• Children's Center

    Benefits of breastfeeding are well established

a baby breastfeeding, nursing at woman's breast
Breastfeeding is the recommended way to feed a newborn. "Breastfeeding is strongly supported by medical professional organizations because of its known direct benefits to the infant's nutrition, gastrointestinal function, host defense, and socio-emotional development." says Dr. Brian Lynch, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician. Depending on the circumstances, however, various factors might lead you to consider formula-feeding.

How long should I breastfeed my baby?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth — and breastfeeding in combination with solid foods until at least age 1. Extended breastfeeding is recommended as long as you and your baby wish to continue.

Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby and boosts your baby's immune system. It's considered the gold standard for infant nutrition.

“Breastfeeding is associated with small improvements in neurodevelopmental outcomes in children," says Dr. Lynch. "Breastfeeding is also associated with a reduction in acute infections as well as chronic adult conditions like obesity, cancer, heart disease and allergies.”

Is any additional nutrition necessary?

Ask your baby's health care provider about vitamin D supplements for the baby, especially if you're exclusively breastfeeding. Breast milk might not provide enough vitamin D, which helps your baby absorb calcium and phosphorus — nutrients necessary for strong bones.

What can I do to promote successful breastfeeding?

Taking care of yourself can go a long way toward promoting successful breastfeeding. Eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible.

To boost your confidence, learn as much as you can about breastfeeding. Keep the environment calm and relaxed. Look to your partner and other loved ones for support. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Friends who've successfully breastfed might be a good source of information. Lactation consultants are available at many hospitals and clinics. Your baby's health care provider might be able to help, too.

What if breastfeeding isn't going well?

If you're struggling, ask a lactation consultant or your baby's health care provider for help. If your baby's health care provider is concerned that your baby isn't receiving adequate nutrition or hydration, he or she might suggest pumping and supplementing with expressed breast milk or formula.

Breast milk is the ideal food for babies — and the best way to keep a baby healthy — but proper nutrition and hydration are absolutely essential for your baby.

Does infant formula pose any risks to a baby?

Commercial infant formulas don't contain the immunity-boosting elements of breast milk. For most babies, breast milk is also easier to digest than formula. When prepared as directed, however, infant formula supports healthy babies who have typical dietary needs. A baby who has special nutritional needs might require a special formula.

Can I combine breastfeeding and formula-feeding?

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months after birth. A diet of breast milk only provides the best nutrition. Formula supplementation can disrupt breastfeeding as well as affect milk supply. However, some mothers are able to combine breastfeeding and formula-feeding — especially after breastfeeding has been well-established.

If I choose not to breastfeed, how should I handle any resulting emotions?

If you're considering formula-feeding, do your research so that you can make an informed decision. Then focus on nourishing and nurturing your baby — instead of dwelling on negative emotions. You might also share your feelings with your health care provider, your baby's provider or others in your support circle.

Remember, parenting is an adventure that requires choices and compromises. What counts is doing the best you can as you face this new challenge.

This article is written by Mayo Clinic staff. Find more health and medical information on mayoclinic.org.

Learn more about breastfeeding:

Breastfeeding nutrition tips
Breastfeeding and pumping
Breastfeeding and losing weight