This is a question that has come up in the last two classes I taught, so I figured we should address it. Many moms (ok, most moms) have no idea what to expect when it comes to breastfeeding, and then the thought of returning to work and pumping, and then comes weaning. Many parents seem to be concerned with the ending of the breastfeeding relationship and when this should happen.
Let’s look at what the American Academy of Pediatcrics has to say:
Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial source of nutrition and provides the healthiest start for an infant. In addition to the nutritional benefits, breastfeeding promotes a unique and emotional connection between mother and baby. In the policy statement, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” published in the March 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Feb. 27), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.
They go on to discuss many reasons breastfeeding is important.
Another great resource is the World Health Organization, what is their thought about breastfeeding?
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
So the recommendation is to introduce solid foods and/or water around 6 months, but continue breastfeeding for 1 – 2 years.
What does science tell us? Anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler tells us that human babies naturally wean between 2.5 and 7 years of age. There are many reasons to continue breastfeeding as long as you and your baby are happy.
As with everything in motherhood, breastfeeding is not a one size fits all approach. Every mother/baby dyad has a different set of circumstances to work within. Breastfeeding is really important for both moms and babies, and there is never a point where your milk becomes bad for your little one. Unfortunately we live in a society that tells moms that ‘breast is best’ but then turns around and says, ‘but not if I have to see it’. We preach about the importance of breastfeeding and do little to actually support families through the process.
The CDC Breastfeeding Report Card tells us that 76% of moms initiate breastfeeding, but only 16% meet the WHO & APP recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. And only 27% of moms are still breastfeeding at 12 months, which is the minimum age of weaning recommended by the AAP, and still a year shy of the WHO recommendations.
I tell moms that I can’t tell them when they should stop breastfeeding, but we know that breastmilk is never bad for babies, and they won’t go to college still nursing. Only you can decide what your breastfeeding relationship will look like. But don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from doing something you feel is best for you and your baby. Surround yourself with positive people who will support you through your breastfeeding relationship and follow your baby’s lead. You can’t go wrong when you follow your baby’s lead.
How long did you intend to breastfeed? Did you achieve your goals?