How long should an infant be breastfed? The recommendation is that an infant be given breast milk primarily for the first six months of life, and then ideally up to a year. For many women, they may choose to nurse beyond that age and that’s fine. If it’s working well and both the parent and child are benefiting, then extended nursing is certainly reasonable and does continue to have benefits. The primary benefit to nursing is during the early period of infancy and that’s why for minimum six months is the recommended time. However, ideally, up to the first year of life would be the recommended time when possible. If at times, a woman is not able to either produce enough milk, or has a medical condition that prevents them from nursing, or if the child is unable to nurse well, then a shorter time, you know, would be considered in those circumstances.
The benefits of breastfeeding are many and the most obvious one is nutritional. You know, breast milk is by design the perfect food for babies. It’s also very healthy for moms to nurse as well, for their own health. So the benefits are really for both the infant and the mother. For the infant, the nutrition is perfectly balanced, as far as the fat to protein ratio and types of proteins that are present are easily absorbed and digested by the baby. There are also many other substances in breast milk that are really good at promoting neurological development as well as immune function and gut health.
Another advantage of breast milk is that the composition of breast milk changes over the infant’s life. The breast milk that a woman produces during the first few weeks of life is very different, nutritionally, from the breast milk that they produce later on, primarily in the ratio of fat to protein and other nutrients. For that reason, it continues to be a perfect food for babies, you know, well into and beyond the first year of life.
Current recommendations are to nurse for at least the first six months of life, ideally one year when possible. And beyond that if both mother and the infant wish to continue. If at some point, either the mom or the infant decides to wean, then it would be appropriate to switch over to either formula if the infant is under 12 months old, or to cow’s milk if the infant is over 12 months old.