HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Child Nutrition Series
Last Updated: 
January 2015

Why is breast milk good for my baby?

Breast milk is the only food your baby needs for the first 6 months. Continue to offer breast milk until your baby is 2 years and older.

Breast milk is good for your baby because:

  • It is the safest and healthiest food for babies.
  • It is easy for your baby to digest.
  • Breast milk and breastfeeding may help your baby’s physical, emotional and intellectual development.
  • Breastfed babies have fewer infections, such as pneumonia, ear infections and diarrhea, than babies who are not breastfed.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Why is breastfeeding good for mothers?

Breastfeeding is good for you because:

  • It helps you bond with your baby.
  • It helps with healing after the baby’s birth.
  • It may help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
  • It decreases your risk of breast cancer, and it may also decrease the risk of ovarian cancer and diabetes.

When do I breastfeed my baby?

Breastfeed or offer breast milk as soon as possible after your baby is born, hopefully within the first hour. The first milk is called colostrum. Colostrum is very good for your baby. It is full of important nutrients that can help prevent infections.

Breastfeed your baby when they shows signs that they are hungry. Keep your baby close and provide skin-to-skin contact. This will encourage breastfeeding and bonding. It will also help your baby’s development.

How do I know if my baby is hungry?

Feed your baby when you notice these early signs of hunger:

  • Your baby brings their hands to their mouth.
  • Your baby makes sucking motions or sounds.
  • Your baby turns their head toward the person holding them, often with their mouth open (called rooting).
  • Your baby cries. This is often a late sign of hunger. Try to feed your baby before they start crying.

During the first few months, your baby will feed about 8 or more times in 24 hours (1 day). Your baby may feed a lot, every 1 to 2 hours, and then go for longer times between feedings. This is called cluster feeding and often happens in the evenings or during growth spurts at about 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months of age.

Let your baby decide when to breastfeed and how long to breastfeed each time. Don’t worry about length of time or the time of day.

You will know that your baby is full when:

  • Sucking and swallowing slows or stops.
  • Your baby closes their mouth or pushes away from the breast after the feeding.
  • Your baby is content or relaxed after feeding.

How do I know if my baby is getting enough breast milk?

Most mothers make enough breast milk for their baby. If you are worried about how your baby is growing or wondering if they are getting enough breast milk, contact your doctor, midwife, public health nurse, or lactation consultant.

You will know that your baby is getting enough breast milk when:

  • You can see and hear your baby sucking and swallowing.
  • On day 1 after birth, your baby has 1 or more wet diapers with clear, pale urine, 2 to 3 wet diapers on days 2 to 3, and 3 to 5 wet diapers on days 3 to 5.
  • By day 4 to 6, your baby has 5 or more wet diapers a day.
  • By day 4 to 5, your baby has soft and runny yellow bowel movements 2 or more times a day. After 4 to 6 weeks, babies often have fewer bowel movements.
  • By 2 weeks after birth, your baby is at or above birth weight and growing well.
  • Your breasts feel full before feedings and soft after feedings.

Does my baby need anything other than breast milk?

Babies that are breastfed need a liquid vitamin D supplement of 400 IU every day. Breast milk has some vitamin D but it is not enough to meet your baby’s needs.

At about 6 months start to offer your baby iron-rich solid foods. Continue to breastfeed or offer breast milk. For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #69c Baby’s First Foods.

What do I eat when I am breastfeeding?

Many breastfeeding mothers need 2 to 3 extra servings of food each day. Examples include fruit and yogurt for a snack, or an extra slice of toast at breakfast and an extra glass of milk at dinner.

It is important to drink plenty of fluids. Water is the healthiest option. Lower fat milk is also a good choice. It gives you calcium and other nutrients you need.

Continue to take a multivitamin that has folic acid.

Is there anything I can’t eat or drink?

You can enjoy most foods and beverages while you are breastfeeding. There are a few foods to limit or avoid:

  • Limit fish that is high in mercury. Choose fish low in mercury such as salmon or sole. Fish is a source of omega-3 fats, which are good for your baby. For more information, see HealthLinkBC File #68m Food Safety: Mercury in Fish.
  • Limit caffeine to 300 mg per day. This is 1 to 2 small (8 ounce or 237 mL) cups of coffee or about 4 small cups of tea. Caffeine is also found in some soft drinks or pop, sports drinks, over-the-counter medicines, and chocolate. Younger babies can be more sensitive to caffeine.
  • The safest choice is not to drink alcohol while breastfeeding. Alcohol may decrease the amount of breast milk you produce. Alcohol may also affect your baby's motor development and sleep and decrease the amount of breast milk your baby takes at feeding time.
  • If you drink alcohol, plan how to breastfeed your baby to prevent exposing your baby to the alcohol. This may include pumping and storing milk before drinking or waiting until the alcohol has passed out of the breast milk before breastfeeding your baby. The time it takes for alcohol to pass out of your breast milk is different for each woman. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about alcohol and breastfeeding.

When do I get help with breastfeeding?

It is best to get help early. Talk to your doctor, midwife, public health nurse, or lactation consultant. You can also call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered nurse or registered dietitian if you have any of the following concerns:

  • You have pain when breastfeeding.
  • Your nipples are sore, cracked, or bleeding.
  • You are worried that your baby is not getting enough breast milk.
  • Your baby does not have 5 or more wet diapers each day.
  • Your baby does not have at least 2 bowel movements each day from 4 days to about 4 to 6 weeks of age.
  • Your baby is not interested in feeding and often goes without feeding for 4 to 5 hours during the first few weeks after birth.

For More Information

For tips and tools to help you raise a healthy family, visit Healthy Families BC Pregnancy & Parenting at

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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