Breastfeeding my daughter was one of my favorite ways to bond with her and I was fascinated that my body could provide her with what she nutritionally required. But that's not always the case for new moms — and that's OK. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend who is struggling with breastfeeding. She started to cry, giving way to the pressure directed at her from relatives, social mediums, and, most of all, herself. "You have to do what works for the two of you," I told her. Need proof? Here's the right time to stop breastfeeding, according to experts.
"A mother should breastfeed her baby for as long as she wants to," Karen Meade, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in Pennsylvania, tells Romper in an email interview. "There is no one 'right' time to stop breastfeeding. When a parent decides to stop breastfeeding is as individual a decision as the choice of whether to begin breastfeeding at all."
Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC and parenting coach, agrees, adding that "breastfeeding is a complex relationship between a breastfeeding parent and their baby or babies if there are multiples." O'Connor tells Romper in an email interview that the normal age range for weaning can span anywhere from 2 to 7 years of age. "In the US, this can be challenging for many reasons, in particular because breastfeeding is not the cultural norm and most parents have limited leave from their jobs," she says. But she emphasizes that any amount of breast milk is good for babies.
According to experts, the known benefits of breastfeeding include strengthening a baby's immune system and working to protect from childhood diseases. Sara-Chana Silverstein, an IBCLC, tells Romper in an email interview that one of the most interesting things about breast milk is that it changes and morphs as the baby ages. "Meaning the breast milk at age 3 weeks is a different composition at the age of 6 months."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least one year of breastfeeding, with the first six months being exclusive. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Family Physicians both recommend at least two years of breastfeeding with the first six months being exclusive.
"With this information, families have to make decisions based on their unique situations," O'Connor says. "Families should be supported in their decisions. Unfortunately, there is limited training in educational institutions about breastfeeding and weaning."
Meade says that when she works with a breastfeeding parent, she starts by asking them what they already know about breastfeeding and what their reasons are for wanting to breastfeed. "And then I ask what their thoughts and goals are for breastfeeding duration, and provide support to help them achieve that goal," she says. "I encourage expectant families to take breastfeeding one feeding at a time and not to make a hard and fast rule about how long they are planning to breastfeed before their babies are even born."
If you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding, make sure to seek the help of a lactation consultant. Be sure to consult with an IBCLC, who is required to go through several hundred hours of hands-on experience and classroom education before taking the exam, according to the Second Nine Months website.
Consider also finding a La Leche League leader near you or checking out one of their online meetings and chats for quick answers to common breastfeeding issues, like pumping, increasing milk supply, and how often to feed your little one.
And I will say it once more: At the end of the day, you have to do what works best for you and your baby. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise — including you.
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