Breastfeeding Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

At a glance

This page offers information about topics such as the benefits of breastfeeding, reasons some women shouldn't breastfeed, how long a mother should breastfeed, breastfeeding while a child is getting a vaccine, and the legal rights of breastfeeding mothers.

Man and woman at a park while woman breastfeeds a baby.


What are the benefits of 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 the infant and mother against certain illnesses and diseases.

Benefits to infants

Infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of:

Benefits to mothers

Mothers who breastfeed their infants have a lower risk of:

  • Breast cancer.
  • Ovarian cancer.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.

Guidelines and recommendations

How long should a mother breastfeed?

Exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months is recommended. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends continued breastfeeding while introducing appropriate complementary foods until children are 12 months old or older. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years 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 longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater the benefits to her health as well.

Keep Reading: Breastfeeding Facts

When should a mother avoid breastfeeding?

Breast milk provides the best nutrition for most infants, including premature and sick newborns. However, there are rare exceptions when breast milk or breastfeeding is not recommended.

Only a few medications are not recommended while breastfeeding. Although many medications do pass into breast milk, most have little or no effect on milk supply or the infant's well-being. However, health care providers should always weigh the risks and benefits when prescribing medications to breastfeeding mothers. See the LactMed® database for information on drugs and other chemicals to which breastfeeding mothers may be exposed.

Growth assessment

How is growth assessed for breastfed infants?

In the United States, the WHO Growth Standard Charts are recommended for all infants and children from birth to age 2.1 These charts are modeled after the growth patterns of breastfed infants. In the first few months of life, healthy, breastfed infants typically gain weight faster than formula-fed infants. However, breastfed infants gain weight more slowly for the remainder of infancy even after introducing complementary foods.

For children 2 to 19 years of age, CDC and AAP recommend using the CDC Growth Reference Charts.

Growth Chart Training offers self-directed, interactive training courses.

Safety, preparation, and storage of breast milk

What if someone else’s breast milk is given to another child?

Very few illnesses are transmitted via breast milk. Learn what to do if an infant or child is mistakenly fed another woman's expressed breast milk.

Are special precautions needed for handling 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, human breast milk has been implicated in transmitting HIV from mother to infant. Consequently, health care workers who are frequently exposed to breast milk, such as people working in human milk banks, may wear gloves as a precaution. See this Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Where can mothers find more information?

What are human milk banks?

Human milk banks collect milk from donors. The banks process, screen, store, and distribute donated milk to people for whom licensed health care providers prescribe human milk. When possible, human milk banks also serve healthy infants who have been adopted or are otherwise not able to get their mother's milk.

Milk banks accept donations at their deposit sites. They can also arrange for safe, overnight transportation of human milk at no cost to the donor.

Is it safe to buy breast milk on the internet?

The AAP and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend avoiding Internet-based milk sharing sites. Some milk samples sold online have been contaminated with a range of bacteria.2 The AAP and FDA recommend contacting milk banks instead.

Nonprofit donor human milk banks 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. These guidelines require extensive testing and processing procedures including self-reported health information and a health statement from both the donor's and the infant's health care provider. Because most of the milk from milk banks is given to hospitalized and medically fragile infants, milk banks may not have enough to serve healthy infants at all times. To find a human milk bank, contact HMBANA.

Supporting breastfeeding mothers

What legal rights do breastfeeding mothers have?

Breastfeeding laws

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have laws to allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. See National Conference of State Legislatures.

Workplace laws

The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act requires employers to support breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk for 1 year after each child's birth. The PUMP Act is an extension of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers must comply by providing mothers with reasonable break time and a clean, private, space that is not a bathroom to express their breast milk. See:

Travel laws

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows air travelers to bring breast milk, formula, and juice over 3.4 ounces in their carry-on baggage. These liquids do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Ice packs, freezer packs, and other accessories 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 staff training related to traveling with breast milk, formula, and infant feeding equipment. See:

Returning to work or school

How does a mother continue to provide breast milk?

Being prepared to return to work or school can help a mother continue to breastfeed after her maternity leave is over. The Office on Women's Health has information for making this transition easier.

A mother can pump or hand express her breast milk so that her infant can drink breast milk from a bottle. The PUMP Act requires employers to support breastfeeding mothers who express breast milk for 1 year after each child's birth. Employers are to provide reasonable break time and a clean, private, space that is not a bathroom to express breast milk. See:

Where can mothers find breastfeeding information?

Breastfeeding and vaccines

Does breastfeeding during a child’s vaccines help with pain?

Women who are breastfeeding can breastfeed children ages 2 years or younger before, during, and after their child’s vaccination. Breastfeeding may decrease the child's pain several ways, including being held by the parent, feeling skin-to-skin contact, suckling, being distracted, and ingesting breast milk. Potential adverse events, such as gagging or spitting up, have not been reported. Alternatives to breastfeeding include bottle-feeding with expressed breast milk or formula throughout the child’s procedure.

Does breastfeeding after a child's rotavirus vaccine impact how well it works?

There is not enough evidence to suggest that breastfeeding negatively affects how well the rotavirus vaccine works. A previous study found that human milk from women who live in areas with endemic rotavirus contains antibodies that can neutralize live rotavirus vaccine virus. However, in licensing trials, the effectiveness of the rotavirus vaccine in breastfed infants was comparable to that in non-breastfed infants.

CDC does not recommend restricting or discontinuing breastfeeding before or after a child receives the rotavirus vaccine. Breastfed infants should be vaccinated according to the same schedule as non-breastfed infants.

Pools and splash pads

Are there risks to breastfeeding in water?

No scientific study has examined the health and safety of breastfeeding babies in water. It is unlikely that breastfeeding in the water presents any more risks for babies and children than the risks of regular pool or splash pad use. These risks include swallowing water, exposure to swimming-related illnesses, issues regulating body temperature, and drowning. CDC is unaware of any risks to other swimmers related to breastfeeding in pool or splash pad water.