Breast Feeding - How Long Should I Breast Feed
Women were born with breasts, and the primary function of these breasts is to feed their young. The world wide average age of weaning is around four years old but in western culture, it has long been considered the norm to breast feed for 6 months to a year. Fortunately there is now beginning to be a change of heart with even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending breastfeeding for “at least 12 months and for as long thereafter as mutually desired”. Yet there is still a problem of seemingly well meaning friends and relations who try to dissuade a mother from carrying on breastfeeding her baby after just a few months. And they put forward all sorts of invalid reasons for doing so.
In addition, breasts have become sexualized so that they have so many other connotations that people tend to forget that breasts were made to feed our young. Sadly, this has affected the habit of extended breastfeeding in western culture.
If you are breast feeding or about to start breastfeeding, then do your own research before you make up your mind and try not to be influenced by those who try to put you off the idea.
Building blocks of breast feeding your baby
There are so many advantages for your baby. And you don’t need to say beforehand “I am going to breastfeed for such and such a time”. Take it step by step so that if you breast feed your baby for:
A few days and he will receive valuable colostrums, providing antibodies and the help to get his digestive system up and running.
4 to 6 weeks and he will have come through the most critical period of infancy with less likelihood of sickness or hospitalization.
3 months and his digestive system will have matured so that he is more able to tolerate those foreign additives in formula feeds, as well as helping to avoid allergies and providing protection against ear infections for a whole year.
6 months and he will be unlikely to suffer an allergic reaction to other feeds or foods, as well as ensuring better health in that first year, reducing the risk of ear infections and childhood cancers. You benefit too by reducing the risk to you of breast cancer. Mothers and babies usually enjoy breastfeeding so why stop an enjoyable and very beneficial relationship?
9 months and your baby will have progressed through the most important brain and body development of his life. He should be more alert and active than formula fed babies. Your breast milk contains protein, fat and all the important nutritional and appropriate elements that babies need, including those that help the immune system to mature and the brain, gut and other organs to develop and mature. Even if you are back at work and having to express milk for your baby, while he is in day care, he will have far fewer and less severe infections than those children in day care who are not breastfeeding.
1 year and he can handle most of the foods available along with the rest of the family. He will have gained health benefits to last him his whole life with a stronger immune system and less likelihood of needing orthodontia or speech therapy. Breast milk allows your baby to fight off infections. When your baby fights off these infections, he becomes immune but in a totally natural way. If your baby is at all fussy about what he eats, then you will know that breastfeeding provides him with a nutritional boost.
18 months and he will have the benefit of a whole new set of antibodies providing protection against illness when this can be common in other babies. The toddler who breast feeds is generally more independent and more secure in this very independence because he has received comfort and security from the breast until he is ready to make the step himself to stop. This decision may be at this age or at 2 years or more.
2 years and beyond and he will continue to benefit from antibodies and other protective substances. He will tend to be more secure and less likely to suck his thumb or need a blanket or comfort toy. There is a special relationship between toddler and mother which is a life affirming act of love. It goes beyond the pleasure of providing food.
Appropriate behavior by your young child when he is breastfeeding
When your baby is younger, you may well have had to teach him not to bite when he was breast feeding.
As he grows into a toddler, then it is also a good idea to help him learn appropriate behavior and develop some self-control by teaching him for example that he only gets milk at home and then only by asking nicely. By now it should be limited to just a couple of times per day unless he is ill or injured or very upset about something. It is also advisable to lay the ground rules that only mom undoes her clothing, to avoid your toddler trying to pull off your clothes and causing you embarrassment.
So as long as you both enjoy breastfeeding, don’t be in too much of a hurry to give it up. You will find that breast feeding eases frustration and smoothes over many of the rough moments that make up a toddler’s life. It is just the very best way for you both to de-stress in this modern, stressful world.