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How Long Should I Breastfeed?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 December 2017
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How long you should breastfeed your child is a decision that must be made by you, since obviously no one can force you to continue the practice longer than you wish. Other factors can shorten the length of time that you can breastfeed. Going on medications that pass to children through breast milk, or having a shrinking milk supply even after attempting all things to keep the supply up may put an end to nursing. While many medical organizations give some general guidelines for nursing your child, do realize that not every mom can nurse her baby for a variety of reasons that range from health conditions of mother or child to adoption of an infant.

Having stated that, it is important to understand that when you breastfeed, you are providing what is widely accepted as the single best nutrition for babies, and that almost all health organizations recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of an infant’s life. This means your child needs no extra food, supplements, or other things unless milk supply is inadequate. The American Academy of Pediatrics further recommends that children continue to breastfeed through the first year of life, and then for any length of time afterward as desired by both mother and child. The World Health Organization has slightly different guidelines, suggesting that children continue to breastfeed until they are two years old.

There are some good reasons for continuing to breastfeed after the six-month mark, or after a child has turned one. Breast milk continues to provide some protection against certain illnesses and should your child get any type of stomach flu during this time period, where it is difficult to get them to keep down any solid foods, the best medicine is breast milk. Exclusive nursing after six months may not adequately address nutritional needs, though, and many doctors recommend introducing some solid foods at about six months. Some moms argue that babies can indeed survive on mom’s milk for longer than this period, and delay solid foods for a few more months. This matter is best determined by your baby’s growth rate and their interest in trying some solid foods.

Some moms would like to keep nursing into toddlerhood, even after a child’s second year. There is nothing wrong with this, but some people will treat it as strange behavior or find it repugnant. Especially in the US, women’s breasts are highly sexualized, and some argue that nursing a large toddler is akin to abuse of a child, despite overwhelming evidence this is not true. The key is deciding how long this behavior is beneficial to you and your child, and this becomes an imminently personal decision.

There is plenty of support for moms who continue to nurse their two year olds or older. The La Leche League is particularly helpful in this respect, and can also help describe expected behaviors of older children as they nurse. Again, you need to determine how long breastfeeding is the best solution for you and your child.

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