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Patient education: Deciding to breastfeed (The Basics)

Patient education: Deciding to breastfeed (The Basics)

Do doctors recommend breastfeeding? — Yes. Doctors recommend breastfeeding your baby for at least 1 year (12 months) if possible. For the first 6 months, breast milk is the only food that a baby needs. Most babies start eating other foods, in addition to breast milk, when they are 4 to 6 months old.

Breastfeeding has many benefits for both you and your baby. This is true even if you breastfeed for only a short time. Also, these benefits can last even after you stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding also helps you bond with your baby, which is very rewarding. It's also convenient, and saves money.

Even so, you might be unsure if breastfeeding is right for you. Some people are unsure because they don't know a lot of other people who have breastfed their babies. You might be thinking that it's easier to use formula. Or maybe you are worried that you won't be able to keep breastfeeding after going back to work. But there are usually ways to make breastfeeding work for you.

If you are thinking about breastfeeding, that's great. This article will help answer some of your questions.

What is exclusive breastfeeding? — "Exclusive" breastfeeding means your baby only drinks breast milk, and no formula or water. Any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby. But exclusive breastfeeding gives the most benefits.

What are the benefits for my baby? — In babies, breastfeeding can:

Help prevent stomach infections that can cause vomiting or diarrhea

Help prevent ear or lung infections

Help lower the risk of SIDS – This is when a baby younger than 1 year old dies suddenly for no known reason.

Breastfeeding might also help babies gain weight at a healthy rate as they grow.

What are the benefits for me? — Breastfeeding has benefits for you, too. Compared with people who feed their babies formula, people who breastfeed usually:

Have less bleeding from the uterus after giving birth

Have less stress

Lose more weight after pregnancy

Don't spend as much money to feed their baby

Don't spend as much money on health care or miss as much work, because their babies get sick less often

Have a lower chance of getting breast, ovarian, or endometrial (uterine) cancer

How can I prepare to breastfeed successfully? — There are some things you can do early on to make breastfeeding easier:

Tell your partner and family that you plan to breastfeed. It can help to have support. Tell your doctor, nurse, or midwife, too.

If possible, start breastfeeding immediately after giving birth, ideally within the first hour. During this time, most babies are awake and want to breastfeed. Also, the "skin-to-skin contact" can help your baby learn to breastfeed.

While you are in the hospital, keep your baby in the room with you. This makes it easier to know when they are hungry so you can feed them right away.

If possible, wait until you and your baby have gotten used to breastfeeding before giving a bottle or pacifier. This might take a few weeks. The way a baby sucks on a bottle nipple or pacifier is different from the way they suck at the breast. This can make it harder for them to learn to breastfeed.

Will I make enough milk? — If you are healthy, you will most likely make enough breast milk. Your body starts preparing to make milk during pregnancy. Then, after you give birth, hormone changes cause your breasts to fill with milk.

Each time a baby feeds and empties the breasts, the body makes more milk. After a few weeks of breastfeeding, most people make about 3 cups (or 24 ounces) of milk a day. Breastfeeding frequently or using a breast pump helps your breasts make more milk.

Certain things can cause you to have trouble making enough milk. This can happen if:

You don't breastfeed often enough.

Your baby has trouble getting milk during breastfeeding.

You are tired, sick, or under a lot of stress.

You take certain medicines.

You smoke cigarettes.

You have had certain types of breast surgery.

If you have trouble making enough milk, or if you are having other problems with breastfeeding, talk with your doctor or nurse. It can also help to work with a breastfeeding expert called a "lactation consultant."

If you want to keep breastfeeding, try not to give your baby any formula unless there is a medical reason. "Supplementing" with formula can make it harder for your body to make enough milk.

What about pumping? — A breast pump is a device that can remove (or "express") milk from the breasts. The milk can then be stored and fed to the baby later. You can pump:

If you can't be with your baby right after birth

To help your body make more milk, for example, if your baby was born earlier than expected

To collect breast milk for your baby to have when you are separated, like if you return to work or school

Can I breastfeed if I had breast surgery? — Maybe. If you have had breast surgery, you can try to breastfeed and see if you make enough milk. Most people who had surgery to make their breasts bigger can make enough milk. If you have had a breast reduction (surgery to make your breasts smaller), you are more likely to have trouble making enough milk. But it's not the same for everyone.

When is breastfeeding not recommended? — Most people can breastfeed safely. But doctors do not recommend breastfeeding if:

You have certain infections, such as HIV, that you could pass to your baby through breastfeeding.

You take certain medicines – Most medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding. But some medicines, such as chemotherapy to treat cancer, are not safe.

You use certain drugs – Illegal drugs are harmful for a breastfeeding baby. Marijuana (along with other forms of cannabis) is legal in some places, but should be avoided if you are breastfeeding. There are studies suggesting that it could cause problems in babies.

Your baby was born with a medical condition called "galactosemia."

Tell your doctor or nurse about any health conditions you have or medicines you take. They can talk to you about whether it is safe to breastfeed.

What if I have questions about breastfeeding? — If you have questions about breastfeeding, ask your doctor or nurse. You might also find it helpful to talk to a lactation consultant.

More on this topic

Patient education: Breastfeeding (The Basics)
Patient education: Common breastfeeding problems (The Basics)
Patient education: Health and nutrition during breastfeeding (The Basics)
Patient education: Pumping and storing breast milk (The Basics)
Patient education: Weaning from breastfeeding (The Basics)
Patient education: Caring for your newborn (The Basics)
Patient education: Medicines and breastfeeding (The Basics)

Patient education: Breastfeeding guide (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Deciding to breastfeed (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Feb 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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