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How long should you breastfeed for?

How long should you breastfeed for?

With so much advice about breast versus bottle, it can be hard to decide how long to breastfeed for. Work out what’s right for you and your baby – whether it’s one day or two years - read our expert advice, find out the benefits, and read real mums’ personal stories… 

1 day

Benefits: Your baby benefits from colostrum, which supplies nutrients. The closeness helps her to feel secure. It helps your uterus contract quickly to reduce the risk of a post-birth haemorrhage. 

Tricky bits: It can be stressful, painful and the feeds erratic as you and your baby learn what to do.

Handy hint: Have as much skin-to-skin contact with your baby as possible to allow him to put his innate feeding instincts into practice.

Real mum says: Gemma Norman, mum to Frank, says: ‘A combination of me not producing enough milk and Frank not latching on meant I had no choice but to bottle-feed, but the midwives helped me to syringe milk from my breast into him.’

1 week

Benefits: Your baby’s stomach has stretched to match your increasing milk supply. Frequent feeds will now have primed your breasts for long-term milk production.

Tricky bits: Your baby may lose more than 10% of his birth weight. Engorgement (full breasts) can be very painful.

Handy hint: Soothe engorged breasts with a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a muslin square, and feed more frequently if you need to.

Real mum says: Hayley Fenwick, mum to Heidi, says: ‘A nurse showed me how to get Heidi to latch on, but when I tried at home, I struggled. I followed my instinct and made the decision to formula-feed.’

1 month

Benefits: Your milk makes your baby less likely to develop food allergies or have diarrhoea and chest and ear infections. Night feeds are easy and there’s no need to wash and sterilize bottles.

Tricky bits: You might feel as if feeding takes a long time and that it’s more difficult than bottle-feeding.

Handy hint: Surround yourself with people who support, not question, your decision to breast-feed or bottle-feed.

Real mum says: Fern Blackmore, mum to Midge, says: ‘A bottle meant my partner could feed her. We moved house when Midge was six weeks, so not breastfeeding meant it was easier for my parents to look after her.’

3 months

Benefits: Your baby will be 27% less likely to develop childhood diabetes. If your family has a history of asthma, she’ll be up to 40% less likely to develop it. It’ll help you to lose your baby-weight too.

Tricky bits: She may start to pop on and off your breasts frequently to survey her surroundings as she becomes more social.

Handy hint: Wear a nursing shawl if you’re embarrassed feeding in public because your baby pops off your breast.

Real mum says: Kelly Innes, mum to Annabel, says: ‘Breastfeeding didn’t come naturally to me, but I kept going to protect her from illness with the antibodies in my milk. When Annabel got chickenpox at three months, I stopped.’

6 months

Benefits: She’s less likely to develop allergies to common triggers such as cow’s milk, which makes weaning easier. There’s a reduced risk of leukaemia too. You are less likely to develop breast and ovarian cancers as well as osteoporosis.

Tricky bits: Your baby might only want to feed for 10 minutes, leaving you worried that she’s not getting enough milk.

Handy hint: Trust your baby to take as much milk as she needs. She’s growing at a slower rate now, so follow her lead.

Real mum says: Fi Star-Stone, mum to Oscar, says: ‘I gradually weaned him off the breast as he was very, very hungry. By seven months he was weaned on to a combination of solid food and formula.’

12 months

Benefits: The muscles your baby uses to breastfeed are also important for speech, and she continues to get immune-boosting benefits. And you’ve saved £546 by not buying formula (based on a baby having eight daily 90ml feeds).

Tricky bits: You may be emotionally tired of constantly being touched and feel you want to reclaim your body. 

Handy hint: Make sure you create time for yourself.

Real mum says: Lucy Marcovitch, mum to Lily, says: ‘A year seemed like a natural amount of time and it just felt right. I went back to work, so I weaned her gradually, but carried on expressing for a while.’

18 months

Benefits: Skin-to-skin reduces your baby’s stress hormone production and her immunity continues to grow. As your child is getting bigger, you have to sit down and have a rest at feeding times, even when you’ve a million things on your ‘to do’ list.

Tricky bits: An 18-month-old may use breastfeeding to curb boredom and get your attention (usually as soon as you answer the phone!).

Handy hint: Introduce a feeding chair, which you only use for feeds. Your little one will quickly realise that signifies feeding time.

Real mum says: Priya Tew, mum to Kezia, says: ‘Kezia just stopped all by herself. I was waiting for her to be ready to stop and she simply got to a point where she didn’t ask for any more milk.’

2 years or more

Benefits: You’ll probably only feed first thing in the morning and last thing at night, so it’s a great way to bookend the day. Your tot continues to get an immunity boost, helping her to fight the bugs that she encounters during her increasingly busy days.

Tricky bits: It can be embarrassing when an older toddler announces that she wants milk or tugs at your shirt.

