11 Things to Know About Breastfeeding

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Lorna Collier on October 30, 2020
  • Mother breastfeeding
    Why are more American women turning to breastfeeding?
    Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for both mothers and babies. Perhaps for these reasons, the number of new nursing moms is on the rise in the United States. In 2018, CDC reported that about 83% of new moms at least gave it a try (compared to roughly 74% in 2004). A little more than half of mothers are still breastfeeding at six months (58%), and nearly 36% make it to one year. These numbers suggest mothers recognize nursing's value—but may have trouble keeping up with it, perhaps due to lack of workplace, family or medical support. Whether you're doing it now or considering it soon, take note of these important facts about breastfeeding.
  • Baby breastfeeding
    1. Breast milk is better for your baby’s health.
    Breast milk is not only nutritionally balanced, it’s also chock full of antibodies and other elements that boost your baby's immune system. Studies show breast-fed babies are less likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or to develop leukemia and lymphoma. They have lower chances of developing diarrheal disease, ear infections, pneumonia and other illnesses; and as they grow up, they’re less likely to have allergies or become obese or diabetic. Research indicates breast milk may improve cognitive development, too.
  • Mother with newborn baby
    2. Breastfeeding is better for mothers’ health, too.
    Your baby's not the only one to benefit from breast milk. Breastfeeding causes your body to release feel-good hormones prolactin and oxytocin, helping you relax and bond with your baby. Nursing moms recover from childbirth more quickly. Plus, you'll have a lower risk of breast or ovarian cancer and may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.
  • postpartum-depression-mother
    3. Breastfeeding can be more difficult than you expect.
    In the movies, charming babies and blissful moms instantly get the hang of nursing. In real life, some babies have trouble latching on and suckling, while some women find breastfeeding painful, develop infections, or have other problems. Low milk supply–though rare–is another potential issue. This can happen for many reasons, such as a delay in starting breastfeeding, not nursing often enough, or having medical conditions such as diabetes. Most women have more than enough milk for their babies, but if you have problems with supply or have any other concerns about breastfeeding, talk to your lactation consultant.
  • Feeding bottle of milk
    4. Pumps can provide welcome relief.
    Breast pumps, whether manual or electric, free you from being the only one who can feed your baby, and are essential for moms who work outside the home. Both single and double pumps (which let you pump both breasts at once) are available; some even come with car adapters. Pumps can be rented, though most insurance plans are required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to cover the purchase of breast pumps. Don't share pumps or pump parts due to the risk of contamination, and always clean and disinfect any pieces that come in contact with your milk.
  • Chinese mother holding sleeping newborn
    5. Potential problems with breastfeeding may arise, so know the symptoms.
    Don't ignore changes in your breast health; these warning signs can escalate quickly and threaten your milk supply. Symptoms to watch for include pain, fever, and red patches or streaks on your breast, which can indicate mastitis, an infection that usually requires an antibiotic). Also note any sudden breast lumps, which could indicate a plugged duct; hard and sore breasts, which signal engorgement; and tender or cracked nipples, which can lead to infection. Call your doctor with any concerns.
  • woman-pushing-cart-through-grocery-aisle
    7. Your baby eats what you eat.
    Everything you ingest can be passed to your baby through your milk, so be careful what you put in your body. Avoid tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs, and always check to see if any medications you take are safe for your baby. Infants can also be sensitive to certain foods you eat; up to 3% of breast-fed babies have allergic reactions to food, most often to cow's milk. Some may also be sensitive to gassy, high-fiber foods, like cabbage. Try eliminating foods to see if symptoms such as colic and rashes clear up.
  • Woman drinking water
    6. Moms should make sure they get enough nutrition while nursing.
    Don't spend so much time nourishing your new baby that you neglect your own dietary needs. Because nursing burns at least 200 more calories per day, you'll lose, on average, 1 to 4 pounds per month without cutting foods, so now is not the time to start any restrictive diets. While breastfeeding, your body also needs extra protein (2 to 3 servings daily), calcium, vitamin C, and iron; a daily vitamin can help keep you covered. Stay hydrated by drinking a glass of water with each feeding, and try to drink at least 8 cups of water daily.  
  • Laughing Baby Boy with New Teeth
    8. Babies need extra vitamin D.
    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-fed babies get 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day to make sure they get enough iron. Breast milk only has about 25 IU for every 4 cups. Vitamin D for infants comes in liquid form that you squirt in your baby's mouth, following dosage instructions on the bottle. Keep in mind formulas are already fortified with vitamin D, so formula-fed babies don't need the extra dose.
  • baby in diaper
    9. Babies may temporarily refuse breastfeeding.
    They call it a nursing strike: when your baby suddenly decides to stop breastfeeding. This can happen due to teething pain, a different taste to your milk due to a new food you ate, an ear infection, or stuffy nose—all temporary conditions that don't mean you have to give up nursing. Try nursing when baby is sleepy or while you're walking around with him. Or pump a little first to get flow going, then shift to your baby.
  • Baby breastfeeding
    10. If possible, moms should breastfeed for at least six months.
    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you nurse exclusively (no other foods or formula) for the first six months of a baby's life. After that, the AAP recommends nursing (along with solid foods) until your baby is at least 1 year old. However, only about 44% of mothers nurse exclusively at three months and only about 22% do so at six months, according to 2013 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Mother lying in bed with baby boy
    11. It’s OK if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you.
    Breastfeeding is not an option for every woman, for many reasons. If you are one of those women, don’t feel guilty. Though breast milk has health advantages over formula, formula is certainly a healthy option for your baby, too. If you do feel sad about not being able to breastfeed, consider talking to your doctor about your concerns. Having difficulty breastfeeding is a risk factor for postpartum depression, so don’t ignore feelings of sadness, hopelessness and guilt. Remember that your emotional bond with your baby is what’s important, something you can achieve with or without breastfeeding.
11 Things to Know About Breastfeeding

About The Author

Lorna Collier has been reporting on health topics—especially mental health and women’s health—as well as technology and education for more than 25 years. Her work has appeared in the AARP Bulletin, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News, CNN.com, the APA’s Monitor on Psychology, and many others. She’s a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
  1. Breastfeeding report card: United States, 2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2018breastfeedingreportcard.pdf
  2. Breastfeeding report card: United States, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/reportcard.htm
  3. Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers. University of California San Francisco Medical Center. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/nutrition_tips_for_breastfeeding_mothers/
  4. Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom. HealthyChildren (from the American Academy of Pediatrics). https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Benefits-of-Breastfeeding-for-Mom.aspx
  5. Infant allergies and food sensitivities. HealthyChildren (from the American Academy of Pediatrics). https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Infant-Allergies-and-Food-Sensitivities.aspx
  6. I'm breast-feeding. Is it OK to drink alcohol? Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/breast-feeding-and-alcohol/faq-20057985
  7. Breastfeeding benefits your baby's immune system. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Breastfeeding-Benefits-...
  8. Breastfeeding and Breast Milk: Condition Information. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/breastfeeding/conditioninfo/Pages/default.aspx
  9. Breastfeeding FAQs: Some Common Concerns. KidsHealth from Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/breastfeed-concerns.html
  10. What to know when buying or using a breast pump. U.S. Food & Drug Administration.  http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm335261.htm
  11. Breastfeeding. Office on Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/Breastfeeding.pdf
  12. What causes a low milk supply during breastfeeding? Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/low-milk-supply/faq-20058148
  13. Breastfeeding difficulties may lead to postpartum depression. Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health. https://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/breastfeeding-difficulties-may-lead-to-postpartum-depression/?d...
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Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 30
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