Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman's breast. Health professionals recommend that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby's life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants. During the first few weeks of life babies may nurse roughly every two to three hours, and the duration of a feeding is usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast. Older children feed less often. Mothers may pump milk so that it can be used later when breastfeeding is not possible. Breastfeeding has a number of benefits to both mother and baby, which infant formula lacks.
Health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months. This means that no other foods or drinks other than possibly vitamin D are typically given. After the introduction of foods at six months of age, recommendations include continued breastfeeding until one to two years of age or more. Globally about 38% of infants are only breastfed during their first six months of life. In the United States in 2015, 83% of women begin breastfeeding and 58% were still breastfeeding at 6 months, although only 25% exclusively. Medical conditions that do not allow breastfeeding are rare. Mothers who take certain recreational drugs and medications should not breastfeed. Smoking, limited amounts of alcohol, or coffee are not reasons to avoid breastfeeding.
According to studies cited by UNICEF, babies naturally follow a process which leads to a first breastfeed. Initially after birth the baby cries with its first breaths. Shortly after, it relaxes and makes small movements of the arms, shoulders and head. If placed on the mother's abdomen the baby then crawls towards the breast, called the breast crawl and begins to feed. After feeding, it is normal for a baby to remain latched to the breast while resting. This is sometimes mistaken for lack of appetite. Absent interruptions, all babies follow this process. Rushing or interrupting the process, such as removing the baby to weigh him/her, may complicate subsequent feeding. Activities such as weighing, measuring, bathing, needle-sticks, and eye prophylaxis wait until after the first feeding.
In 2014, newly elected Pope Francis drew worldwide commentary when he encouraged mothers to breastfeed babies in church. During a papal baptism, he said that mothers "should not stand on ceremony" if their children were hungry. "If they are hungry, mothers, feed them, without thinking twice," he said, smiling. "Because they are the most important people here.
In a good latch, a large amount of the areola, in addition to the nipple, is in the baby's mouth. The nipple should be angled towards the roof of the mouth, and the baby's lips should be flanged out. In some cases in which a baby seems unable to latch on properly the problem may be related to a medical condition called ankyloglossia, also referred to as "tongue-tied". In this condition a baby can't get a good latch because their tongue is stuck to the bottom of their mouth by a band of tissue and they can't open their mouth wide enough or keep their tongue over the lower gum while sucking. If an infant is unable to hold their tongue in the correct position they may chew rather than suck, causing both a lack of nutrition for the baby and significant nipple pain for the mother. If it is determined that the inability to latch on properly is related to ankyloglossia, a simple surgical procedure can correct the condition.
If breastfeeding is suddenly stopped a woman's breasts are likely to become engorged with milk. Pumping small amounts to relieve discomfort helps to gradually train the breasts to produce less milk. There is presently no safe medication to prevent engorgement, but cold compresses and ibuprofen may help to relieve pain and swelling. Pain should go away in one to five days. If symptoms continue and comfort measures are not helpful a woman should consider the possibility that a blocked milk duct or infection may be present and seek medical intervention.
It is possible for a mother to continue breastfeeding an older sibling while also breastfeeding a new baby; this is called tandem nursing. During the late stages of pregnancy, the milk changes to colostrum. While some children continue to breastfeed even with this change, others may wean. Most mothers can produce enough milk for tandem nursing, but the new baby should be nursed first for at least the first few days after delivery to ensure that it receives enough colostrum.
Breastfeeding or introduction of gluten while breastfeeding don't protect against celiac disease among at-risk children. Breast milk of healthy human mothers who eat gluten-containing foods presents high levels of non-degraded gliadin (the main gluten protein). Early introduction of traces of gluten in babies to potentially induce tolerance doesn't reduce the risk of developing celiac disease. Delaying the introduction of gluten does not prevent, but is associated with a delayed onset of the disease.