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Breast-Feeding: Should I Breast-Feed My Baby?
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.
Breast-Feeding: Should I Breast-Feed My Baby?
Get the facts
- Breast-feed. (Or breast-feed and sometimes bottle-feed with breast milk or formula.)
- Bottle-feed with formula.
Key points to remember
- Breast-feeding 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.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics and most doctors advise breast-feeding for 1 year or longer.
- Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It has almost all the nutrients a baby needs for the first 6 months of life.
- Babies can also get good nutrition from bottle-feeding with formula.
- Breast milk helps prevent many illnesses.
- Breast-feeding helps a woman's body recover from the stresses of pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
- Breast-feeding may lower your risks of breast cancer and diabetes later in life.
Breast-feeding is feeding a baby milk from a mother's breasts. You can feed your baby directly at your breast. You can also pump your breasts and put the milk in a bottle so that you or others can feed your baby breast milk. This lets you give your baby the benefits of breast milk even when you can't be there to feed your baby. Women who work or need to be away from their babies may have the option to both breast-feed and sometimes bottle-feed. Some women bottle-feed with pumped breast milk or formula, or both.
Doctors advise breast-feeding for 1 year or longer. But your baby benefits from any amount of time that you breast-feed.
Only you know your own thoughts and feelings about breast-feeding. This is an important part of making this decision.
- Do you want to breast-feed? With the right teaching and support, most women who want to breast-feed are able to do so. Talk to your doctor if you have had breast surgery or have been treated for breast cancer. Some surgeries can limit your ability to produce breast milk. Before your baby is born, plan ahead and learn all you can about breast-feeding. This helps make breast-feeding easier.
- Do you know someone who can teach you about breast-feeding? Breast-feeding is a natural process, but it can take time and practice for both you and your baby to do it well. Doctors, nurses, and lactation specialists can all help. So can friends, family, and breast-feeding support groups.
- Are you comfortable with breast-feeding? If you are modest or have other concerns about breast-feeding, a lactation specialist can help. For example, she can show you how to breast-feed in public without showing your breast.
- Is anyone else trying to convince you one way or the other? Do what is right for you and your baby. Don't let others make this decision for you.
- How does your work or school situation affect your decision? Many women are able to provide breast milk even when they are away from their baby. You can get a breast pump and learn to pump your breasts. But it is important to think about the practical issues ahead of time, such as finding a place to pump your breast milk and having a place to store it.
- Is the cost of formula a concern? Formula can be expensive, and breast milk is free (although a breast pump is not). You may save money if you breast-feed your baby.
Breast-feeding is fine for most mothers and babies, even if the mom or baby has a health problem. But you may not be able to breast-feed if:
- You have certain infections or other problems. For example, you should not breast-feed if you have active tuberculosis, are HIV-positive, or have cancer that is being treated with chemotherapy. Women who have illnesses such as cystic fibrosis need to see their doctor often while breast-feeding.
- You use drugs, abuse alcohol, or smoke, and you are not willing to stop. Anything you put in your body may be passed to your baby in breast milk.
- You've had a certain kind of breast surgery, such as a breast reduction, or have been treated for breast cancer. Depending on how surgery affected your breast and the type of cancer treatment, you may still be able to breast-feed.
Compare your options
What is usually involved?
What are the benefits?
What are the risks and side effects?
- You feed your baby at your breast. If you have to be away from your baby, you can use a breast pump to remove your milk and feed it to your baby later with a bottle.
- Sometimes babies and moms need a little help to breast-feed well. A lactation specialist can help you and your baby get a good start to breast-feeding.
- Breast milk is the only food your baby needs until about 4 to 6 months of age.
- Breast milk doesn't cost anything.
- Breast milk is always ready. You don't need to mix formula or clean bottles.
- Breast-feeding lowers your child's risk for many illnesses and health problems. These include:
- Breast-feeding also may protect against other health problems later on, such as:2
- You may recover from pregnancy, labor, and delivery sooner than you would without breast-feeding. This is because of the hormone oxytocin, which is released during breast-feeding.
- Breast-feeding may lower your risks for breast cancer or diabetes later on.2, 3
- Some medicines can affect breast milk. If you take medicine, talk to your doctor to find out if it's okay to breast-feed, or if you can take a different medicine.
- A few foods you eat can affect your breast milk. For example, if you are breast-feeding, don't eat fish that is high in mercury. It can be harmful when it is passed to your baby through your breast milk.
