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Definition of Breastfeeding

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Breastfeeding: Feeding a child human breast milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, human breast milk is preferred for all infants. This includes even premature and sick babies, with rare exceptions. It is the food least likely to cause allergic reactions; it is inexpensive; it is readily available at any hour of the day or night; babies accept the taste readily; and the antibodies in breast milk can help a baby resist infections.

In breast milk, the amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) are well balanced for the human baby, as are the sugars (primarily lactose) and fats. The baby's intestinal tract is best aided in its digestion by the vitamins, enzymes, and minerals found in breast milk. Breastfed babies do eat more often than formula fed babies since breast milk is more quickly digested and leaves the stomach empty more frequently.

Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal nutrition and it is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for the first 6 months after birth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Furthermore, it is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired. Infants weaned before 12 months of age should not receive cow's milk feedings, but should receive iron-fortified infant formula. See also: Breastfeeding practices; and Breast milk.

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Reviewed on 12/21/2018

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