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Sustaining Breastfeeding

By Helen Hurst, DNP, RNC, APRN-CNM

Sustaining Breastfeeding

Have you noticed your baby starting to follow you with her eyes every time you take a bite of food? If you’ve been wondering when to begin to feed baby’s curiosity while continuing breastfeeding, know that the AAP recommends that babies continue “exclusively breastfeeding for about 6 months.”

During this time, gradually add other foods while keeping breastfeeding and breastmilk the priority through baby’s first birthday. After that, the AAP states, “breastfeeding can be continued for as long as both mother and baby desire it.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends nursing for 2 years. There’s no point at which breastmilk becomes non-nutritional for growing toddlers, and in other parts of the world, toddlers consume breastmilk far longer than here, says the AAP.

Going the distance

During baby’s first year, breastmilk should always be offered first, then other foods can be started at around 6 months. As baby only needs a few spoonfuls of these other foods, offer them only after nursing, allowing him to get the full value of breast milk as his main meal.

As baby gets older, it’s natural for him to not nurse for as much or as often. Don’t worry, nursing is still giving your baby valuable nutrition and bonding time. In fact, you may find that your baby who used to nurse every 2-3 hours may taper down to 3-4 times a day. Eventually, you may only nurse during morning and bedtime routines.

Breastfeeding in a squeamish culture

Even though nursing is the most natural experience for moms and babies, Americans can be squeamish about a toddler breastfeeding and you may not feel up to taking on every naysayer’s disapproving glance. This is where the many attractive options for nursing clothes come in handy.

As a toddler, your little one no longer lays still but is easily distracted. Specially designed nursing clothes allow for minimal exposure of the breast and quick cover up; others may not even realize that you’re nursing. Just remember that nursing your baby is no one else’s business; you’re feeding your baby!

Weaning 101

Take your cues from baby when weaning. Allow him to breastfeed for as long as he wants. There will come a point when he naturally spends less time at the breast.

You may feel a little sadness as this aspect of your nurturing relationship ends. Feel good that you’ve given your baby the healthiest start in life by providing human milk, and have fostered a loving relationship through the bond of nursing.

If weaning is something you want, gradually replace one nursing each day with a bottle or sippy cup of breastmilk; gradually increasing the number of bottles or cups each day. This helps baby move away from the breast and allows you to gradually decrease your milk supply without engorgement.

Whether you decide to initiate weaning, or your baby makes the choice for you, remember that by nursing you have given your baby food that is made just for him!


Help! Your Questions Answered

Q: My baby wants to nurse around the clock right now; what’s up?
A: Baby’s hunger can tell you different things, such as whether he’s not feeling well and he’s needing comfort. Babies also nurse more around growth spurts, which naturally occur around weeks 3 and 6 post-birth, and typically every 3 months during the first year. He may be “teething” at the breast or if your schedule has recently changed, he may be wanting more bonding and attachment time. Regardless, experts recommend that you feed your baby when he’s hungry—don’t try to enforce a schedule—as this teaches baby he can trust you to care for him and meet his needs.

Q: I want to nurse my child for the first 2 years of her life but my family says they’re uncomfortable around a nursing toddler. What can I do?
A: Congratulations for wanting to give your baby breastmilk for so long—it’s good for you both to continue nursing well past the first year. You can nurse your toddler while helping your family be comfortable with your choice by wearing a nursing cover, taking her to another room to feed her or simply asking for some private time so you can be comfortable feeding your child.

Q: My baby seems like she’s ready to wean but I want to continue to give her breastmilk; can I freeze it and store it for later use?
A: As baby weans, pumping your breastmilk after each nursing will help you maintain your milk supply. Experts at the AAP say you can safely freeze and store breastmilk for later use for up to 2 weeks in a freezer within a refrigerator, or up to 3 months in a stand-alone freezer with its own door. Store your milk in the coldest part of the freezer, away from drafts upon opening, and ideally at 0º F.


Helen M. Hurst, DNP, RNC, APRN-CNM, is an assistant professor and the LGMC/BORSF Endowed Professor in Nursing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is an expert advisor to Health4Mom.org and Healthy Mom&Baby magazine.

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