How Long Should I Breastfeed? A Lactation Consultant Weighs In on a New Study
By Holly Erwin, LVN, IBCLC
How long should I breastfeed?
It seems like a simple question, but not one I feel I can answer with an exact time frame.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding for two years, while the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest “one year or longer.” Though these seem slightly varied, all agree that exclusive breastfeeding is best practiced until 6 months when solids are added. None offer an upper limit to the duration stated.
A recent study in Pediatrics states, “increased duration of breastfeeding… protects against infections requiring hospitalization in the first year of life but not hospitalizations or symptoms of infection at home beyond the first year.”
But this duration of breastfeeding may not be possible or sustainable for some families.
So how long do I recommend?
Short answer: For as long as you can... until you no longer feel served, available, able, or mutually fulfilled. Until you’re done.
Breastfeeding is certainly a labor. It doesn’t come easy to everyone. Some actually hate it and look forward to the day they can close the chapter and move on.
For those moms, the time may be now, because in the U.S., we do have alternative-milk options that do a great job in growing our kids.
But it is important to understand that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Any is better than none. A week is better than a day. And there are benefits to two years that will exceed the benefits of a year.
So on the other end, when should we call it quits?
The answer for me is the same: For as long as you can... until you no longer feel served, available, able, or mutually fulfilled. Until you’re done.
And if it feels like you have to stand up for your feeding journey, because you buck the cultural norm here in America, the AAP has your back:
“Data on the scientific foundation for an age above which is appropriate or harmful to the child to continue breastfeeding do not exist. Nor are there reported risks to this method of social/nutritional interactions.”
Breastfeeding a toddler isn’t weird.
As always, I stand firm in my word.
If the baby is growing, if the momma is happy, and if the baby is happy then we are doing things right-breastfeeding, formula feeding, some of both.
Please reach out to me for coaching, encouragement, and ongoing support, so I can help you to meet whatever goal you have made to feed your child.
Get to know Holly Erwin, Cook Children's Virtual Lactation Consultant
Holly Erwin, LVN, IBCLC, is a mom of three boys and has worked as a pediatric nurse for over 11 years within the Cook Children's Health Care System. When not working, she spends her time running to and from sports for her boys, being outside with her family and dreaming of traveling with her husband of 10 years. For now, she settles for their bi-annual date-night!
Through her own children and the thousands of moms that she has helped over the years, Holly found a special interest in infants and breastfeeding. In 2015, she became internationally board certified as a lactation consultant and now works as an IBCLC virtually through the Cook Children's telemedicine department. Schedule an appointment with our virtual lactation consultant.