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Breastfeeding and Lactation

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding with human milk offers a number of benefits for you and your baby.

Providing human milk can:

  • Protect your baby from infection—even the milk produced during the first few days after birth is packed with antibodies that fight infection
  • Lower the risk of asthma, allergies, type 1 diabetes, obesity, and childhood leukemia
  • Reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Help your body recover from pregnancy
  • Release hormones that may lower your risk for postpartum depression
  • Lower your risk of some cancers and illness, such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and heart disease

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding can be challenging

Sometimes breastfeeding or chestfeeding is stressful. Stress factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Being the sole source of milk for your baby is not easy.
  • When the baby is a newborn, your sleep will be interrupted to feed the baby, which can make you feel tired.
  • You may experience soreness, very full breasts / chests, or potentially a breast / chest infection.
  • Some people do not produce enough milk, which is sometimes related to past breast or chest surgery.
  • A lack of support by family or friends can cause discomfort and anxiety. One way to lower stress is to take care of yourself; support networks with individuals who are breastfeeding or chestfeeding can be helpful.

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding may not be the right choice for everyone

Some people may have physical challenges that make breastfeeding, chestfeeding, or pumping human milk difficult or impossible. Others may have personal reasons why breastfeeding or chestfeeding is not the right choice. Some people may take certain medications that make breastfeeding or chestfeeding unsafe for the baby.

Breastfeeding or chestfeeding is a personal decision. VA is here to support you and provide resources no matter what route you choose. Talk with your health care provider about what is best for you and your baby.

Why does VA use the term "chestfeeding"?

Chestfeeding is the process of feeding an infant from a person's chest. It is a term that can be used by anyone but is often used by transgender and gender diverse individuals for whom the words breastfeeding or nursing are not an ideal fit.

VA is inclusive of all Veteran parents and all feeding methods. Our goal is to ensure that ALL Veteran parents are supported to provide nutrition to their infants, whether this is through breastfeeding, chestfeeding, bottle-feeding or formula feeding. Services and resources are available to all Veteran parents including those who adopt, have a child through a surrogate, are same-sex couples, or are transgender.

What services does VA provide for breastfeeding or chestfeeding?

Many VA facilities offer lactation services and programs. You may also be able to use lactation services through VA's Community Care program. Talk with your Maternity Care Coordinator or lactation professional at your VA location for services such as:

  • Breastfeeding / chestfeeding classes
  • Lactation counseling and education
  • Support groups

VA provides resources to help you with breastfeeding / chestfeeding. These resources may include:

  • Breast pumps / chest pumps
  • Nursing bras
  • Pumping bras
  • Breast / chest pads
  • Nipple cream
  • Nipple shields
  • Milk storage bags
  • Postpartum support belts

VA connects Veteran parents who are unable to breastfeed / chestfeed with community resources, such as human milk banks and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). VA also ensures all Veterans receive education, support, and counseling when needed.

How do I access services for breastfeeding/chestfeeding at VA?

The first step to access services at VA is to contact or make an appointment with the Maternity Care Coordinator or lactation professional at your local VA facility. They will provide you with the best resources.

They may also make referrals to community resources or VA Community Care.

If you don't already use VA health care, you may want to use the following online tools:

Find out if you are eligible for VA health care

Enroll in VA health care if you haven't already

Find your local VA and make an appointment

Where can I find more information, help, and resources on lactation?

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The Women Veterans Call Center is your guide to women's health

If you have questions or can't find what you're looking for, you can call, text, or chat online with the Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC) at 855-829-6636 to get help and find available resources and services in your area. Trained women representatives can also:

  • Provide you with information on enrolling in VA health care if you have not already
  • Provide you with information on setting up a medical appointment in your area
  • Provide you with information about your eligibility (including questions about disability ratings) and other VA benefits like employment, education, and home loans
  • Connect you with your local VA Medical Center or local women's health contact who can assist in coordinating all the services you need

WVCC representatives are available Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET, and Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

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The Women Veterans Call Center is your guide to VA. The Women Veterans Call Center is your guide to VA.
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