Exclusive Breastfeeding
Exclusive Breastfeeding

Exclusive Breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding a baby with breast milk only, except for vitamin and mineral drops or medicines. It is recommended that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding can continue until a baby is 1 year or older, if wanted by both mother and child. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months has many benefits for both the mother and the baby.

How does exclusive breastfeeding benefit my baby?

  • It ensures your baby gets the best nutrition.
  • It helps develop your baby's disease-fighting system (immune system) by providing antibodies that help fight off germs.
  • It may lower your baby's risk for:
    • Problems with the stomach and intestines.
    • Allergies.
    • Ear infections.
    • Infections of the nose, throat, or airways (respiratory infections).
    • Obesity.
    • Diabetes.
    • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

How does exclusive breastfeeding benefit me?

  • It helps improve your recovery from giving birth by:
    • Reducing blood loss after delivery.
    • Speeding up how quickly your uterus heals.
    • Reducing your risk of a type of depression that happens after giving birth (postpartum depression).
  • It increases the time before your menstrual periods return. This can help to delay pregnancy if you are not using birth control.
  • It creates a unique bond between you and your baby.

Tips for exclusive breastfeeding

  • Start breastfeeding within your baby's first hour of life.
  • Avoid giving your baby infant formula, water, or solid food before he or she is 6 months old, unless told by your health care provider.
  • Feed your baby on demand. This means feeding anytime your child expresses signs of hunger. Doing this can help to keep up your milk supply. Signs of hunger include:
    • Becoming more alert and active and moving restlessly.
    • Rooting. This is when your baby turns his or her head from side to side looking for the breast. Sometimes babies will also start smacking their lips as though they are sucking.
    • Bringing hands to the mouth.
    • Crying. This is a late sign of hunger.
  • Limit the use of bottles and pacifiers during the first 3–4 weeks of breastfeeding. Doing so may encourage more effective sucking patterns and help establish a good milk supply.
  • Drink plenty of fluids so your urine is pale yellow.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy products.
  • If you decide to bottle-feed:
    • Continue to offer your baby breast milk by using a breast pump to keep up your milk supply.
    • Pump after feedings and store extra breast milk.
    • Offer only breast milk in a bottle.

What happens if I start supplementing feedings?

If you work outside the home, it may be hard to continue exclusive breastfeeding. However, you can make sure your baby continues to receive only breast milk if you pump on a schedule and provide breast milk through bottle feeding.
Sometimes you may need to supplement feedings. Your health care provider may recommend giving your baby formula with breast milk or rehydration liquids with breast milk if your baby was born early (prematurely), is not gaining enough weight, or is showing signs of dehydration. If you start supplementing feedings, your baby will drink less breast milk and your body will respond by making less breast milk. If you choose to supplement feedings but would like to keep up your milk supply so you can breastfeed your baby exclusively later on, you can pump your breast milk on a schedule and give your baby breast milk by bottle.

Questions to ask your health care provider or lactation specialist

  • Is exclusive breastfeeding right for me?
  • How long should I exclusively breastfeed?
  • What support is available to help me in exclusive breastfeeding?

Where to find support

You can find support through:

Health care providers and lactation specialists

They can help by:
  • Giving you educational materials.
  • Giving you information about where you can get supplies such as breast pumps and nursing bras.
  • Providing you with counseling if you need emotional support.
  • Sharing feeding basics with you, such as effective positions for breastfeeding.
  • Working through feeding challenges with you.

Your peers

Your friends, family, and other women can help by:
  • Sharing their experiences and success stories.
  • Giving you new ideas.
  • Encouraging you to keep breastfeeding even when it feels difficult.

Education programs

These programs can help you prepare for breastfeeding before your baby is born. Educational programs include:
  • Classes.
  • Print handouts.
  • Videos.
  • Telephone support.
  • One-on-one instruction.

Where to find more information

La Leche League International: llli.org

Contact a health care provider or lactation specialist if:

  • You feel like you want to stop breastfeeding or have become frustrated with breastfeeding.
  • Your child is not gaining weight.
  • Your child is more than 1 week old and wetting fewer than 6 diapers in a 24-hour period.
  • You are feeling sad and depressed. This may be a sign of postpartum depression.


  • Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding a baby with breast milk only.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby's life is recommended.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding provides many benefits for both you and your baby.
  • You can find support for breastfeeding through health care providers, friends and family, and educational programs.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.