Breastfeeding your baby for even a day is the best baby gift you can give. Breastfeeding is almost always the best choice for your baby. If it doesn't seem like the best choice for you, these guidelines may help.
If you nurse your baby for just a few days, he will have received your colostrum, or early milk. Packed with optimal nutrition and antibodies, it helps get your baby's digestive system going and gives him his first - and easiest - "immunization". Breastfeeding gives your baby by far the best start, and helps your own body recover from the birth too. Why not use your days in the hospital to prepare your baby for life through the gift of nursing?
If you nurse your baby for four to six weeks, you will have eased him through the most critical part of his infancy. Breastfed newborns are much less likely to get sick or be hospitalized, and have many fewer digestive problems than artificially fed babies. After 4 to 6 weeks, you'll probably have worked through any early nursing concerns too. Make a serious goal of nursing for a month, call La Leche League or a Lactation Consultant if you have any questions, and you'll be in a better position to decide whether continued breastfeeding is for you!
If you nurse your baby for three or four months, her digestive system will have matured a great deal, and she will be much better able to tolerate the foreign substances in commercial formulas. If there is a family history of allergies, though, you will greatly reduce her risk of allergies by waiting a few more months before adding anything at all to her diet of breastmilk.
If you nurse your baby for six months, she will be much less likely to suffer an allergic reaction to formula or other foods. At this point, her body is probably ready to tackle some other foods, whether or not you wean. Nursing for at least 6 months helps ensure better health throughout your baby's first year of life. Nursing for more than 6 months may greatly reduce the risk of childhood cancers as well.
If you nurse your baby for 9 months, you will have seen him through the fastest and most important development of his life on the most valuable of all foods-your milk. You may even notice that he is more alert and more active than babies who did not have the benefit of their mother's milk. Weaning may be fairly easy at this age..but then, so is nursing! If you want to avoid weaning this early, be sure you've been available to nurse for comfort as well as just for food.
If you nurse your baby for a year, you can avoid the expense of formula. Her one-year-old body can probably handle most of the table foods your family enjoys. Many of the health benefits this year of nursing has given your child will last her whole life. She will have a stronger immune system, for instance, and will be much less likely to need orthodontia or speech therapy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least a year, to help ensure normal nutrition and health for your baby.
If you nurse your baby for eighteen months, you will have continued to provide the highest quality nutrition and superb protection against illness at a time when illness is common in other babies. Your baby is probably well started on table foods, too. He has had time to form a solid bond with you - a healthy starting point for his growing independence and he is old enough that you and he can work together on the weaning process, at a pace that he can handle. Our former Surgeon General said, "it is the lucky baby...that nurses to age two."
If your child weans when she is ready, you can feel confident that you have met your baby's physical and emotional needs in a natural, healthy way. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, children tend to nurse for at least two years. The World Health Organization strongly encourages breastfeeding through toddlerhood. Your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances as long as you continue nursing, and families of nursing toddlers often find that their medical bills are lower than their neighbors' for years to come. Mothers who have nursed long-term have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. Children who were nursed long-term tend to be very secure, and are less likely to suck their thumbs or cling to blankets. Nursing can help ease both of you through the tears, tantrums, and tumbles that come with toddlerhood, and helps ensure that any illnesses are milder and easier to deal with. It's an all-purpose mothering tool you won't want to be without! Don't worry that your child will nurse forever. All children wean eventually, no matter what you do, and there are more nursing toddlers around than you might guess.
Whether you nurse for
a day or for several years, the decision to nurse
your child is one you need never regret. And whenever weaning takes
that it is a big step for both of you. If you choose to wean before
your child is ready, be sure to do it gradually, and with love.