How Long Should I Nurse My Baby?
Prepared by Katherine A. Dettwyler,
Department of Anthropology,
Texas A&M University
Prepared by Kathy Dettwyler, 3-22-2004.
What do pediatric nutrition experts at the national (United States) and international levels recommend concerning how long children
should be breastfed?
I. World Health
Organization: “two years of
age or beyond”
appropriate feeding for infants and young children
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy
growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the
reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers.
As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively
breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth,
development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional
requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe
complementary foods while
breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.
Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical
conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk
II. American Academy of Pediatrics:
“It is recommended
that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter
for as long as mutually desired.”
PEDIATRICS Vol. 100 No. 6 December 1997, pp. 1035-1039
Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, by the Work Group on Breastfeeding
breastfeeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and
development for approximately the first 6 months after birth.
Infants weaned before 12 months of age should not receive cow's
milk feedings but should receive iron-fortified infant formula.
Gradual introduction of iron-enriched solid foods in the second
half of the first year should complement the breast milk diet. It is recommended that breastfeeding continue
for at least 12months, and thereafter for as long as mutually
III. American Academy of Family Physicians:
the first year offers considerable benefits to both mother and child, and
should continue as long as mutually desired. If the child is younger than two
years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned.”
Statement on Breastfeeding
is the physiological norm for both mothers and their children. The AAFP recommends that all babies,
with rare exceptions, be breastfed and/or receive expressed human milk
exclusively for about 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. Family physicians
should have the knowledge to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding.
AAFP, Specific section on
nursing the older child:
should ideally continue beyond infancy, but this is currently not the
cultural norm and requires ongoing support and encouragement.85 Breastfeeding
during a subsequent pregnancy is not unusual. If the pregnancy is normal and
the mother is healthy, breastfeeding during pregnancy is the woman's personal
decision. If the child is younger
than two years of age, the child is at increased risk of illness if weaned. Breastfeeding
the nursing child after delivery of the next child (tandem nursing) may help
to provide a smooth transition psychologically for the older child.61
61. Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding:
A Guide for the Medical Professional. 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999.
85. Powers NG, Slusser W.
Breastfeeding update 2: clinical lactation management. Pediatr Rev 1997;18(5):147-161.
IV. Kathy Dettwyler’s Research: My research suggests
that the normal and natural duration of breastfeeding for modern humans falls
between 2.5 years at a minimum and about 7 years at a maximum.
Last updated 2004 , by kad.
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