“Why is the current breast feeding recommendation at least 2 years? I feel like this puts a lot of pressure on moms (in a world that has enough ongoing pressures!)” –Karen from Madison, WI
Individual breast/chest** feeding duration recommendations vary according to context and shared decision making involving parents, baby’s needs, their pediatric clinicians and professional guidelines. Currently, the general recommendations are to breast/chest feed for at least 6 months and *up to* 2 years for families that choose this duration and have the support/ability to do so.
Why? Scientists and clinicians all over the world agree that human milk is good for infants and younger toddlers. The activity of breast/chest feeding offers significant health benefits for the lactating individual as well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) all recommend exclusive breast/chest feeding for 6 months with families for whom this is possible. After six months, the AAP encourages the “continuation of breastfeeding until 2 years or beyond as mutually desired by mother and infant.” The “mutually desired” wording is important to note. Many real world factors may make breast/chest feeding longer than 6 months challenging or impossible. (Stay tuned for more on that topic in a later post.)
The reasons for the June, 2022 update on duration recommendations as reported by the AAP are:
“Preliminary data reveal that human milk in the second year of life continues to be a significant source of macronutrients and immunologic factors for growing toddlers. Studies and meta-analyses also have confirmed the impact of breastfeeding longer than 12 months on maternal health, in decreasing maternal type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, breast cancer and ovarian cancer rates.”
The study of human nutrition is intended to inform not only individual health decisions but also public health and labor policies at a local, state and federal level. For communities without adequate access to safe water or nutritious food, continued breast/chest feeding is lifesaving for babies and children. And for all communities, as quoted above, breast/chest feeding is protective against many chronic diseases for adults over the long-term.
For some families, however, initiation and duration are both challenging due to lack of physical, emotional, cultural, and workplace support and resources. There are ongoing efforts by medical/scientific, cultural and other health organizations working with policy makers to increase and protect access to support for families. For example, did you know that there is a national helpline for breastfeeding and other reproductive health support?! The Office on Women’s Health Helpline has a staff that includes breastfeeding peer counselors who can answer your breast/chest feeding questions in English or Spanish, support you through breast/chest feeding challenges, and connect you with other resources to help if needed.
The OWH Helpline (800-994-9662) is staffed Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. Please see more resources below.
To summarize: breast/chestfeeding is the preferred method of feeding infants for the first 6 months of life when possible and adequately supported. Beyond 6 months, continue to breast/chest feed along with other recommended foods when doing so is *mutually desired by you and your baby and supported by your particular circumstances*.
Those Nerdy Girls hope this information eases at least some of the pressures you are facing. You are doing an amazing job making it through the days.
Those Nerdy Girls love questions from the question box. Please continue to submit questions to the Question Box on our website.
**Chestfeeding is a term used by many masculine-identified trans people to describe the act of feeding their baby from their chest.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC): resources for parents of any gender, guardians, grandparents with children in the home under the age of five:
How to find an LC or peer support: