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How long should I breastfeed for?

All you need to know to help you decide how long to breastfeeed for
Many women feel that breastfeeding helped them to develop a special bond and closeness with their baby and as such taking the decision to stop can be a very emotional one.

While there are guidelines that suggest how long you should breastfeed your baby for, deciding how long to continue with this feeding method is a highly personal decision that only you can make on the basis of what you believe is right and what works for you.

What do the experts say?

The WHO (World Health Organisation) currently recommend that women breastfeed their infants exclusively for 6 months and then continue to supplement their baby's diet with breast milk until at least two years of age. As this recommendation is based on a wealth of scientific research it is also the advice advocated by many UK doctors.

Research has shown that breast milk is able to meet all of your baby's nutritional needs for the first 6 months of life, boosting their immunity and protecting them against infections and allergies too. When solids are introduced at around 6 months (as are the current recommendations) breast milk continues to be a valuable source of complimentary nutrition for your baby. This is so much so that it is generally accepted by the medical profession that the longer you breastfeed for, the greater the benefit to both your own and your baby's health.

What do other people do?

Rather surprisingly the worldwide average for weaning from the breast is 4.2 years old according to the WHO. While in the Western world many people have adverse opinions about continuing to breastfeed your baby until they're a toddler, the NCT suggest that over 70,000 babies a year continue to feed on breastmilk beyond 12 months of age.

Factors that may affect your decision:
  • How you feel - This is ultimately the most important factor in deciding how long to continue breastfeeding. You should continue to breastfeed your baby for as long as it feels like the right choice for you both irrespective of other's opinions. Whether this means continuing breastfeeding for longer than your peers, or stopping before you had originally planned, it's important to make the decision based on what you feel happy with.

  • How your partner feels - You may find that your partner is really supportive of breastfeeding and encourages you to continue for as long as you feel you need to. However, others may not be so supportive and may have strong feelings about how long you should breastfeed for. Whether they encourage you to stop before you are ready (they may feel excluded from the close bond breastfeeding fosters between Mother and child, feel it's impacting your physical relationship as a couple or something else) or believe that you should continue even when you are ready to stop, it's really important that you discuss your choices with your partner and come to a decision that is right for you all.

  • Pressure from others - Breastfeeding is something that a lot of people have a lot of opinions on, not least because of its coverage in the media. You'll find that some people strongly advocate breastfeeding for as long as possible while others believe that infants that aren't 'babies' any more shouldn't be fed this way. Hard as it may be it's important that you ignore these prejudices and make your decision as to how long to continue breastfeeding on what you believe is best for you and your baby.

  • Practicalities - Breastfeeding can be quite a tie and sometimes because of other things going on in your life continuing just isn't an option. Many women feel this way on returning to work and stop breastfeeding as a result. Others use a combination of expressing and mixed feeding and make this work for them.

  • Health - Although most experts say that breastfeeding should be an enjoyable experience, it isn't for everyone and the discomfort that some women feel can be just too much. If you are struggling with breastfeeding it is always a good idea to seek advice from your health visitor as they will be able to offer the advice and support you need. Certain medical conditions may also mean that you are unable to breastfeed.

  • Another pregnancy - While it is possible to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy, many healthcare professionals will advise you to stop because of the huge nutritional demands both your growing babies place on your body. If you do decide to continue it's vital that you eat a nutrient rich diet that provides you all with the vitamins, minerals and calories you need to thrive.
Deciding to stop breastfeeding

Get support - When you decide that the time is right to stop breastfeeding it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about your plans as they will be able to provide you with the advice and support you need to make this transition.

Make the change gradually - It's usually best to make the change from breast to formula gradually as this will give both you and your baby time to adapt (going 'cold turkey' can leave you with sore, swollen breasts and can cause extra upset for baby). To start with, try replacing one breastmilk feed a day with formula milk, increasing the formula : breastmilk feed ratio until you have made the switch completely. If your baby is over a year old when you stop breastfeeding you can offer full fat cow's milk instead.

