The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months after birth. This means not even water should be fed to the baby. You may start additional liquid or semisolid foods but continue breastfeeding for at least a year. A baby's nutritional demands may change after a year, and they may no longer require breast milk physiologically, but it may still be advantageous.
The World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund suggest that, if possible, children may be breastfed until they are 2 years old. Few studies, however, believe that there is no set age at which a baby will wean. Some babies may need to be breastfed for a longer period than others, and breastfeeding should be continued until both the mother and baby are ready to wean. It is important to remember that nursing is a personal choice.
Most experts, doctors, and researchers recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively (without formula, water, juice, non-breast milk, or food) for the first 6 months. In societies where children are allowed to nurse for as long as they want, they usually self-wean between the ages of 3-4 years.
When should I start breastfeeding?
Most healthy newborns are ready to breastfeed within the first hour of life. Holding your baby against your bare skin (called "skin-to-skin" contact) immediately after birth encourages the baby to begin breastfeeding.
You should inquire about "rooming-in," which entails having your baby stay in your room with you rather than in the hospital nursery. While you are still in the hospital, having your baby nearby makes it easier to breastfeed and gives both the mother and child care and comfort.
What are the advantages of exclusively breastfeeding?
Breast milk is the customized food for your baby’s needs. It continues to supply important antibodies to protect your child against various illnesses.
For the baby
- Breast milk contains the ideal balance of fat, sugar, water, protein, and minerals for a baby's growth and development. Your breast milk changes as your baby grow to meet the changing nutritional needs of the baby.
- Breast milk is easier to digest than infant formula.
- Breast milk contains antibodies that protect babies from illnesses, such as ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and allergies. The longer your baby breastfeeds, the better their health.
- Breastfed babies have a lower risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome.
- Breast milk can help reduce the risk of many of the short- and long-term health problems that can occur in premature babies.
- Breastfeeding continues to develop a wide palate for all your baby's adult teeth, reducing the need for orthodontics for crowded teeth.
- Breastfeeding exclusively has proven to reduce infant deaths caused by common childhood illnesses (such as pneumonia), hasten recovery during illness and help space out births.
For the mother
- Breastfeeding causes the uterus to contract by releasing a hormone called oxytocin. This allows the uterus to return to normal size faster and may reduce the amount of bleeding you experience after giving birth.
- Nursing may help you lose the weight that you gained during pregnancy easier.
- Breastfeeding has been linked to a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers.
- According to research, the longer a mother breastfeeds her child, the lower her risk of cervical cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and obesity.
- It helps prevent postpartum depression in mothers.
Breastfeeding provides bonding, comfort, and emotional security, as well as supplies the nutrition babies need to protect them from illnesses.
How should I wean my baby from breastfeeding?
The rate at which a child weans from the breast is not solely determined by the availability of alternative food and drink. This is because breastfeeding is more than just a source of food; it plays an important role in meeting a baby's need for closeness and emotional security, as well as going to sleep.
As babies gain independence, their emotional needs can be met in other ways (cuddles, talking, playing), and they outgrow breastfeeding just like they outgrow babbling or crawling. While many moms will continue to breastfeed their children until they stop on their own, others will gently hasten this natural process by providing distractions or limiting when and how long to breastfeed.
Baby feeding is entirely up to you and your child to decide how and when to wean. Whenever possible, follow your baby's cues before weaning. Try to increase the intervals between two breastfeeding sessions gradually. Consult your doctor if you believe your baby is not getting enough food or liquid after weaning.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Breastfeeding." <https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/facts.html>.
World Health Organization. "Breastfeeding." <https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1>.
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