Breastfeeding is being recommended increasingly by doctors. There are several distinct advantages and benefits of breastfeeding your child. Still, the question arises, “How long should you breastfeed your child?” Is there a point where breastfeeding can be detrimental?
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), mothers should breastfeed their babies from infancy through the first six months. In this stage, you should avoid feeding the baby other food or drinks, at least for the first half-year of the baby’s life. Some doctors also recommend breastfeeding for at least the first year, but by combining other foods and drinks after the first six months. However, not all women can breastfeed their babies for a year. We recommend consulting an expert to determine the ideal duration of breastfeeding. – Lactation consultants
This article has covered the amount of time breastfeeding is recommended and how breastfeeding is beneficial to the baby and the mother.
What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
There are several renowned benefits of breastfeeding, even if you breastfeed your child for a few days after birth. Some of the most prominent advantages of breastfeeding during the different stages of an infant’s life are:
First few days from childbirth
Bear in mind that keeping a newborn close to the mother and starting breastfeeding as soon as the hour of birth is highly recommended. During this time, the child benefits immensely from the skin-to-skin touch. The mother benefits from the stimulation of milk during this stage.
Initially, the breast milk contains colostrum, a thick yellowish substance. Colostrum contains various essential antibodies and nutrients for the newborn baby. During the next few days, breast milk becomes completely nutritious and even prevents infection in the baby.
First month from childbirth
According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), breast milk offers the first immunisation for the baby. Breast milk contains several antibodies during the first year from childbirth. The antibodies present in breast milk protect the baby against:
- Digestive problems
- Chest infections
- Ear infections
- Infectious diarrhoea
The mother too benefits greatly from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding a child releases oxytocin and prolactin, which are feel-good hormones. With this, breastfeeding becomes a happy and fulfilling experience for mothers. Studies have also shown that women who breastfeed are able to bounce back faster to a normal routine after childbirth. The reason is that the uterus contracts back to its normal size quicker with breastfeeding.
For 3 – 4 months from childbirth
When a baby becomes three months old, the mother’s breast milk actively supports the child’s digestive system. Breast milk also contains nutrients that protect the child against allergens in foods and supplements.
Mothers also benefit greatly from breastfeeding during this stage. It is estimated that breastfeeding into the 3rd and 4th months of the newborn’s life helps the mother to burn as much as 400 to 500 calories every day. This is an excellent way to lose postpartum weight and get back into a healthier and slimmer shape.
Besides this, breastfeeding also helps mothers with internal health. Studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and rheumatoid arthritis.
For 6 months from childbirth
Even after you add other food to the baby’s diet at six months old, breast milk continues to be beneficial for mother and child. It contains proteins, vitamin A, iron and other vital nutrients which provide the baby with energy. Breast milk also works to protect the baby against illnesses and diseases when they consume it.
According to experts, breastfeeding a child into the 6th month and beyond can decrease the risk of several types of cancers. These include breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and uterine cancer. Reports show that every five-month of breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast cancer in women by 2%.
For 9 months from childbirth
Between 6 and 12 months from childbirth, it is recommended to breastfeed only on demand. It should be combined with other food at least 3 to 5 times a day. During this stage, breast milk should be offered before meals and table foods should be used as a supplement diet.
Apart from reducing the risk of breast cancer, continued breastfeeding till this stage can also lower the risk of other illnesses for the mother.
For 1 year from childbirth
A long-term benefit of breastfeeding is cost-saving. According to reports, continued breastfeeding for a year from childbirth can help households save AU$ 1,100 to AU$ 4,200 and more.
It is also well known that breastfed babies for a year tend to have a stronger immune system. These babies are also at a lesser risk of developing orthodontic and speech problems. The reason is that sucking on the breast helps to develop the oral muscles in and around the mouth.
After 1 year from childbirth
Once your baby is a year old, it is recommended to breastfeed only on demand and to include other foods at least five times a day. You can also include cow’s milk during this stage if you wish to stop breastfeeding altogether.
Research studies have also found that longer duration breastfeeding can temporarily enhance the child’s IQ.
Are there any risks from prolonged breastfeeding?
Globally, the average weaning age for babies is around 2 to 4 years old. Some cultures breastfeed children well into their 6th and 7th years.
There are no well-known and proven risks of breastfeeding for 1 to 2 years from childbirth. There is no concrete proof that a longer duration of breastfeeding makes weaning more difficult.
The duration of breastfeeding a baby eventually comes down to personal choice. There are distinct benefits of breastfeeding a child for longer durations, till at least 1 to 2 years. These benefits are for mother and child alike. To ensure normal nutrition and health for the baby, it is recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council to breastfeed for a year or for the time period the mother and baby desire to do it.
You may as well reach out to the Australian Breastfeeding Association(ABA) through the National Breastfeeding Helpline number 1800 686 268. This breastfeeding helpline is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. They have counselling provisions that can be beneficial for mothers and their families in Australia.