Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
On This Page
- What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
- When Should a Mother Avoid Breastfeeding (contraindications)?
- How is Growth Assessed for Breastfed Infants?
- How Long Should a Mother Breastfeed?
- What Can Happen if Someone Else’s Breast Milk is Given to Another Child?
- Are Special Precautions Needed for Handling Breast Milk?
- What are Human Milk Banks?
- Is it Safe for Families to Buy Breast Milk on the Internet?
- What Legal Rights Do Breastfeeding Mothers Have?
- How Can a Mother Continue to Provide Breast Milk to Her Infant After Returning to Work or School?
- Where Can Mothers Find Breastfeeding Support and Additional Information About Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is good for both infants and mothers. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. As an infant grows, breast milk changes to meet the infant’s nutritional needs. Breastfeeding can also help protect infant and mother against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases:
Benefits to Infants
Infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of:
- Acute otitis media (ear infections).
- Diabetes (type 2).
- Gastrointestinal infection (vomiting/diarrhea).
- Eczema (a skin disease).
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) (for preterm and low birthweight infants).
- Respiratory infections.
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Benefit to Mothers
Mothers who breastfeed their infants have a lower risk of:
- Breast and ovarian cancers.
- Diabetes (type 2).
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
Human milk provides the best nutrition for most infants, including premature and sick newborns. However, there are rare exceptions when human milk or breastfeeding is not recommended. Learn more about contraindications to breastfeeding.
Few medications are contraindicated (not recommended) while breastfeeding. Although many medications do pass into breast milk, most have little or no effect on milk supply or on infant well-being. However, health care providers should always weigh the risks and benefits when prescribing medications to breastfeeding mothers.
In the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) growth standard charts are recommended for use with both breastfed and formula-fed infants and children, from birth to 2 years of age, to monitor growth. The WHO growth charts reflect growth patterns among children who were predominantly breastfed for at least 4 months and were still breastfeeding at 12 months. The WHO growth charts establish the growth of the breastfed infant as the norm for growth and are the standards for how children should grow when provided optimal conditions. Clinicians should be aware that healthy breastfed infants typically gain weight faster than formula-fed infants in the first few months of life but then gain weight more slowly for the remainder of infancy, even after complementary foods are introduced.
For children older than 2 years (2 to 19 years of age) CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that health care providers use the CDC growth reference charts.
Visit the Growth Chart training website for a set of self-directed, interactive training courses.
Source: Grummer-Strawn LM, Reinold C, Krebs NF; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use of the World Health Organization and CDC growth charts for children aged 0 to 59 months in the United States. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59(RR-9);1-15.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months with continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for 1 year or longer. WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or longer.
Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed their children for at least 1 year. The longer an infant is breastfed, the greater the protection from certain illnesses and long-term diseases. The more months or years a woman breastfeeds (combined breastfeeding of all her children), the greater the benefits to her health as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children be introduced to foods other than breast milk or infant formula when they are about 6 months old. To learn more about infant and toddler feeding, visit CDC’s Infant and Toddler Nutrition website.
Very few illnesses are transmitted via breast milk. Learn more about what to do if an infant or child is mistakenly fed another woman’s expressed breast milk.
CDC does not list human breast milk as a body fluid to which universal precautions apply. Occupational exposure to human breast milk has not been shown to lead to transmission of HIV or Hepatitis B infection. However, because human breast milk has been implicated in transmitting HIV from mother to infant, gloves may be worn as a precaution by health care workers who are frequently exposed to breast milk (e.g., people working in human milk banks (defined below). For additional information regarding universal precautions as they apply to breast milk in the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis B infections, visit the following resources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perspectives in disease prevention and health promotion update: universal precautions for prevention of transmission of human immunodeficiency virus, Hepatitis B virus, and other bloodborne pathogens in health-care settings. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1988;37(24):377–388.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendations for prevention of HIV transmission in health-care settings. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1987;36 (suppl2):15S–18S.
Human milk banks are a service established for the purpose of collecting milk from donors and processing, screening, storing, and distributing donated milk to meet the specific needs of individuals for whom human milk is prescribed by licensed health care providers. When possible, human milk banks also serve healthy infants who have been adopted or are not able to get their own mother’s milk.
Milk banks accept donations directly at their deposit sites or they can arrange for safe, overnight transportation of human milk at no cost to the donor. Learn more about donating to a milk bank by visiting the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Food and Drug Administration recommend avoiding Internet-based milk sharing sites and instead recommend contacting milk banks. Research has demonstrated that some milk samples sold online have been contaminated with a range of bacteria.1
Non-profit donor human milk banks, where processed human milk comes from screened donors, have a long safety record in North America. All member banks of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) must operate under specific evidence-based guidelines that require extensive testing and processing procedures as well as self-reported health information and a health statement from both the donor’s healthcare provider and the infant’s healthcare provider. Because most of the milk from milk banks is given to hospitalized and fragile infants, milk banks may not have enough to serve healthy infants at all times. To find a human milk bank, contact HMBANA.
1Keim, SA, Hogan, JS, McNamara, KA, et al. Microbial contamination of human milk purchased via the internet. Pediatrics. 2013;132(5).
- All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. Visit the National Conference of State Legislatures to learn more about federal and state laws that protect and support breastfeeding.
- The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision” of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers to support breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk for 1 year after each child’s birth by providing mothers with reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space to express their breast milk. Visit the United States Department of Labor to learn more.
- Air travelers are permitted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to bring breast milk, formula, and juice in excess of 3.4 ounces in their carry-on baggage and it does not need to fit within a quart size bag. Ice packs, freezer packs, and other accessories needed to keep the liquid cool are also allowed in carry-on bags. All liquids and partially frozen accessories are subject to being screened by X-ray. TSA is required by the Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening Act (BABES act) to provide ongoing training to ensure TSA staff receive consistent training related to traveling with breast milk, formula, and infant feeding equipment. Visit the TSA to learn more about traveling with breast milk, formula, and juice. For tips on travel and breastfeeding, visit Travel Recommendations for the Nursing Mother.
Visit the United States Breastfeeding Committee website to learn more about existing laws related to breastfeeding protections.
Being prepared for returning to work or school can help a mother ease the transition and continue to breastfeed after her maternity leave is over. The Office on Women’s Health has information for making this transition easier.
When a mother is away from her infant, she can pump or hand express her breast milk so that her infant can drink breast milk from a bottle. Mothers can visit CDC’s Infant and Toddler Nutrition website to learn more about pumping breast milk.
It is important that mothers who are expressing their breast milk know the guidelines for storing and preparing human milk. Visit the CDC’s Proper Storage and Preparation of Breast Milk website to learn more.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers to support breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk for 1 year after each child’s birth by providing mothers with reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space to express their breast milk. For more information about the types of employees and employers to which the requirements apply, refer to the United States Department of Labor’s Frequently Asked Questions.
Help mothers find lactation support through the following resources:
- International Lactation Consultant Association (IBCLCs)
- United States Lactation Consultant Association (IBCLCs)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics
- La Leche League
Help mothers find resources about breastfeeding by directing them to the following websites:
- Page last reviewed: October 11, 2018
- Page last updated: October 11, 2018, 12:00 AM
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