Talk to five different people about how long you should breastfeed, and you’re likely to hear five different answers. The general consensus is that breastfeeding is a great idea for at least the first six months of a child’s life, but after that, it starts to get a little fuzzy. Which is it, then? Is a year enough? How about two years? Should you combine breast milk and solid foods? Here are some of the details around the benefits of breastfeeding that can help you decide what timetable is right for you and your baby.

Newborns that breastfeed immediately will intake colostrum, a sticky yellowish fluid that’s produced by the mother right after birth. It’s highly concentrated, easily digested, and protects the baby from infection and serves as a laxative. With 4 to 6 weeks of breastfeeding, a baby should experience lower rates of illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis, and SIDS. Over 3 to 6 months, babies who are breastfed experience half as many ear infections as formula fed babies. Babies who have been breastfed for the first 6 months will produce antibodies to coat the intestines and protect them from allergens, resulting in fewer allergies. From 6 to 9 months, babies undergo one of their most important developmental stages, and breast milk provides important immunities to protect them from germs. Nursing for a year or more will help protect babies against diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, colitis, and asthma in adulthood. Even after babies have started weaning onto solid foods, they can still benefit from the concentrated nutrients and powerful anti-illness properties of breast milk.

Early breastfeeding creates a bond between the baby and mother, so even a few weeks of breastfeeding is beneficial for this connection. Plus, research has demonstrated that breastfed babies score an average of 8 points higher on IQ tests compared to formula-fed babies.

Everyone’s situation is unique. Not every mother is biologically capable of nursing for years at a time, and with many moms out working, it can be impractical for a child to breastfeed for an extended period of time. Even so, the facts point to plenty of benefits for long-term breastfeeding. By six months to a year, it’s probably a good idea to introduce solid foods so babies can learn to feed themselves, but perfectly health children self-wean at age 3 or 4.

Keyword Tags: