Learn about the Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the best, most nurturing way of feeding your baby – something special you can do for your child.
Click on the topics below to get more information about breastfeeding.
- Breastmilk has everything your baby needs to grow and be healthy.
- Breastmilk is easy to digest. Your baby’s stools will be soft and easy to pass.
- Breastmilk protects babies from ear infections, colds, allergies, diarrhea and constipation. Your baby will be sick less and have fewer doctor visits.
- Breastfeeding helps baby’s eyes and brain develop.
- Breastfed children are less likely to have diabetes or be overweight or obese in later years.
- Breastfeeding is great for mother-baby bonding.
- Baby smells sweet and diapers smell less.
- Breastfeeding saves time. No messy bottles to fix at night, so everyone sleeps better.
- Breastfeeding helps you lose weight.
- Breastfeeding lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease.
- Women enjoy breastfeeding. Hormones your body makes during breastfeeding help you relax and feel close to your baby.
- Breastfed babies are easy to take on trips. Just grab the diapers and go!
- Breastfeeding saves money (no formula or bottle costs, fewer doctor bills and medication costs).
- WIC moms may get extra food for the first year of breastfeeding.
- Breastfeeding families are happy knowing their babies are getting the best food possible.
- Fathers and others are very important. They can:
Talk and sing to baby
Take baby for a walk
Read or tell stories
- Any amount of breastfeeding is good for you and your baby.
- You can breastfeed as long as you and your baby want to. You and your baby benefit from breastfeeding beyond one year of age.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a year or more.
- The longer you breastfeed the easier it is to breastfeed.
- Tell your doctor or midwife you want to breastfeed immediately after you deliver.
- Tell the nurses NOT to give your baby pacifiers, water or formula bottles at any time.
- Have the baby room-in with you in the hospital. Nurse the baby often and whenever she shows interest.
- Try to manage your labor and delivery without medications (medications do affect babies and make them drowsy at the breast).
Breastfeeding is best for your baby
Breastfeeding is good for moms
Breastfeeding is good for your family
How long should I keep breastfeeding? The choice is yours.
Plan ahead for breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a special gift only you can give your baby.
How will you know if your baby is getting enough milk?
- Your super-healthy first milk doesn’t flow as heavily as your milk will later. Breastfeed often so your body knows to make more milk. Your breasts should feel fuller in 2-5 days.
- Breastfeed every 1 ½-3 hours, or 8-12 times in 24 hours, including some feedings at night. Wake your newborn if she sleeps longer than 3-5 hours between feedings, even at night.
- For the first 1-2 days baby’s messy diapers will be greenish black. Then they will be yellow and soft. By 3-4 days, your baby should have 3-5 messy diapers and 6-8 really wet diapers in 24 hours.
- You should hear or feel your baby swallowing. (It may take several minutes for baby to start.)
- Let your baby end the feeding. He or she will let go, fall asleep and look very content when he or she is no longer hungry.
- Think your baby isn’t getting enough milk? Call your doctor or nurse.
Breastfeeding should be comfortable
- If breastfeeding hurts, check your baby’s position. Ask for help.
- Bring your baby to your breast, so you don’t have to lean over. This helps avoid getting a sore back.
- You and the baby should be tummy to tummy.
- The baby’s mouth should open wide (like a big yawn), then bring baby to the breast.
- Support your breast with one hand, thumb on top and fingers below.
- Much of the dark area of the breast should be in the baby’s mouth.
- If the baby has only the end of the nipple, or breastfeeding hurts, break the suction by gently putting your finger in the side of your baby’s mouth. Then make sure baby’s mouth is open wide. (Sometimes brushing the end of your nipple against the baby's lower lip or showing baby your wide-open mouth will help to get a wide-open mouth.) Try again.
- Listen or feel for swallowing, which will show that your baby is getting your milk.
- Breastmilk looks thinner and bluer than cow’s milk. It's perfect for your baby.
- There may be a time of day – often afternoon or early evening – when your baby wants to feed more often. This is normal.
- Ask your doctor or nurse before taking any medicine – even aspirin or cold medicine. It might come through your breastmilk to your baby.
- You may be too busy to realize you are hungry or thirsty. Remember to eat, drink and sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet. Don’t worry about avoiding lots of foods. Just alcohol, caffeine and anything that bothers your baby.
- Over time your breasts will feel less full. Don’t worry that you have “lost your milk.” Your breasts are adjusting to breastfeeding.
As your baby grows and learns, breastfeeding will get easier and change. Ask your health care provider about growth spurts, and about how you can return to work or school and still breastfeed.
