How Long Should I Breastfeed?


“How Long Should I Breastfeed?”Almost 80% of US mothers breastfeed, but less than 50% are still breastfeeding at 6 months. Only 27% will continue to breastfeed to the end of their baby’s first year.  Many breastfeeding mothers don’t meet the goals they set for themselves regarding how long they plan to breastfeed. The CDC Breastfeeding Report Card 2014 shows breastfeeding rates across the US.


Lack of support in the workplace is a primary reason sited by mothers who stop breastfeeding at three months.   It’s very difficult to breastfeed successfully if you aren’t allowed time to pump at work. Social pressure to wean early is also a factor, perhaps due to a lack of understanding about how the length of time a mother breastfeeds can impact her baby’s future health as well as her own. Even with all the current social acceptance of breastfeeding, it’s still common for breastfeeding in public to be frowned upon. If your partner wasn’t breastfed, you may not receive the kind of support you need to succeed.


There are lots of reasons why moms stop breastfeeding earlier than they had planned. Sometimes it’s because they don’t understand the facts. Here are a few common misconceptions about breastfeeding I have encountered:

  • The colostrum is the most important, so three days is long enough
  • Two weeks is long enough to get the benefits of breast milk
  • It’s not good for babies to get “both” (breast milk and formula). Since I can’t take pump breaks, I’ll stop breastfeeding when I go back to work.
  • Breast milk is no better than water after six months.
  • Formula is just as good as breast milk.
  • Formula has breast milk in it.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for babies.   They recommend the introduction of solid foods no sooner than six months, with breast milk continuing as the primary source of nutrition through the first year. After the first year, they recommend breastfeeding continue for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends mothers breastfeed for a minimum of two years.


The most current version of the AAP policy statement Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk provides detailed information regarding the significant health protection breast milk provides. The list is long, and includes not just acute illnesses like ear infections, diarrhea, and colds, but also chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes, allergies, Crohn’s and other autoimmune diseases, and even childhood leukemia. Mothers receive protection as well from heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, breast and ovarian cancer.


A Brown University study found better brain development in children who were breastfed to the age of two years.   Health protection and better brain development have been measured, and there are surely more advantages yet to be discovered. Following the AAP recommendations provides children with the foundation for a lifetime of optimal health, and will ultimately build a healthier society.


It would be wonderful if it were as simple as establishing a breastfeeding goal and sticking to it. Maybe it is for some moms. Every day I talk with mothers who are reevaluating their goals. Some decide to breastfeed longer than they had originally planned, others are looking for help to stay on track with their original goals. Some are looking for support and acceptance when a goal could not be met.


Understanding the science behind the current recommendations for how long babies should be breastfed provides the knowledge to make an informed decision. It also provides a body of knowledge that you can share, to break down barriers and help others understand how breastfeeding benefits us all. Hopefully that understanding will inspire an employer to allow time for pumping during the workday. Maybe a mother nursing discretely at the mall will receive a smile instead of a scowl. Perhaps it will increase the support from a partner.


So, how long should you breastfeed?

Armed with facts and knowledge of your own strengths and challenges, that’s really a decision only you can make.


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