Handy hint: Find a word that you both understand relates to feeding, that you’re happy to use in public.

Real mum says: Kimberley Tyler, mum to Lottie, says: ‘I was a very reluctant breastfeeder to start with, as I lacked body confidence. But breastfeeding worked well for us both. I stopped when Lottie gave up!’

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  • Iccleanne - 10/09/2015 23:22

    Why do you pretend that this is a positive article about breastfeeding? It really isn't. It sounds like 'information' about each 'stage' and how Mums have struggled and given up. If a Mum is struggling with breastfeeding, the last thing they need is to be told "don't bother perserving, there's lots of problems". Mums need to be encouraged to ask for help if they are struggling, as the benefits totally out weigh the problems. I should know I've been there and come out the other side. I suggest you rethink/rewrite this article. Real Mums do struggle, but can also come out the other side still feeding, rather than giving up and just using man made formula.

  • karmalaa - 11/09/2015 07:52

    Wow, just what we need, another article telling us how hard it is to breastfeed and how easy, simple, and hands off it is to formula feed. Gosh, use formula, you don't even have to look at or hold your own baby, wahoo!! This is appalling messaging to mums and is blatantly pandering to those feeling guilty for switching to formula for non medical reasons. Its time to stop pandering to those mums, they should feel guilty. Unless there is an absolute, life endangering medical reason that you cannot breastfeed your own child your laziness should not be applauded and given the green light. In a country where less than 40% of mums breastfeed after the first week we need to stop framing breastfeeding as a choice. Breastfeeding is not a choice, breastfeeding is the biological way to feed your child. There is no alternative.

  • waddle_thepenguin - 11/09/2015 09:23

    Your article comes across as very negative as all the stories are from people who had trouble or stopped breastfeeding, Yes it is okay to stop whenever you want, yes breastfeeding can be very stressful, but please present a more balanced view by having stories from people who did carry on as well. I had a terrible time to start with and had to do a combination of breast and bottle but that was okay. I had help from support groups who made me understand that as long as my baby was growing then whatever I was doing was a good thing. With help things became easier and now at nearly nine months I only breastfeed and she's loving eating solids as well. I don't know how long I'll continue for but I'm not pressurising myself. So yes, your article isn't well balanced and focuses too much on the negative.

  • Ocean - 11/09/2015 09:28

    Awful article! Where is the information about where to get support in the early days if you struggle? Where are the positive stories from women who didn't switch to formula when it got a bit tough? Where is the information about the risks of feeding formula? Yes I said it risks! And no I'm not making it up - ff increases the risk of SIDS by up to five times and the list goes on! Breastfeeding is the biological norm and this country needs to invest in support services and stop pushing formula, for every little issue! None of the problems these ladies switched for needed to end breastfeeding!

  • Ocean - 11/09/2015 09:28

    Awful article! Where is the information about where to get support in the early days if you struggle? Where are the positive stories from women who didn't switch to formula when it got a bit tough? Where is the information about the risks of feeding formula? Yes I said it risks! And no I'm not making it up - ff increases the risk of SIDS by up to five times and the list goes on! Breastfeeding is the biological norm and this country needs to invest in support services and stop pushing formula, for every little issue! None of the problems these ladies switched for needed to end breastfeeding!

  • Bobbyfox - 11/09/2015 13:30

    This is such an irresponsible article I think it should be removed and reported. Nowhere do you mention the nhs and who guidelines for feeding which even in western countries can make the difference between life and death for a statistically significant number of babies. You also peddle myths like 'not enough milk' or 'baby was too hungry' which are fundamentally erroneous. The number of women physiologically unable to breastfeed is estimated to be around 1%. A well Latched baby is always able to get all the milk he needs. In the rest of cases it is due to lack of expert care - by a lactation consultant (who not once you recommend if someone is struggling) not a 'nurse'. If the latch is not correct it can be fixed with the right help. I am appalled that your lazy, misinformed article will likely confuse and deter a breastfeeding mother who may otherwise have continued until the NHS or WHO recommend they stop. Shame on you.

  • Annaj - 11/09/2015 19:39

    Why are all the 'real mum comments' from people who stopped breast feeding at that age? This article seems very negative and all about what hard work it is.

  • ChichiD - 11/09/2015 21:36

    A very disappointing article. I found this to be very unsupportive of breastfeeding, focusing on all the negatives, giving no positive outcomes for challenges. Instead the answer to any hurdle however small was formula feeding. Considering we as a nation are trying (or should be atleast) to boost breastfeeding rates for both the health of mother and baby, this article did neither. It has done nothing to help a mother feel empowered, help her believe in her body, or her ability, has given no support or advice or guidance, which for a very influencial website is very disappointing. We should be building women up, providing support, and helping them overcome any challenges that come there way, like we do in any other area of parenting.

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