If your baby doesn't take enough milk from your breasts, they may become engorged — uncomfortably full, hard or warm.
How to prevent engorgement
- Make sure your baby latches on correctly and that you’re positioned right. Breastfeed newborns 8-12 times in 24 hours.
- Avoid pacifiers and bottles during the first few weeks. Try not to delay or skip feedings.
What to do if your breasts are engorged
- Put a warm wet cloth on your breasts before feedings, or take a warm shower to help your milk flow.
- Massage your breasts gently before and during feeding.
- Express some milk to soften your breast. Put a cool cloth or ice pack on your breasts to reduce swelling between feedings.
Plugged milk duct
Sometimes a milk duct gets plugged up and sore. If this happens: Breastfeed often and start on the sore side first. Try different positions to help remove the plug. Try pointing the baby’s nose toward the tender spot on your breast.
- Before feeding, put a warm wet washcloth on your breast and massage the tender spot.
- Take care of yourself. Rest and eat well.
- If you also have flu-like symptoms like body aches, congestion or a fever, you may have a breast infection. Keep breastfeeding, and call your doctor.
For 2-4 days after giving birth, tender nipples are common, especially when your baby latches-on. After the first few sucks, breastfeeding should be comfortable.
To avoid sore nipples: Make sure your baby latches on correctly and that you’re positioned right.
- Ask for help if you need it.
- Try different positions.
- If breastfeeding hurts, ask for help from a breastfeeding specialist.
- To take the baby off the breast, put your finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the suction.
- Use only water to wash your breasts.
- If your nipples are very sore: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol). Take a few deep breaths before feeding to relax. Before feeding, put ice on your nipples for a few seconds to ease the soreness.
- Start feedings on the less-sore nipple.
- Rub a few drops of breastmilk on your nipple and the dark area around it after feeding. Let nipples air dry.
It’s not normal if pain continues during and between feedings, or your nipples are blistered, cracked or bleeding. Call a breastfeeding specialist or your doctor for help.
Thrush is a common yeast infection.
Signs of thrush: Nipple soreness, itching, burning or shooting pains through your breast when the baby latches on.
- White patches in baby’s mouth or bright red diaper rash. If you see signs of thrush, keep breastfeeding and call your doctor or nurse. You and your baby may need medications.
Yes, you can breastfeed when you go back to work or school!
Breastfeeding is good for your baby, you and your employer. Breastfed babies are healthier. This means less time away from work. Breastfeeding when you get home is a relaxing way to stay close to your baby.
Ask your WIC staff, nurse or doctor to help you plan
- How old will your baby be when you go back to work or school?
- How often and when is baby nursing?
- Will you need childcare?
Will you need to pump or express milk?
It depends on your child’s age and the number of hours you will be away. Older children nurse less often. Some women breastfeed more often during the night, so their babies won't need to feed as often during the day. Your body will adjust to longer periods between pumping or feeding.
If you can't express or pump your milk or feed your baby during the day, you can use formula while you are away. That way, your baby will still benefit from breastfeeding, and you can keep this special time together.
Find a supportive childcare provider
- Tell them you plan to keep breastfeeding.
- Ask if you can breastfeed when you drop off or pickup your child, or on your lunch breaks.
Talk to your employer or school nurse
- Can you return part time or start on a Thursday or Friday?
- Where can you express and pump your milk?
- Is there a refrigerator to store your milk? (If not, you can use an insulated lunch bag and a refreezable ice pack.)
- When are your breaks? By law, Minnesota employers must give you a reasonable unpaid break time and a place (not a toilet stall) to pump milk.
Get ready ahead of time
- If you plan to express or pump milk, get started a few weeks before you go back to work or school. You can store milk in the freezer, in case you run low on fresh breastmilk. Label the milk with your baby’s name and the date the milk was expressed.
- Find a breast pump that works well—for you. A double pump is fast and will help keep up your milk supply. Ask your nurse or breastfeeding specialist for help.
- If your baby breastfeeds well, try giving her a bottle 1-2 weeks before you return to work or school. Have someone else try, too. If your baby doesn’t take a bottle well, try a different type of nipple and bottle, or even a cup or spoon.
- Do a trial run before returning to work or school. Try leaving your child at childcare or with a family member.
- If you can, find clothes that let you breastfeed or pump easily, like two-piece outfits or clothes designed for breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least 1 year or longer. Benefits include:
- Baby is protected from illness.
- Baby gets just the right nutrition for growing.
- Mom gets special time with baby and health benefits for herself.
- Before feeding, soothe your baby’s gums with a damp, cold washcloth or teething ring.
