Health Library

Breastfeeding Your Baby: How Long Should You Continue?

HCA image for breast feeding Many groups like the World Health Organization, the La Leche League, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have tried to figure out how long babies should be breastfed.

Most agree that the ideal goals are breastfeeding alone for the first 6 months, then slowly adding other foods with breast milk. The groups support breastfeeding for at least 1 year. Some groups advise people to keep breastfeeding until the child decides to stop. This could be when the child is a toddler. The reality is that there are many things for parents to think about when deciding how long to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding Benefits

Breastfeeding is the best way to nourish most babies. If at all possible, breastfeeding should start within an hour after delivery. The first milk that is made is called colostrum. It is packed with nutrients and disease-fighting substances. It will not only nourish your baby but also protect against infections. Babies who keep nursing tend to be healthier and less prone to getting infections and some diseases as they grow, such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma.

It also helps the person who is doing the breastfeeding. It lets them be close to the baby, which helps create a strong bond. It also delays the return of periods, helps the uterus shrink back to normal, and helps with losing weight gained during pregnancy. Breastfeeding for 12 months or more may reduce the risk of:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Postpartum depression.
  • Finally, breastfeeding can save money as you do not have to pay for it. Formula can cost a lot of money.

    Challenges

    There seem to be so many benefits to breastfeeding, so why stop? For one, breastfeeding can take a lot of time. Newborn babies have to be fed 8 to 12 times a day or more for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. This may not seem like much of a problem at first when you are with your baby day and night. It can be harder if you have to go back to work a few weeks after giving birth. Once breastfeeding is set, feedings often get more regular and more widely spaced. This makes it easier to do other things.

    Sometimes early problems can also make people not want to breastfeed. The baby may have problems latching or breastfeeding may hurt too much for the parent. Sometimes it seems like the newborn is not getting enough milk from the breast. These problems can be overcome and lead to successful breastfeeding. But some may choose to switch their baby to formula.

    If you are having trouble breastfeeding, contact a lactation specialist, places like La Leche League, or another source for breastfeeding help. Small changes may help you and your baby keep breastfeeding for as long as you planned.

    Rarely infants may not be able to get enough nutrition from breast milk. Sometimes a parent's health concerns can affect breast milk. If breastfeeding is no longer best for the baby and parent, talk to your baby's doctor about the best nutrition choice for your baby.

    Plan for Success

    After you look at the benefits and issues for you and your baby, decide how long you would ideally like to breastfeed. If you can, set a goal to only nurse your baby for at least 6 months.

    Try to think about the problems you will face. For example, if you are going back to work after a month or 2, think about ways to keep breastfeeding. You may choose to:

  • Stay on maternity leave longer
  • Leave work to nurse during the day
  • Work part-time
  • Work at home
  • Pump and store milk while you are at work
  • After 6 months, your baby will slowly start eating solid foods. That will mean the baby does not need quite as much breast milk.

    Again, look to breastfeeding groups or other parents to find tricks and tips to help you keep breastfeeding for as long as you plan.

    Thinking About Weaning

    Experts agree that weaning should start slowly. It should take place over many weeks or even months. But there is no rule on when breastfeeding should stop. It is up to the parent to decide when it is best to start the weaning process. Here is some advice from health groups:

    American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

    The AAP advises 6 months of breastfeeding alone for the baby to grow best. The AAP also advises breastfeeding for 2 years or more of your child's life. Your choice of when to stop breastfeeding depends on you and your baby. While some babies begin to lose interest in breastfeeding between 9 and 12 months of age, others want to breastfeed well into the second year of life.

    World Health Organization (WHO)

    The WHO recommends breastfeeding alone for the first 6 months. After that, babies can have food, such as thick porridge or well-mashed foods, along with breast milk. Children aged 1 to 2 years can keep having breast milk along with their regular diet.

    La Leche League

    The La Leche League is a group that offers support to people who are breastfeeding. It sets no time limit on breastfeeding. This group says the longer a baby nurses, the better. And if you and your child enjoy breastfeeding, there is no reason to stop. Experts here suggest letting your child wean on their own and slowly grow out of breastfeeding.

    It is Your Choice

    There are many things to think about when deciding how long to breastfeed. Start by working with your baby's doctor to make sure they are getting the right amount and type of nutrition. Then look to breastfeeding experts, professional groups and other parents to help tackle any problems you have.

    Give yourself and your baby a chance to adjust to problems along the way. You may find that a routine can help with some of the problems. Having all the information on breastfeeding benefits and ways will help you decide when it is right for you and your family to stop breastfeeding.

    Resources

    Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
    https://www.healthychildren.org

    World Health Organization
    http://www.who.int

    Canadian Resources

    The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
    http://www.sogc.org

    Women's Health Matters
    http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

    References

    Breastfeeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/breastfeeding.

    Breastfeeding: hints to help you get off to a good start. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/breastfeeding-hints-to-help-you-get-off-to-a-good-start.

    Breastfeeding. World Health Organization website. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding.

    Your guide to breastfeeding. Office on Women’s Health website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/your-guide-to-breastfeeding.