Breastfeeding provides an infant with essential calories, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for optimal growth, health, and development. Breastfeeding is beneficial to both a mother and her infant and also offers an important opportunity for the pair to bond. NICHD supports many areas of breastfeeding research, including studies of the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk, the social and cultural impacts of breastfeeding, and the nutritional components and mechanisms of disease related to breastfeeding and breast milk.
This work includes the Breastmilk Ecology: Genesis of Infant Nutrition Project. (PDF 298 KB)
Breastfeeding, also called nursing, is the process of feeding a mother’s breast milk to her infant, usually directly from the breast.
Research shows that breastfeeding offers health benefits for mothers and infants, such as protection against infections, and potential economic and environmental benefits for communities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding only breast milk for the first 6 months after birth, then slowly introducing solid foods while still breastfeeding until age 1 year.
Many mothers’ groups, health organizations, and health care provider associations provide detailed information on breastfeeding, including when to feed your infant and signs of a good latch.
Weaning is the process of switching an infant’s diet from breast milk or formula to other foods and fluids. Deciding when to wean is often influenced by many factors, such as a return to work.
New mothers do not need to consume more calories during breastfeeding. The estimated calorie requirements for infants are based on their age, size, and sex.
Women may be advised not to breastfeed when they are taking certain medications or drugs, when they have been diagnosed with a specific illness, or when other specific conditions apply.
Removing breast milk is important for mom’s health even if she doesn’t breastfeed. Moms can express/pump breast milk by hand or with a breast pump, then store it appropriately or discard it.
Find answers to other common questions about breastfeeding and breast milk, such as when to breastfeed, how to breastfeed while traveling, and what are some common myths about breastfeeding.