lactation consultants or counselors. They can answer your questions about breastfeeding and help you get started.
Your doctor or midwife can help you find a lactation consultant.
Get help from a peer.
Breastfeeding peer counselors are people who breastfed their own babies and learned how to help other people start breastfeeding. Ask your doctor or midwife how to find a peer counselor near you.
You can also use these resources to find more information online about breastfeeding.
Take Action: Cost and Insurance
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must cover counseling and breastfeeding supplies — like breast pumps — for pregnant and nursing women. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get help with breastfeeding at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost help with breastfeeding:
- Get connected with free or low-cost services in your state by calling 1-800-311-BABY (1-800-311-2229)
- Find a health center near you and ask about breastfeeding support
To learn more, check out these resources:
- Breastfeeding benefits covered by the Affordable Care Act
- Free preventive care for women covered by the Affordable Care Act
- How the Affordable Care Act protects you
- Understanding your health insurance and how to use it [PDF – 698 KB]
- Health insurance options for pregnant women
Learn about WIC.
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a government program that can help you get healthy food for yourself and your baby. WIC offers breastfeeding support, too. Ask your doctor or midwife how to sign up for this no-cost program.
Take Action: Make a Plan
Make a plan for after your baby is born.
By pumping breast milk, you can provide food for your baby when you’re apart. A lactation consultant can help you learn to pump and store breast milk.
If you plan to go back to work after your baby’s birth, talk to your employer ahead of time about where you can pump and store breast milk at work. Most employers are now required by law to give you time and a place to pump milk at your job.
Check out these resources to get more information:
Take Action: Breastfeeding Tips
Get close to your baby right away.
Tell your doctor, midwife, or nurse that you want to hold 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, and it’s very good for your baby. Your regular milk will come in after a few days, and your breasts will feel full.
Nurse whenever your baby shows signs of hunger.
Newborn babies need to nurse often — about every 2 hours. Nursing often is also important for you because it tells your body to make enough milk.
Watch your baby for signs of hunger, like:
- Moving their head from side to side (called rooting)
- Moving their fists to their mouth
- Smacking or licking their lips
Take Action: Vitamin D, Iron, and Zinc
Give your baby vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps babies grow healthy bones. Breast milk usually doesn’t have enough vitamin D in it — so if you only breastfeed your baby, or provide both breast milk and infant formula, you need to give them a vitamin D supplement. Start giving your baby a supplement with 400 IU (international units) per day of vitamin D soon after birth. Talk to your baby’s doctor about making sure your baby gets enough vitamin D.
Talk to your baby’s doctor about iron.
Iron helps your baby’s brain develop, and breast milk may not have enough iron in it. When your baby starts eating solid foods at about 6 months, include foods with iron like meats, seafood, and iron-fortified infant cereals. Some babies may need to take iron supplements before age 6 months — ask your baby’s doctor if they need iron supplements.
Introduce foods with zinc.
It’s also important for your baby to get enough zinc. At about 6 months, start introducing foods with zinc like meats, beans, and zinc-fortified infant cereals.
Take Action: Breastfeeding Problems
Ask for help if breastfeeding is difficult.
Breastfeeding is new for you and your baby, so it’ll take time and practice. It’s okay to ask for help.
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 or any other problems during breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant.
Ask for help so that you and your baby can enjoy breastfeeding. Use these resources to learn more: