What is Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is when you feed your baby breast milk, usually directly from your breast. It’s also called nursing. Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. It’s also one that’s likely to draw opinions from friends and family.
Many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. After the introduction of other foods, it recommends continuing to breastfeed through the baby’s first year of life.
How often you should breastfeed your baby depends on whether your baby prefers small, frequent meals or longer feedings. This will change as your baby grows. Newborns often want to feed every 2-3 hours. By 2 months, feeding every 3-4 hours is common, and by six months, most babies feed every 4-5 hours.
You and your baby are unique, and the decision to breastfeed is up to you.
Signs Your Baby is Hungry
One of the most common ways your baby will let you know they’re hungry is to cry. Other signs your baby is ready to be fed include:
- Licking their lips or sticking out their tongue
- Rooting, which is moving their jaw, mouth, or head to look for your breast
- Putting their hand in their mouth
- Opening their mouth
- Sucking on things
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Baby
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It’s been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.