Overview of Breastfeeding

One of the first decisions that parents must make is whether to breastfeed or to bottle feed their new baby. Breastfeeding, also called nursing or lactation, provides many benefits both for the infant and the mother; however, the decision to breastfeed or to bottle feed is a personal one that often is influenced by several factors.

Many health care providers and organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the U.S. Surgeon General, recommend breastfeeding exclusively until infants are at least 6 months of age, and preferably, until the age of 1 year. If breastfeeding is not possible, commercially-prepared formula can provide a good alternative.

In July 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that breastfeeding rates continued to rise in the past decade. According to the CDC, the percentage of infants breastfeeding at 6 months of age rose from 35 percent to 49 percent, and the percentage of babies breastfeeding at one year increased from 16 percent to 27 percent, from 2000 to 2010. The report also stated that in the United States, the percentage of babies who began breastfeeding as newborns increased from 71 percent in 2000 to 77 percent in 2010.

Breast Anatomy

The breasts are comprised of glandular, connective, fatty, and lymphatic tissue; blood vessels; and nerves. Breast tissue extends from below the collarbone to the level of the sixth or seventh rib, and from the breastbone to the underarm (axilla). In the center of the breast are the nipple, or mammilla, and the areola (circular area around the nipple).

Each breast contains several milk glands with ducts that carry breast milk to the nipple. About 15 to 20 ducts come together near the areola to form reservoirs of milk to be drawn from the nipple. Changes in the breasts during and after pregnancy and the production of milk (lactation) are controlled by the hormones estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and oxytocin. During lactation, hormone levels stimulate special cells in the breasts (called alveoli cells) to secrete milk into the milk ducts. Montgomery's glands, which are located around the edge of the areola, release a fatty substance that helps protect the nipple during nursing.

Breast Anatomy
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Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015