At What Age Should You Stop Breast Feeding?

Unless you work in the marketing department for one of the infant formula companies, if you have read any of the literature on breastfeeding, it’s hard not to agree with pediatric health experts when they say that when it comes to a newborn’s development, breastfeeding is the way to go. Breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits, may actually increase IQ and promotes a strong bond between the mother and child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and then for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

Breastfeeding for the first six months is crucial. The World Health Organization recommends that mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth; that infants should be exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health, and thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods, while continuing to be breastfed; and, breastfeeding should continue for up to two years or beyond. 

The World Health Organization

There has been a movement to increase awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and address some of the issues that discourage it. This includes nearly nonexistent workplace accommodation, lack of social support and marketing pressure by companies that have a vested interest in mothers not continuing to breast feed.

Research has shown breastfeeding to be one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival. Despite the research and these recommendations and the work of breastfeeding advocates, less than 30 percent of American mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for even 6 months. And, this is not an issue just here in the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, there is not a country in the world that meets these standards, but if they did, and breastfeeding was practiced universally, the lives of more than 800,000 children would be saved every year.

Breastfeeding is a global issue, but it is also very much a personal issue. Mothers who want to breastfeed can be overwhelmed by the demands of a new baby. Operating on very little sleep, a new mom starts off feeling unprepared and inadequate and that can either balance out or get worse largely depending upon the amount of support she has. There is a reason that “it takes a village” has become somewhat of a cliché: it happens to be universally true when speaking of childcare, and even more so in the beginning when trying to make decisions about breastfeeding.

At what age should you stop breastfeeding? There is no answer to that question. It is personal and different for every mother and child. Ideally, mothers should have the support to breastfeed her child for as long as it is a positive experience for both of them. Realistically, the answer falls somewhere closer to as long as she can tune out the voices of a society that values convenience over substance. Many obstacles exist for mothers who wish to continue breastfeeding and that does not seem likely to change anytime soon.