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What’s breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is when your baby sucks milk — that’s made in your mammary glands — from your nipples. Breastfeeding is generally a safe and healthy way to feed your baby after giving birth. Breast milk contains fat, sugar, water, protein, and minerals needed for your baby’s growth and development. As your baby grows, your breast milk changes to meet their changing nutritional needs. 

There are community resources available to help you provide healthy and nutritious options for your baby. The WIC Program provides support for parents who are breastfeeding or need access to formula and health care.

How does breastfeeding work?

You can breastfeed by holding your baby against your bare skin (called “skin-to-skin” contact) to help your baby attach, or “latch-on,” to your nipple. Cup your breast in your hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. When they open their mouth (wide like a yawn), bring your baby’s mouth to your breast, aiming your nipple toward the roof of their mouth. Some babies latch on and start feeding easily, while others have more trouble. If you have trouble breastfeeding, ask your doctor or nurse for help. Your baby may be ready to breastfeed within their first hour of life, so there’s no need to wait. 

Some parents choose to use a breast pump to collect breast milk and then use a bottle to feed their baby. This can help your body continue to make milk while you’re away from your baby. Breast pumps can be purchased online or in stores that sell products for new parents. Sometimes health insurance will cover the cost of a breast pump. 

Note: It’s important to clean infant feeding items (like bottles, nipples, and caps) correctly to help prevent germs from getting in the breast milk you feed your baby. Learn more about how to do that from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

Infants who are breastfed are less likely to develop health issues like allergies, asthma, diabetes, ear infections, diarrhea, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The longer you breastfeed them for, the more protected your baby is from these health issues. 

Breastfeeding can also benefit you by lowering your chances of getting high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. It can also help your uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size and lower the amount of bleeding you have after birth.

What are the disadvantages of breastfeeding?

It’s common to need help with breastfeeding in the beginning, especially if it’s your first baby. Most hospitals and health centers have staff who can help you learn and practice breastfeeding. 

Disadvantages of breastfeeding include less vaginal lubrication (not getting as wet when you’re turned on), which can make sex uncomfortable. Using lube can help make sex more comfortable.

There are also many reasons why parents aren’t able to breastfeed, choose not to breastfeed, or use formula in addition to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding takes a lot of time and energy — which may not always be available to you. 

Parents may choose not to breastfeed because of: 

  • Personal choice

  • Low milk supply (your body doesn’t make as much milk as your baby needs)

  • Issues with your baby latching

  • Lack of community support

  • Medical conditions 

  • Adoption

  • Lack of support in the workplace

Some people have more privilege because of social, economic, and environmental advantages that help make breastfeeding easier. However, some new parents have less privilege and may face systemic issues that create barriers that make it hard or impossible to breastfeed. For example, people of color can have a harder time accessing breastfeeding guidance and support from the health care system. And some people can have a harder time finding the space to pump and save their breastmilk at work due to discrimination and/or bias from others because of things like their race, gender identity, or ability status. 

Many policies and practices in public spaces and workplaces are improving, but more work is needed to provide better breastfeeding support to parents of newborns, especially parents who face barriers.

How long should I breastfeed my baby?

Your baby needs breast milk and/or formula for the first 6 months of life. This means feeding your baby only breast milk and/or formula and no other foods or liquids during that time. After 6 months, you can begin introducing new foods to your baby while you continue breastfeeding and/or formula feeding, up until your baby turns 1. And you can keep breastfeeding after your baby’s first birthday for as long as you and your baby would like. 

Can I get pregnant while I’m breastfeeding?

Yes, it’s possible to get pregnant while you’re breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be a form of birth control, but only if you do it in a certain way. 

You can also safely use most birth control methods while you’re breastfeeding to prevent pregnancy. They won’t hurt you or your baby. You can start using the shot, implant, IUD, and progestin-only birth control pills (called POPs or mini-pills) right after giving birth. You can also always use barrier methods, like condoms, for birth control right away.

For the first 3 weeks after giving birth, don’t use a birth control method that has the hormone estrogen, like the combination pill, patch, or ring. After 3 weeks, you can use any of these methods.

What’s formula feeding?

Formula feeding is a safe and healthy way to feed your newborn because it contains ingredients and nutrients that are similar to breast milk. It usually comes in powder form, and you mix it with safe drinking water and put it in a bottle. If you’re not sure if your tap water is safe, ask your doctor or nurse. 

Note: It’s important to clean infant feeding items (like bottles, nipples, and caps) correctly to help prevent germs from getting in the formula you feed your baby. Learn more about how to do that from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You can speak with your baby’s doctor or nurse about choosing a formula brand or type that is best for your baby’s growth and development. Most formulas can be bought in grocery stores or online.

There are community resources available to help you provide healthy and nutritious options for your baby. The WIC Program provides support for parents who are breastfeeding or need access to formula and health care.

What are the benefits of formula feeding?

Formula is a safe and healthy option for feeding your baby. It provides your baby with the food they need if you choose not to breastfeed, have low milk supply, or are unable to breastfeed. 

Formula feeding is also a good option if you’re away from your baby for short or long periods of time — your baby’s caretaker can feed your baby formula.  

What are the disadvantages of formula feeding?

Infant formula doesn’t contain the natural antibodies found in breastmilk that provide your baby added protection against infection and illness. Formula can also be expensive. The WIC Program provides support for parents who need access to formula and health care, or help with breastfeeding.

You’ll also need supplies to feed your baby formula, like bottles and nipples. These supplies and formula can sometimes be costly.

Breastfeeding as Birth Control

Breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy and it can also provide many other benefits for both you and your baby.

Learn More