How Long Should Mothers Breastfeed Their Babies?

The easy answer to this question is “However long baby and mother wish”.  But often it is not that simple: there are family, social, political, personal, employer, and countless other pressures that veer families away from the appropriate message which is “continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby wish”. Navigating this sea of opinions, misinformed views, and unavoidable realities of life is a monumental task.  It is for this reason (among many others) that there are national and international guidelines designed to support (health practitioners of) mother/baby dyads in meeting their breastfeeding goals.

I have begun the process of curating official breastfeeding policies, recommendations, and position statements from credible health authorities around the world.  I encourage any and everyone to review these and also to recommend additional credible sources. I will append them to what will hopefully become an ever-growing list.

Official position statements on breastfeeding from some of the world’s most credible health authorities:

  1. World Health Organization (WHO) – “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
  2. UNICEF – Recommends “initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after the birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with safe, nutritionally adequate, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month.”
  3. Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) – Recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life for healthy, term infants. Breast milk is the optimal food for infants, and breastfeeding may continue for up to two years and beyond”
  4. American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)  – “All babies, with rare exceptions, be breastfed and/or receive expressed human milk exclusively for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding should continue with the addition of complementary foods throughout the second half of the first year. Breastfeeding beyond the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child, and should continue as long as mutually desired.”
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – “Infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice. The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its 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.”
  6. American Dietetic Association – “Exclusive breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and health protection for the first 6 months of life and breastfeeding with complementary foods from 6 months until at least 12 months of age is the ideal feeding pattern for infants.”
  7. National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (NAPNAP) – “Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months and continued for the first 12 months and beyond represents normal infant feeding”
  8. Department of Health (London, UK) – “Breastmilk is the best form of nutrition for infants; it provides all the nutrients a baby needs. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of an infant’s life. Six months is the recommended age for the introduction of solid foods for both breast and formula fed infants.  Breastfeeding (and/or breastmilk substitutes, if used) should continue beyond the first six months along with appropriate types and amounts of solid foods.”