- A small number of women who breast-feed can get a breast infection called mastitis. It causes fever and breast pain. If you have mastitis, your doctor will give you antibiotics and have you continue to breast-feed.
- Your baby will not get enough vitamin D. Give your baby a supplement while you are breast-feeding. Most doctors suggest daily vitamin D supplements for children, starting by age 2 months.4 (Formula has vitamin D added.)
- You feed your baby formula with a bottle. Some women choose to feed their babies with both breast milk and formula.
- Formula needs to be mixed correctly. Bottles and nipples need to be clean for each use.
- Formula provides good nutrition. It includes vitamin D, so your baby may not need a supplement.
- You may feel better able to work or be away from your baby when you need to. This may be especially true if you don't like to use a breast pump.
- If you take medicine, you don't have to worry about it getting to your baby.
- Formula doesn't protect your baby from infections or other illnesses.
- Formula doesn't help you recover from pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
- Formula can cost a lot.
- If you both breast-feed and bottle-feed your baby from birth, your baby may have problems switching between sucking from your breast and the bottle. This is called nipple confusion. You may be able to avoid this problem if you feed your baby only from the breast for the first few weeks of life before you give your baby a bottle.
Personal stories about breast-feeding
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
I wish I could stay home with my baby for the first year, but I have to return to work after 2 months. I plan to breast-feed my baby. I talked to my boss, and they have a place for me to pump and store my milk during the day. So even though I won't be able to breast-feed at every feeding after I go back to work, my baby will still get the benefits of my breast milk through a bottle, plus breast-feeding in the mornings and evenings.
Aisha, age 22
This pregnancy has been so hard on my body. My doctor says that some women who breast-feed recover faster from pregnancy, labor, and delivery than women who don't breast-feed. I am going to try breast-feeding and see how I feel. My husband will support whatever decision I make.
Kym, age 34
I breast-fed my first baby for a little while and decided breast-feeding wasn't for me. I do want my baby to get the benefits of breast milk, though. The hospital lactation consultant said she could help me. So I will probably try to breast-feed this baby at first, and switch to formula after a few weeks if it's not going well.
Mia, age 29
I want to breast-feed my baby for as long as we both enjoy it. I worked before I got pregnant, but I want to stay home the next few years with my child. I have friends who have done this. They are very happy with their choices, and their babies seem healthy and well-adjusted.
Laney, age 25
What matters most to you?
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to choose breast-feeding
Reasons to choose formula
I want to breast-feed.
I prefer to bottle-feed my baby with formula.
I want to follow the advice of experts, who recommend breast-feeding.
My baby can be healthy on formula.
Formula is too expensive for my budget.
I can afford formula.
I have support from family and friends who can teach me about breast-feeding.
I don't have family or other friends around who have breast-fed and can help me. I don't want to ask for help from strangers.
I'm confident that I can find the time and a place to breast-feed or pump breast milk.
My type of work and my schedule don't give me the time or a place to breast-feed or pump breast milk.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Where are you leaning now?
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
What else do you need to make your decision?
Check the facts
Doctors say it's best to breast-feed my baby for up to 2 years or more.
- TrueYou're right. Most doctors recommend that mothers breast-feed their babies for up to 2 years or more. But any amount of time you breast-feed helps your baby.
- FalseSorry, that's not right. Most doctors recommend that mothers breast-feed their babies for up to 2 years or more. But any amount of time you breast-feed helps your baby.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Most doctors recommend that mothers breast-feed their babies for up to 2 years or more. But any amount of time you breast-feed helps your baby.
Breast-feeding can lower my baby's chance of getting some infections and diseases.
- TrueYou're right. Breast-feeding can lower a baby's chance of getting ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, and other health problems.
- FalseSorry, that's not right. Breast-feeding can lower a baby's chance of getting ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, and other health problems.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "What are the benefits?" in the "Compare your options" table. Breast-feeding can lower a baby's chance of getting ear infections, diarrhea, asthma, and other health problems.
Formula can give good nutrition to my baby.
Decide what's next
Do you understand the options available to you?
Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
- Talayero JMP, et al. (2006). Full breastfeeding and hospitalization as a result of infections in the first year of life. Pediatrics, 118(1): 92–99.
- Lawrence RM, Lawrence RA (2009). The breast and physiology of lactation. In RK Creasy et al., eds., Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 125–142. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Stuebe AM, et al. (2005). Duration of lactation and incidence of type 2 diabetes. JAMA, 294(20): 2601–2610.
- Wagner CL, et al. (2008). Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 122(5): 1142–1152.