August was National Breastfeeding Month, marking awareness of an important aspect of caring for a baby. It’s a topic that carries with it questions and decisions for parents. “Is breastfeeding the right thing for my baby?” Or, if a mother is breastfeeding: “When is it time to stop?” Here, we’re going to offer some information on the topic of breastfeeding and share some professional guidelines and options you may want to consider.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
considers breastfeeding “one of the most powerful practices for promoting child survival and wellbeing”,
helping mothers establish a bond with their babies and protect them from life-threatening and chronic illnesses and promote healthy growth. Scientifically proven benefits of breastfeeding include reduced risk of:
- Lower respiratory tract infections
- Serious colds, and ear and throat infections
- Gastrointestinal tract infections and diseases
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and infant mortality
- Allergic diseases such as asthma, dermatitis, and eczema
- Diabetes (type 1 and type 2)
UNICEF also cites breastfeeding as beneficial to mothers—decreasing their likelihood of postpartum hemorrhage, postpartum depression, and ovarian and breast cancer.
How long should you breastfeed? It depends.
—The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends
feeding your baby only breast milk for the first six months of their life.
After six months, you should gradually introduce solids in combination with breast milk until at least one year of age. This addition will help address your child’s need for extra iron and protein
in their diet.
Beyond One Year
—The AAP doesn’t offer breastfeeding guidelines beyond the one-year mark. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends
continuing partial breastfeeding until a child is 2 years old.
suggests that even children breastfed beyond 2 years of age showed no positive or negative differences in growth or immunity over infants who had stopped breastfeeding at age 2.
Should I plan to stop breastfeeding, or let it happen naturally?
The decision about when to stop feeding your child breast milk is a personal one, and a child’s behavior may even help arrive at the answer.
When that decision is planned or “mother-led,” a mother takes her child off breast milk without cues from their nursing infant. Mothers might choose to stop if, for example, breastfeeding becomes painful, or if they want another caregiver to be able to share feeding duties.
A natural or “infant-led” decision to stop breastfeeding happens when a child gradually chooses solid food over breast milk, eventually choosing solid food entirely. This type of weaning typically takes place when a child is between the ages of 2 and 4.
In many Western cultures, a child continuing to breastfeed well past infancy is not considered common practice, despite the health benefits it might bring.
There is more than one right decision.
While this article discusses what is optimal for most growing children, there is no right or wrong time to stop breastfeeding; it is a personal decision. Your employer’s parental leave policy may require you to return to work at a time when your only option is to start your child on formula at six months. But, you should only feel comfortable making that decision as long you are seeking guidance from your child’s doctor on monitoring your baby’s health and diet. In today’s busy world, many mothers and parents are required to change plans or remake decisions. For example, a Time magazine survey
found that fewer than half of mothers who had planned to breastfeed for at least a full year actually did.9
7Canadian Paediatric Society. (2004)
8Canadian Paediatric Society. (2004)
9Howorth, C. “Motherhood Is Hard to Get Wrong. So Why Do So Many Moms Feel So Bad About Themselves?” Time. (Oct. 2017)