Don't feel guilty - Many women find that they feel guilty when they stop breastfeeding, especially if they didn't continue with it for as long as they originally planned. It's really important to remember that you have no reason to feel this way as breastfeeding is only the best thing for baby if it's the right thing for Mum. You should feel proud that you have done something great for your baby even if you only manage to breastfeed for a few days.

How long do you feel it's best to breastfeed for? Why not share your opinions and questions with other parents on the AskBaby forums.

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my daughter is nearly 12 months old, and she just on breast milk because she will not eat or touch solid, hv send she going to referr her to gp but i havent had anthing from gp yet, i want to stop breast milk but she wont have formula, or solid i want help please message me
by avfcgal 20th Jun 2013, 2:48pm
Your newborn should be nursing eight to 12 times per day for about the first month. Breast milk digests easier than formula, which means it moves through your baby's digestive system faster and, therefore, makes your baby hungry more often.
Frequent feedings also will help stimulate your milk production during the first few weeks. By 1 to 2 months of age, a breastfed baby will probably nurse seven to nine times a day.
Before your milk supply is established, breastfeeding should be "on demand" (when your baby is hungry), which is generally every 1½ to 3 hours. As newborns get older, they'll need to nurse less frequently, and may develop a more reliable schedule. Some may feed every hour and a half, whereas others may go 2 or 3 hours between feedings. Newborns should not go more than about 4 hours without feeding, even overnight.
by yummumamanda 16th Dec 2010, 9:26am
food for 1year girl?
by kranthi 19th Oct 2010, 8:58am
I brestfeed my son to 16 months he stop alone and my girl Nevvah direct bottle
by VanessaAngela 12th Aug 2010, 10:42am
My babe refuses to suckle from a bottle teat ; he has now built up a strong reaction to my attempts to persuade him to try anything other than the breast. He is 4 months old and I would appriciate time away from feeding , every 4 hours for an hour. I need to return to work when he will be 9 months old but cannot see, under present situ. how this could be possible.
by hayloft 18th May 2010, 5:28pm
I breastfed my daughter exclusively for first 6 months, and intended to carry on until 12 months, but unfortunately, when I returned to work my milk dried up the same day. Must have been the stress of work. I tried to express just like I did at home, but I couldn't get anything out at work at all. I'm pregnant again now, and plan to breastfeed for as long as I can, even after going back to work, but it may end up not being my choice again.

The only thing that really annoys me about breastfeeding is other people's comments. No-one should try to put a mother down for breastfeeding a child, either in public, or because of the age of the child, or any reason at all! It astounds me that people think it is okay to pass comment, pronounce judgements, and make women feel bad just for trying to do the best for their child. I would never tell a bottle-feeding mother that she is doing the wrong thing for her child by NOT breast-feeding. I would never tell a breast-feeding mum that she should stop by a certain age, or cover up!! No-one has ever passed comments to me, including when I fed my daughter in public. I wouldn't tolerate it if anyone did, either!

Mothers make decisions for their own children based on what is right for them and their family. Every one else should simply respect that!
by GayMum 14th May 2010, 5:37pm
I breastfed my son untill he was about 16 months and he stopped himself - he was only having a feed before bed and in the morning. My daughter is now 13 months and is having a night and morning feed only. A mum in the school playground recently asked me if I was still feeding my daughter for my benefit or hers??? clearly she never breastfed her kids. It amazes me that people, mainly mums, have such strong opinions on breastfeeding.
by happyDawn 22nd Jul 2009, 9:48am
I breastfed my first daughter for ten months, the second one for eleven months and this last one is just six months. once she starta walking I will stop.
by ogeben 29th Jun 2009, 10:12am
my friend breast fed her children till they were 2
by jema89 1st Jun 2009, 9:11am
hi there, i have breastfed my wee one now almost 6months and the thought of giving up just breaks my heart even though i do feel the time has come as i am worried she is not getting enough now as she is so easily distracted which means she is on and off big time which worries me
by gort 22nd Apr 2009, 9:17am
i'm still breast feeding and my little boy is 9months old i intend to carry on as long as i can
by vikkic 2nd Feb 2009, 10:49am
I breastfed my son until he was 22 months
by Jessica8888 27th Nov 2008, 9:37am