To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to share these 3 facts
1. Breastfeeding is a skill that must be learned. It does not come pre-installed in either mother or baby.
Many women think of breastfeeding as “natural” and it is, but that doesn’t mean it ‘comes naturally’ to mother or baby.
Breastfeeding is a skill that is learned over many weeks and months. Breastfeeding is a three- way relationship: you, your baby + how you fit/work together. Babies and mothers learn to develop the skill of breastfeeding via experience, repetition and practice. Having adequate physical and emotional support to assist you on this learning journey is essential.
2. The “right” amount of breastmilk is what works for you and your family
Breastfeeding is HARD. About 60% of mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than they would like. Women don’t stop breastfeeding because they aren’t aware of the benefits, they stop because they face real and difficult to overcome challenges (e.g. supply issues, infection, lack of support).
If breastfeeding doesn’t work out like you expected, or even at all, it can be heartbreaking. Please know that you and your baby can, and will, still be healthy and happy. Additionally, it’s not all or none—adding formula doesn’t mean you've “failed” or that you have to stop giving breastmilk. Moreover, even if your baby only had colostrum in hospital you still “breastfed” your child.
3. Breastmilk is beneficial beyond 12 months of age
I know of paediatricians telling mothers that “after 3 months… 6 months… [insert number here] months” that breastmilk doesn’t offer any nutritional benefits. This is wrong. Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life (e.g. 43% of protein needs, 94% vitamin B12 + more).
If you want to wean your baby around 12 months of age (or before) for any reason – that’s great and I support you. If however, you want to continue to feed your little one after this, that’s ALSO great. It’s worth knowing that there are many wonderful nutritional (and other) benefits for continuing to breastfeed into toddlerhood.
References: Dewey 2001; Odom et al. 2013; Perrin 2016; Duazo 2010