- Give baby your complete attention while breastfeeding.
- Watch for signs that your baby is done and remove him or her from the breast.
- Give extra attention to good positioning and latch-on.
If your baby is teething
Many mothers keep nursing after their babies get teeth. Some babies bite when their gums are swollen and sore with teething. But babies can’t bite when they are actively sucking. Try these ideas:
If your baby bites
Your natural reaction will be to startle and take your baby off your breast. After this sudden reaction, most babies do not bite again. If your baby continues to bite, stay calm and pull your baby in close so that he or she releases the nipple, or stop the feeding.
What if your baby goes on a 'nursing strike'?
When a baby who nurses well suddenly refuses to, it’s called a “nursing strike.” This is different from a baby who is ready to wean. A nursing strike usually lasts 2-4 days. It may be caused by teething, illness, distractions, being away from mom for a long period or changes in routines.
These tips may help:
- Try different breastfeeding positions.
- Breastfeed in a quiet, darkened room or in the bathtub, or when your baby is sleepy.
- Cuddle and play with your baby often.
- Express or pump your breastmilk, but still try to breastfeed often. Offer your milk in a cup.
- Call a breastfeeding specialist or your doctor if a nursing strike lasts longer than 2-4 days.
Tips on weaning
People may give you lots of advice about weaning. Remember:
- Breastfeeding your older baby will not spoil him or her.
- Getting teeth does not mean the end of breastfeeding.
- Many toddlers enjoy breastfeeding. Your baby's age is not a reason to wean.
You may decide to wait for your baby to wean himself or herself. If you decide to wean, do it gradually over several days, weeks or months. This helps your body adjust to making less milk. Your baby also needs time to adjust. As you go through weaning, you may choose to keep breastfeeding sometimes.
How to wean
Begin by stopping one feeding. Then in 3-5 days, stop another feeding, and so on. Replace each feeding like this:
- From 1-12 months of age, replace the feeding with iron-fortified formula. Start solid foods and a cup at 6-8 months. Hold and comfort your baby when feeding.
- At 1 year of age, replace the feeding with whole milk from a cup at meals.
- With a toddler, replace a feeding with playing, reading or taking a walk together.
When you need to be away
When you need to be away from your baby, and want to keep breastfeeding, you can:
- Express your milk by hand. It’s fast and there is no equipment to wash.
- Use a manual breast pump or one you pump by foot.
- Use a pump that pumps both breasts at the same time (several are available). This will help keep up your milk supply.
- If you will be away for a long time, or if your baby has a condition that makes her unable to breastfeed, you need a high quality electric breast pump.
Choosing a breast pump
- A breast pump should be safe, work well, and should not have pressure that is too high or too low. It should not hurt.
- Ask your breastfeeding specialist or WIC staff for help.
Tips for pumping or expressing milk
- Keep a picture or a piece of your baby’s clothing with you. This can help you "let down" your milk.
- Wash your hands first.
- Don’t share a breast pump, unless it is made to be shared.
- Give yourself time to find the best routine for you.
What about containers?
- Store breast milk in clean glass bottles, hard plastic bottles or plastic milk storage bags.
- Put only 2-4 ounces in each container.
- Write the date and your baby’s name on each container.
- If your baby is in the hospital, ask them how to provide your milk for your baby.
Keep breast milk fresh
- Cool your breast milk quickly in a refrigerator or a cooler with an ice pack.
- You can store breast milk in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Put it in the back (coldest) part of the refrigerator.
- Freeze breast milk you won’t use within 3 days.
- Leave some room at the top of the container; breast milk expands as it freezes.
- You can add cold fresh breast milk to a container of frozen breast milk as long as there is less fresh than frozen breast milk.
- You can freeze breast milk for 4-6 months at the back of a freezer that has a door separate from the refrigerator, or for 2 weeks in a freezer inside the refrigerator.
- You can refrigerate thawed breast milk for up to 24 hours. Don’t refreeze.
Thawing or warming breast milk
- You may feed breast milk either cool or warm.
- To thaw frozen milk, put it in the refrigerator the night before. Or gently shake the container while holding it under warm running water.
- To warm breast milk, put it under warm running water or in a bowl of warm water.
- Do not thaw or heat breast milk on the stove, in the microwave or with hot water. Too much heat destroys the good things in the milk. Microwaves can create “hot spots” and burn your baby.
How should breast milk look?
- Breast milk may look thin and watery. Its color may be bluish, yellowish or brownish. This is all OK.
- Your milk will separate into layers. Shake it gently before feeding your baby.