Breastfeeding is the feeding of an infant or young child with breast milk directly from human breasts rather than from a baby bottle or other container. Babies have a sucking reflex that enables them to suck and swallow milk. Most mothers can breastfeed for six months or more, without the addition of infant formula or solid food.
Human breast milk is the most healthful form of milk for human babies. There are a few exceptions, such as when the mother is taking certain drugs or is infected with tuberculosis or HIV. Breastfeeding promotes health, helps to prevent disease and reduces health care and feeding costs. In both developing and developed countries, artificial feeding is associated with more deaths from diarrhea in infants. Experts agree that breastfeeding is beneficial, but may disagree about the length of breastfeeding that is most beneficial, and about the risks of using artificial formulas.
Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then supplemented breastfeeding for up to one (AAP) or two years or more (WHO). Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life "provides continuing protection against diarrhea and respiratory tract infection" that are more common in babies fed formula. The WHO and AAP both stress the value of breastfeeding for mothers and children. While recognizing the superiority of breastfeeding, regulating authorities also work to minimize the risks of artificial feeding.
According to a WHO 2001 report, alternatives to breastfeeding include:
The acceptability of breastfeeding in public varies by culture and country. In Western culture, though most approve of breastfeeding, some mothers may be reluctant to do so out of fear of public opinion.