This is one of those very controversial subjects. There are so many views on breastfeeding alone, never mind how long one should breastfeed your baby for. So, the information we are going to give you is based on various opinions, both personal and professional.
But, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, it is your gut feel that must count for something. Listen to what feels right inside you and for your baby. Before you ask yourself ‘How long should I breastfeed my baby?’, ask yourself ‘Should I breastfeed my baby?’
The professionals will tell you ‘absckofriinlutely!’. Some mothers may tell you ‘definitely not’ but most will tell you, yes, but for as long as you want to.’ There are many factors that will influence your breastfeeding experience. From milk flow to baby’s accommodation and more importantly, whether you actually like the breastfeeding experience. All are valid pointers to consider.
This is the most important part of breastfeeding. Even if you only feed the baby for the first 3 days, they will receive this important nutrient. Colostrum is like milk on drugs. It packs a punch but in a good way. It has all the right goodies to assist baby with developing a great immune system as well as helping them with expelling that first poop, meconium.
How Long is Too Short?
Ideally, if you can, and by can we mean if it is not a problem breastfeeding, you should try to breastfeed for approximately 6 months minimum. Having said that, even 6 weeks will be a good innings.
Are There Benefits to Breastfeeding for Longer than 6 Months?
Absolutely! Here is a quick rundown of what benefits your baby will receive over the periods 4 weeks to 24 months.
4 to 6 weeks
Initially, the colostrum is the best part, as mentioned before, those first 3 days. After this, you are assisting your babies digestive system as well as immune system. Infants that are breastfed will be less likely to land up in the hospital due to illness.
6 weeks to 4 months
Now, you can start to introduce artificial milk powders and by this stage, your baby’s system will be able to handle it better. The breast milk, also, helps with keeping allergies and ear infections at bay.
4 months to 9 months
Not only does breastfeeding help keep the cancer cells from developing within baby but for you as well. In addition, breastfeeding can, but do not rely on this alone, act as a contraceptive.
9 months to a Year
By this stage, or even from 6 months onwards, you should be introducing solids to the baby and you will find you won’t be breastfeeding as much. But nevertheless, the breast milk is still good for brain development, so keep on for a bit longer, if you can.
You must, just so it is noted, bring in solids. Chewing is a fundamental part of developing a baby’s teeth and jaw motion, as well as promoting a healthy digestive system.
1 year and Beyond
By this stage, you and baby are into a lovely routine and may even only be breastfeeding for a little in the mornings and a bit more at night before sleep time. It stands to reason that breastfeeding is cost effective and will save you tons of artificial powdered milk.
By 18 months you could start to wean as baby has had a really good run. They should be receiving most of their nutrients and vitamins from solid foods anyway and other liquids.
To Infinity and Beyond
Now, here is where the critics and naysayers come in. There are those that frown on breastfeeding beyond 3 years old, some sooner than that. By 3 to 4 years old, your little guy does not need the breast milk essentially anymore and should be primarily on solid foods.
However, if you are still allowing him to have a little sip every now and then, its okay. You will find that by the time he goes to a daycare or aftercare that he will begin to suckle less and less. Most times it’s a traumatic situation or that mom can't let go, that will prolong the breastfeeding ritual. In conclusion, use your discretion and gut feel to decide when to stop breastfeeding and not what anyone else tells you to.