Breastfeeding, or nursing, is the process by which human breast milk is fed to a child.
Breast milk may be from the breast, or may be expressed by hand or pumped and fed to the infant. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby’s life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants.
Health organizations, including the WHO, recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months. This means that no other foods or drinks, other than vitamin D, are typically given.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years and beyond.
Of the 135 million babies born every year, only 42% are breastfed within the first hour of life, only 38% of mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months, and 58% of mothers continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years and beyond.
Breastfeeding has a number of benefits to both mother and baby that infant formula lacks. Increased breastfeeding to near-universal levels in low and medium income countries could prevent approximately 820,000 deaths of children under the age of five annually.
Breastfeeding decreases the risk of respiratory tract infections, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and diarrhea for the baby, both in developing and developed countries.
Other benefits have been proposed to include lower risks of asthma, food allergies, and diabetes.
Breastfeeding may also improve cognitive development and decrease the risk of obesity in adulthood
Benefits for the mother include less blood loss following delivery, better contraction of the uterus, and a decreased risk of postpartum depression.
Breastfeeding delays the return of menstruation, and in very specific circumstances, fertility, a phenomenon known as lactational amenorrhea.
Long-term benefits for the mother include decreased risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Breastfeeding is less expensive than infant formula, but its impact on mothers’ ability to earn an income is not usually factored into calculations comparing the two feeding methods.
Feedings may last as long as 30–45 minutes each as milk supply develops and the infant learns the Suck-Swallow-Breathe pattern.
However, as milk supply increases and the infant becomes more efficient at feeding, the duration of feeds may shorten. Older children may feed less often. When direct breastfeeding is not possible, expressing or pumping to empty the breasts can help mothers avoid plugged milk ducts and breast infection, maintain their milk supply, resolve engorgement, and provide milk to be fed to their infant at a later time.
Medical conditions that do not allow breastfeeding are rare. Mothers who take certain recreational drugs should not breastfeed, however, most medications are compatible with breastfeeding.
Current evidence indicates that it is unlikely that COVID-19 can be transmitted through breast milk.
Smoking tobacco and consuming limited amounts of alcohol and/or coffee are not reasons to avoid breastfeeding