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How Long To Breastfeed?

By Anita Patel, MDMedically reviewed by Anita Patel, MD, Dr. Patel is a Double Board Certified Pediatrician and Pediatric ICU Physician
4 min read

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, but many parents still want to know how long to breastfeed their children. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby receives only breast milk for nutrition and any medically necessary supplements, such as Vitamin D, for the first six months. Many parents will choose to continue breastfeeding beyond 6 months. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until a minimum of two years, with the added suggestion that parents may continue breastfeeding even beyond 2 years. There is no evidence to support that weaning a child after one year is more difficult, but there is some evidence to support that breastfeeding for as long as possible may have benefits for the child and for the mother.

Breastfeeding and Childcare

One thing to note is that daycares and preschools in some states discourage the use of breast milk after one year. This may impact a breastfeeding schedule or weaning process. Be sure to have a plan in place on how to handle this especially if you want to continue giving your child breast milk. If you would like to continue breast milk in your baby’s diet, this is an important question to ask when evaluating the right daycare that meets both your baby’s and YOUR needs.

It is also important to be very clear with your child’s caretaker as to how to prepare and dispense breast milk. You should carefully go over how to prepare, store and save portions that are intended for use when you are not present. Feeding the baby breast milk in smaller bottles when you are not home will allow for complete usage of the breast milk and avoid unnecessary wastage. 

Ultimately, the decision should be made based on what is best for the baby and for mom, and rest assured there is no cut-off point for breastfeeding. For some parents this may be 6 months, for others it may be 2 years, and for some it may extend beyond these age milestones. 

 

When to Stop Breastfeeding

There are a few situations where mothers may need to stop breastfeeding, like the use of certain medications or if you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, common illnesses like the cold and flu are not transmitted through breast milk.

Related: Baby Formula: 5 Things You Need To Know

If you just have the common cold or a mild illness, there may be some protective benefit for the child. When someone is ill, their body produces antibodies to protect them against reinfection. These antibodies pass through breast milk, meaning that a baby may get protective benefits from their mother when nursing. Nursing through illness may give your child powerful antibodies to the sickness you’re experiencing.

You can continue to breastfeed your baby well into their toddler years if you would like to. Remember that the addition of foods should begin around 6 months and this is something that should be discussed with your doctor. Be sure to also discuss Vitamin D supplementation (400 International Units) with your baby’s doctor as most breastfed children will require this. 

While getting pregnant in the early days of breastfeeding is unlikely, this becomes more common the older the baby gets. Remember that breastfeeding does not protect against pregnancy. Discussing a birth control method that is appropriate for you and that will not affect breastfeeding is important. Options include, but are not limited to, barrier contraception such as condoms, as well as a progestin only pill, often called “the mini pill.”. It is important to note that the progestin only pill has a higher failure rate over the combined estrogen and progestin oral birth control pill. Once you stop breastfeeding, it is important to choose an appropriate birth control method. (Cleveland Clinic)

Breastfeeding may reduce chances of pregnancy - but there is no guarantee and any contraceptive abilities of breastfeeding are temporary. Remember that you will ovulate before your first period comes back. If you happen to have sex during this time, it is possible you could become pregnant without realizing. If you are certain you do not want more children for the next year or more, talk to your doctor about what options are available to you.

Ultimately, breastfeeding can be a wonderful way to provide your baby nutrition while also encouraging mother-infant bonding. However, there are many ways to bond with your child even if breastfeeding is too difficult or not an option for the child or mother. Remember, although breast milk has so many wonderful nutritive and immunologic benefits, fed is best – and this can include exclusive breastfeeding, partial breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, formula or a combination of any of these! 

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