Breastfeeding is the feeding of an infant or young child with breast milk directly from female human breasts (i.e., via lactation) rather than from a baby bottle or other container. Babies have a sucking reflex that enables them to suck and swallow milk. Most mothers can breastfeed for six months or more, without the addition of infant formula or solid food.
Human breast milk is the healthiest form of milk for human babies. There are few exceptions, such as when the mother is taking certain drugs or is infected with tuberculosis or HIV. Breastfeeding promotes health, helps to prevent disease and reduces health care and feeding costs. Artificial feeding is associated with more deaths from diarrhea in infants in both developing and developed countries. Experts agree that breastfeeding is beneficial, but may disagree about the length of breastfeeding that is most beneficial, and about the risks of using artificial formulas.
Emphasizing the value of breastfeeding for both mothers and children, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then supplemented breastfeeding for at least one year and up to two years or more. While recognizing the superiority of breastfeeding, regulating authorities also work to minimize the risks of artificial feeding.
The acceptability of breastfeeding in public varies by culture and country. In Western culture, though most approve of breastfeeding, some mothers may be reluctant to do so out of fear of public opinion.
Not all the properties of breast milk are understood, but its nutrient content is relatively stable. Breast milk is made from nutrients in the mother's bloodstream and bodily stores. Breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein that is needed for a baby's growth and development. Because breastfeeding uses an average of 500 calories a day it helps the mother lose weight after giving birth. The composition of breast milk changes depending on how long the baby nurses at each session, as well as on the age of the child. The quality of a mother's breast milk may be compromised by smoking, and drinking.
Among the benefits of breastfeeding for infants are: less necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants, greater immune health, fewer infections, less tendency to develop allergic diseases, protection from SIDS, higher intelligence, and less chances of developing diabetes and obesity.
Among the benefits for mothers are: bonding, nurturing hormone release, weight loss, natural postpartum infertility, less risk of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer, reduced risk of heart disease, and bone re-mineralisation if breastfeeding for longer than 8 months.