The breastfeeding journey is different for every mother. Most moms love the physical and emotional experience of breastfeeding with all their heart and treasure the connection that it gives them to their baby. They want the best for their baby and are happy to do whatever they can to deliver those health benefits for as long as possible. Even if at the beginning, that means 12 feeds a day and endless sleepless nights! Of course, there are also the hidden benefits for both baby and mom. The simplicity and cost saving of breastfeeding is one very practical benefit. And there are also many health benefits that a mother gains for herself. This includes helping her body recover from childbirth, weight loss, and emotional wellbeing. Breastfeeding has even been reported to reduce the risk of cancer and positively impact a woman’s health conditions later in life.

There has recently been a lot of research showing that the connection between mothers and babies is even stronger than originally thought. A Scientific American article shows how baby and mother connect on a cellular level in their brains and how this impacts the health of a baby so much more than just the expression of maternal love.

The breastfeeding journey impacts every woman and baby differently. After a few months and the experience of a growing baby who wants to experiment with solid food, the question a lot of mothers ask is, “How long should I breastfeed my baby.”? The answer is of course impacted by medical, social and personal considerations. Sometimes babies want to move on from breastfeeding themselves. One member of the Medela community said ‘I recently had triplets and one little peanut prefers a bottle – go figure.” Other children are very happy to breastfeed well into their second year. The truth is that every baby is different and the idea that there is a “normal” way to breastfeed a baby is not plausible. There is not one right answer. But let’s look at the question from some different angles.

What the Experts Say

We have written many times about the benefits of breastfeeding. The advice given by the World Health Organization is that if possible, maximum health benefits are achieved with exclusive breastfeeding, with no other fluids or solids, for six months. Then they recommend continued breastfeeding combined with solid foods for 12-24 months. After that, it is a decision for a mother and her baby.

The La Leche League website says that the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms the World Health Organization recommendation of “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.”

Going Back to Work

Breastfeeding is often impacted by a mother’s return to work or school. This is where Medela offers help with breast pumps that allow a mom to express breastmilk and combine breast and bottle-feeding with the help of family, friends and childcare helpers. Even when a baby is ready to try their first solid food at six months, a mom can still carry on breastfeeding.

The Decision is Very Personal

When to stop breastfeeding is a totally personal choice. People may ask or even be critical. But a mom knows in her heart what is right for her child. On the other hand, a thousand things can happen in the first months and years of a child’s life. A mom should never feel guilty if it breastfeeding doesn’t work out. Whether she breastfeeds for 2 years or 2 days, it’s best to always try. Even if breastfeeding does not work out as planned, even a few days of breastmilk is important for a baby. That is when the body produces colostrum, or early milk, which is packed with immune enhancing ingredients.

If a mother and her baby are both enjoying breastfeeding, the best advice is to continue for as long as you both want. It is as simple as that. Time will go fast enough, and the act of breastfeeding is a gift worth giving for as long as possible.

How long did you breastfeed your baby? What do you say to people who suggest you stop breastfeeding because your child is ‘too old’? Please leave your comments below or join the conversation in the Medela Canada online community.

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