Breastfeeding Your Baby: How Long Should You Do It?
A number of organizations, including the World Health Organization, the La Leche League, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have tried to determine how long babies should be breastfed. Most agree that ideal goals are exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, then slowly introducing other foods in addition to breastmilk. After 1 year, recommendations tend to split. Some encourage breastfeeding to 1 year while others encourage continuing to breastfeed until the child is not interested, which may last into toddler years. The reality is that there are several factors for both the baby and mother to consider when deciding how long to breastfeed. Each mother must decide for herself and her baby how long to continue breastfeeding.
There is no doubt that breastfeeding is, for most families, the very best way to nourish your baby. If at all possible, breastfeeding should begin within an hour after delivery. The first milk that is produced is called colostrum. It is packed with nutrients and disease-fighting substances that will not only nourish your baby but also protect against infections. Babies that continue to be breastfed tend to be healthier and less susceptible to infection and certain diseases as they grow such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma.
Breastfeeding also benefits the mother. It gives mom time to be close to the baby, which helps create a strong bond. It also delays the return of periods, stimulates the uterus to contract back to normal, and helps to lose some of the weight gained during pregnancy. Also, research suggests that breastfeeding for 12 months or more, may have long-term health benefits—like a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and postpartum depression.
Finally, breastfeeding can even save you money. You don't have to pay for breastmilk where formula can be expensive.
There are many factors to consider when deciding how long to breastfeed. Start by working with your doctor to make sure your baby is getting the right amount and type of nutrition. Then look to breastfeeding professionals, professional organizations and other mothers to help tackle any obstacles that arise. Give yourself and your baby a chance to adjust to challenges along the way, you may find that routine can erase some of the obstacles. Having all the information on breastfeeding benefits and methods will help you confidentially decide when it is right for you and your family to stop breastfeeding.
Last reviewedDecember 2011by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.