What Is Breastfeeding?

The Definition, Recommendations, and Types

Mother breastfeeding infant
Camile Tokerud/Getty Images

What Is Breastfeeding?

The breasts of women are designed to make breast milk. When a child latches on to his or her mother's breast to draw out that breast milk, it's called breastfeeding. Breastfeeding provides newborns and infants with a complete source of nutrition for the first six months of life. Then, as children grow, breastfeeding continues to be nutritious alongside the addition of solid foods.

Breast milk contains a combination of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that actually adjust with your child as he or she grows. It also contains immune-boosting antibodies, white blood cells, and enzymes to help provide protection again some of the common childhood illnesses.

Breastfeeding is also known as nursing and suckling.

Breastfeeding Recommendations

Breastfeeding is the recommended method of feeding for newborns and infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then continued breastfeeding along with the addition of solid foods for at least one year. After one year, the AAP states that a mother and her child can continue with breastfeeding for as long as they both wish to do so. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, then the continuation of breastfeeding along with solid foods for two years or longer.

Types of Breastfeeding

All women, children, and families are different, so not everyone breastfeeds in the same way. Therefore, there are different types of breastfeeding practices. Some women breastfeed fully, some breastfeed partially, and some breastfeed minimally. Here are some of the ways that women choose to breastfeed.

# 1. Exclusive Breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding is putting a child to the breast for every feeding without giving the child a bottle or any other form of supplementation such as formula, water, or baby food. When it's safe and possible, exclusive breastfeeding is the recommended way to feed your child for the first 4 to 6 months. 

# 2. Combining Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding 

Some women want to breastfeed, but they aren't able to breastfeed exclusively, or they choose not to. In these cases, a child may breastfeed part of the time or most of the time, but he will also get formula as part of his daily routine. The combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding is called partial breastfeeding.

#3. Breastfeeding Along With Complimentary Foods

Breastfeeding along with the addition of solid foods is called complementary feeding. Complimentary foods are often added to a child's diet between 4 and 6 months of age.

# 4. Comfort Nursing 

Breastfeeding is about so much more than just nutrition.

If you cannot produce enough breast milk, or if your child is older and gets most of his nutrition from solid foods, nursing at the breast is still beneficial and valuable. Beyond nutrients and fluids, comfort nursing provides emotional support and a feeling of security. When your child is hurt, sick, or going through a difficult time, breastfeeding can help to fulfill the psychological and emotional needs of your child.

Can Every Woman Breastfeed?

Most women can make a healthy supply of breast milk for their children. Even women with small breasts or nipples that turn inward can usually breastfeed successfully. Only a small percentage of women will not be able to breastfeed. These women may not be able to make enough breast milk because of a previous breast or chest surgery, or they may not be able to breastfeed because they need to have chemotherapy or radiation to treat cancer. Breastfeeding is also not recommended for women who have a health issue such as HIV or those who use illicit drugs.

Is Pumping Breast Milk for Your Baby Considered Breastfeeding?

Some women choose to pump and give their children that pumped breast milk. Pumping, even exclusive pumping, is not actually breastfeeding. It's considered breast-milk feeding. However, if a mother decides not to breastfeed, or if she can't breastfeed because her child is premature or she has to go to work or school, pumping is a wonderful way to provide a child with breast milk and the many benefits that go along with it.



American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

World Health Organization. Breastfeeding: http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/

Continue Reading