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Many mothers are asking themselves and others the question – for how long should I breastfeed? And some feel compelled to provide assured answers. WHO has decided to recommend 6 months of full breastfeeding and part-time breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or longer for all children. Recommendations from Sweden’s Children’s Welfare Center have varied. For a while, you would definitely start with taste portions at four months of age, now you should preferably breastfeed for 6 months but start with tiny taste portions at four months.
Full-time or part-time breastfeeding, or formula?
I believe that how long to breastfeed is something that every mother-child couple should decide for themselves. If you have poor access to clean water or insecure supplies of good-quality infant formula, full breastfeeding for 6 months is life-saving for your baby. With access to clean water, there are no major health differences between full breastfeeding, part-time breastfeeding and formula feeding.
How long to breastfeed is a decision for mother and child
I decided for how long I breastfed two of the babies I gave birth to (my first child was born preterm and was not able to breastfeed at all) . And I didn’t do that on my own. My children had their own strong input. If someone else had tried to tell me how long I should breastfeed, I wouldn’t have received it very well. For me, it has been two of the most private decisions of my life. I am also very happy that their other parent respected our decisions.
Many parents I have met as a pediatrician, many friends and parents I have met on social media, share my feelings. The decision of for how long I should breastfeed my child is private and must be allowed to remain private. Family forums on the Internet are saturated with stories about how offended, angry and sad mothers have felt when someone (often a doctor, a midwife or a nurse) has tried to decide that they should breastfeed even when they don’t want to, or that they should stop even though they wanted to continue.
Being able to love your baby
Babies need food, love and some help with their hygiene. Love is so important. Many mothers have told me how being forced to breastfeed has prevented them from being able to cope, or being able to be loving towards the baby. How an enormous sense of guilt and shame set themselves between them and the children. They were told that they were not doing what’s best in the child’s interests by not wanting to breastfeed or continuing a problematic breastfeeding. Many mothers have also told of how they completely lost confidence in a doctor who questioned the functioning of their breastfed preschooler.
Formula is acceptable
We must not let, what we think is the best, become the enemy of what is good. You will never hear me say that formula is better than breast milk, because it is not, and I don’t think it will ever be no matter how much work producers put into product development. But it’s good enough! And therefore I will not as a pediatrician interfere in decisions that I have nothing to do with. Part-time breastfeeding for 4, 6, 12 or 18 months is also good enough, provided that the diet given to the child in addition to the mother’s milk is nutritious. Similarly part-time breastfeeding for years is acceptable!
(In areas with poor hygiene or dirty water, where you cannot wash bottles or do not have access to medical care and have unsafe access to formula powder, formula is not good enough. Formula is not compatible in areas with poor hygiene. I find it absolutely reprehensible to promote formula in these situations and believe it is better to do everything possible for mothers to breastfeed.)
Start with other foods no later than 6 months
If breastfeeding works and your baby gains enough weight, you can safely breastfeed exclusively until 6 months of age. Then you need to start introducing other foods, especially because the iron content of breast milk is so low that the child risks iron deficiency.
Some mother-child couples like breastfeeding so much that they continue to do so for many years. There’s nothing wrong with that and that’s something that no one else should interfere with. The decision about how long to breastfeed for is, as I said, a private matter. This is regardless of whether the breastfeeding period is long or short.