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Breastfeeding

How long should a mother breastfeed her baby?

By Marney Atkins-Smith

Australian Registered Midwife + mama of two

May 21, 2021


So, you’ve given birth to your little bundle of joy and you’ve probably already decided how you would like to feed your baby. But how long should you breastfeed?

Breastfeeding versus formula feeding has been and always will be a hot topic in the newborn world. Society will judge you for your choice either way, but at the end of the day, it is your choice and yours alone, don’t be swayed by the media or friends and family. Your feeding choice should be based on your lifestyle needs, emotional needs, what suits you and ultimately, what makes you feel happy and content.

But let’s say you have chosen to give breastfeeding a go. How long should mothers breastfeed and what are the benefits for you and your baby?

How long to breastfeed

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is a specialised body belonging to the United Nations and they are responsible for leading global health responses in order to improve public health worldwide. WHO recommends that you breastfeed your baby exclusively for 6 months and continue to breastfeed until 24 months whilst mixed feeding.

Although 24 months is recommended, it can be unachievable due to life’s commitments; going back to work, having another baby or simply your baby weaning themselves off the breast.

There can be other factors involved as well that may make your breastfeeding journey more difficult than it is for others. Women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Hyperplasia (the underdevelopment of the breast, however, this does not refer to small breasts), a traumatic birth experience and the stresses of life can often interfere with how much milk your body will make. So use these recommendations as a guide only and do what you feel is right for you and your baby.

Breastfeeding benefits

Breastmilk is full of vitamins, minerals, good fats, antibodies and everything else your baby needs in order to maintain a nutritious diet. Breastmilk is not only nutritious, but it also provides health and emotional benefits for both mum and baby throughout life.

Breastmilk is safe, clean, and the perfect temperature every time. As an added bonus, it’s free and there is no need to prepare bottles at 2am in the morning, allowing you to get more rest during this newborn period.

Breastfeeding benefits for babies

There are so many health benefits associated with breastfeeding, and depending on how long you choose to breastfeed, these benefits will increase.

Colostrum is produced in the first few days after you’ve given birth, you may have noticed you were also producing colostrum during pregnancy. Colostrum is full of antibodies that boost your baby’s immune system.

You might also like: The Breastfeeding Glossary — Things You Should Know

Even if you choose to breastfeed your baby for the first three days of life and then switch to an alternative source of nutrition, your baby will have received an abundance of health benefits just for receiving the colostrum you produced during these early days.

Other benefits include:

  • Less gastrointestinal and respiratory issues
  • Fewer ear infections
  • Reduces risk of certain allergies such as asthma, atopic dermatitis and eczema

As your baby grows from infancy to childhood and then into adulthood, breastfeeding will have lowered their chances of getting gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease and chronic diseases including Childhood Leukaemia, Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 and 2, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Lowering the occurrence of these conditions in society decreases the financial burden on our health systems, so your choice to breastfeed actually supports your broader community as well!

Breastfeeding benefits for mothers

Mothers can also benefit from breastfeeding their babies.

Short term benefits include postpartum weight loss and bonding and attachment which is very important in infancy.

When breastfeeding, your body releases the hormone oxytocin which is otherwise known as the ‘love’ hormone. Not only does it make you feel good but it increases the love you feel for your baby, contributing to a stronger attachment.

When your baby is first born, the simple act of placing your baby skin to skin and breastfeeding within the first two hours of birth, not only increases mum’s sensitivity to baby’s needs, but it has been found that babies are more settled and appeased by the time they turn one year old.

The long term benefits for mums, share some similarities with the benefits for babies. These include a reduction in Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Studies have found that mothers who breastfeed lower their risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer too. Hypertension is also greatly reduced in mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies.

Breastfeeding benefits for the environment

We are a society that is becoming more and more concerned about the impact we are having on our environment and the world we are leaving to the next generation of children.

Breastfeeding is undoubtedly a great option when considering our environmental influence. Unlike alternative feeding options, there’s no plastic, washing, sterilising or waste involved, therefore making breastfeeding the best choice when considering your environmental impact.  

Breastfeeding delivers optimal nutrition for your baby in the first 6 months of life, providing health benefits for mum and baby short term and long term. Breastfeeding also decreases financial burden for your family in the immediate future and long term for the greater community, and your environmental impact is also greatly reduced.

The longer you choose to breastfeed your baby, the greater the benefits will be, providing better lifelong health outcomes. However, follow your baby’s lead, some babies wean themselves from the breast and you can relax knowing that you have given your baby the best start in life.

Disclaimer: Cake does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.

References:
World Health Organisation, 2021.
Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2018.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, 2019. Gry Hay, The Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association
The maternal health benefits of breastfeeding, 2015. Eleanor Schwarz and Melissa Nothnagle. American Family Physician
The benefits of breastfeeding, 2016. Raanan Shamir. Protein in Neonatal and Infant Nutrition.

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