Many new moms ask “How long should I breastfeed?” because there are so many different opinions from almost every person that they know. Everyone has advice, but rarely have research or science behind there opinion.
The benefits of breastfeeding extend to the physical and mental health of you and your baby. Powerful antibodies boost your child’s immune system and provide protection from illness and disease for years to come. Researchers believe that breastfeeding may even contribute to greater health in the adult years while helping new mothers fight off postpartum depression.
There are also financial benefits if you consider the money you would otherwise spend on bottles, nipples and formula. The time you spend feeding your baby at the breast may also turn into invaluable bonding time. There are few things more pressure than looking into the eyes of an adoring baby as you provide the most nourishing food on the planet.
The question is how long you need to breastfeed in order to give your baby maximum protection. That’s a personal decision that every mother must make, but it helps to know what the experts recommend and why.
What is Recommended for How Long to Breastfeed?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that mothers breastfeed exclusively for a minimum of six months. The Academy recommends continued breastfeeding along with solid foods at least for an additional six months. WHO recommends continued breastfeeding along with solid foods through the second year of life.
The CDC recommends breastfeeding for at least the first year. You’ll see that general recommendation in many blogs and from many healthcare professionals. It may seem daunting to breastfeed for a full year, but breastfeeding generally becomes less time consuming once you reach the six-month point. Most babies are eating at least some solid foods by the seventh month, so breast milk is more supplementary rather than the primary source of nutrition.
If you want to follow professional guidelines, strive to breastfeed for the first six months or until your baby starts experimenting with solid food. You can then decide whether you want to give your little one another six months or even 18 months of your nourishing breast milk.
Is a Full Year of Breastfeeding Really Necessary?
Most professionals believe that babies receive more nourishment and protection against illness if they breastfeed for a longer period of time. The longer a baby is fed at the breast, the greater health they may enjoy later in childhood or even adulthood. Think of benefits like a lower risk of obesity and increased protection against common childhood illnesses.
Whether you breastfeed for six months, one year or two years depends on a variety of factors. For instance, you may cut breastfeeding off if you find it too stressful to keep up with a pumping schedule after you return to work. Some women find that their breast milk naturally starts to dry up before they reach the two-year milestone. That may happen even before the one-year milestone for a variety of reasons.
You should do what is best for you and your baby. If exclusive breastfeeding starts feeling too time-consuming or stressful, you may decide to start pumping so that other caregivers can feed your baby from a bottle. Your baby receives the breast milk that he needs to thrive, and you free yourself to work, take care of your home, exercise and socialize. Your overall quality of life and happiness is important when determining who long you breastfeed.
Related Article: Benefits of Breastfeeding Beyond One Year
How Long Does the Average Mom Breastfeed?
While more than 80 percent of babies are breastfed, approximately 60 percent are fed at the breast for at least six months. Less than half of all babies born in the U.S. are breastfed exclusively for at least three months. Less than 40 percent are breastfed for a full year, and approximately 25 percent are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life.
The CDC cites the following reasons for so many mothers stopping breastfeeding earlier than recommended:
- Problems producing milk
- Latching issues
- Infants not thriving
- Mother’s need of medication
- No parental leave
- Limited support at work
- Little to no family support
- Cultural expectations
- Lack of support from medical professionals
As the benefits of breastfeeding become widespread knowledge and laws are passed to support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, it’s likely that many women will choose to breastfeed for at least the first six months. If you live in the United States and need to return to work, make sure that you’re aware of your right to a safe, private space for breastfeeding and reasonable breaks.
If you don’t have support from your friends and family, turn to the internet. There are social media groups and online forums where mothers connect over breastfeeding or other general parenting concerns. Reach out to new social networks, and you’re likely to find the support that you need to give your baby a strong start with breast milk.
What Percentage of Mothers Breastfeed?
Most women do breastfeed their babies for at least a short period of time. According to the CDC, at least 81% start out breastfeeding at their baby’s birth. Not all women breastfeed exclusively, and for some good reasons. Some women must go right back to work after giving birth, which forces them to bottle feed while away from their babies. While some of those working mothers will pump so that their babies can receive breast milk in their bottles, there are still many women around the world who don’t have the resources or support to pump milk while at work.
Some women may choose to supplement with formula or to bottle feed breast milk due to latching issues, colic or other problems for their babies. Lactation consultants are invaluable resources for babies with latch problems, but not all women have access to consultants. Some women may also decide to stop breastfeeding early because they need to take medication that may pass to the baby through their breast milk.
Some women are forced to stop breastfeeding exclusively because their babies fail to thrive on breast milk. There are many reasons that failure to thrive may occur, and it’s not a failure for the mother. Sometimes there are solutions, but sometimes not. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that you did your best to give your baby the most nourishing food available. Perhaps you can still supplement with breast milk even if it can’t remain your baby’s primary source of nourishment.
Related Article: Failure to Thrive: Symptoms and Solutions
How Long Should You Breastfeed for Benefits?
Any amount of breastfeeding will give your baby some benefits. If you can breastfeed exclusively for at least a year or two, your baby will receive maximum benefits for the rest of his life. At the very least, you should strive to breastfeed for at least six months. If things are going well and you’re able to balance exclusive breastfeeding with the rest of your life, then continue through your baby’s first or second birthday.
What is a Good Age to Stop Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding for at least a year is the best. That way you are weaning to a normal diet instead of formula or substitutes. While breastfeeding for the first year is ideal…..if there are issues that make breastfeeding painful, time-consuming or stressful for you, your baby or your household, then try to make it until your baby is consuming solid food. Breastfeeding actually tends to get way easier by then anyway!
That’s the best time to start weaning a baby because they’re exploring new foods and are no longer depending only on your milk for satiety and growth. Your baby may not notice that you’re weaning away the milk because they will enjoy their new foods so much.
When you stop breastfeeding is a personal decision. While you may listen to the advice and stories told by your friends, colleagues, relatives and even strangers, make sure your final decision is based on your own needs and concerns. There are clear benefits to breastfeeding as long as possible, but you don’t want breastfeeding to become a hindrance to your overall quality of life or happiness.
Related Article: When and How to Stop Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is an amazing gift that only you can give to your baby. It gives you a good reason to sit back and relax at times, and it allows you to develop a strong bond of love and trust with your baby. Whether you develop that bond over three months or two years depends on your comfort and our baby’s needs. Make that decision in confidence, knowing that your baby will benefit from any milk that you can give.
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- Solutions to Common Breastfeeding Problems