Breastfeeding is a journey for mothers, and one that the majority of mothers find extremely rewarding. Breastfeeding is the optimal food for our babies through the first 6 months of life, and continues to play an important nutritional role for our children as they grow to two years and beyond. We celebrate all mothers who have breastfed, are breastfeeding or are planning to breastfeed, no matter the duration - you have provided human milk to your child which positively impacts your relationship together and their health long term.
Breastfeeding as a "journey" is one of the most helpful ways I found to think about breastfeeding my boys. I feel like I felt the full gamut of feelings as we embarked on that journey and am grateful for all my babies and I gained throughout that process.
In this final installment of our breastfeeding series, we get help from Breastfeeding Hawaii to discuss the final stages of the breastfeeding journey, including weaning and the feelings we may experience once breastfeeding comes to an end.I hope this blog series has been helpful to you and I would love to hear what you think in the comments!
How long is it recommended to breastfeed my baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, with complementary foods being added while continuing to breastfeed to 12 months or longer. The World Health Organization recommends babies be breastfed exclusively for 6 months, with complementary foods being added while continuing to breastfeed for two years and beyond.
Breastmilk continues to meet the nutritional needs of infants and we consider it normal to have breastmilk be 75% of a baby’s diet at 12 months, 50% at 18 months and 20% at 24 months of age. Most children who self wean do so after 1 year of age and closer to 2 years. At 2 years of age your child should get 1,000 calories a day from a variety of nutritional sources to meet their protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral needs.
What type of nutrition does my baby get when I breastfeed 1+ years?
Toddlers who breastfeed after one year continue to get nutrition to supplement their diet, which is especially beneficial if a child has difficulty with certain foods. Breast milk should make up between 20-50% of a toddler’s diet through age 2, depending on number of months old, which contributes to their calorie, protein, calcium, vitamin A, B12 and C and folate requirements. Additionally, there are continued protections through immune properties from acute (colds, flu) and chronic illnesses (high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes); omega-3 fatty acids and DHA that are unique to breast milk and good for the toddler’s brain; and both moms and toddlers get to have quiet and/or bonding time together.
How much milk is my baby eating after 1 year? How frequent might they nurse in a day?
Toddlers need two servings of calcium rich foods each day. Calcium can come from your milk, cow’s milk, calcium-enriched milk alternative such as soy, almond, rice, or hemp milk, yogurt, or cheese.
This quote from Kelly Mom sums up toddler nursing very well!
Breastfeeding frequency for toddlers is usually pretty erratic and varies greatly from child to child. It’s normal for toddlers to be interested in everything around them and, as a result, not as interested in breastfeeding. At other times, baby will be so focused on the big changes within herself (developmentally), that she will want to spend lots of time at the breast to reconnect with mom and adjust to all the new skills in her life. Some children breastfeed often (“like a newborn” is a frequent comment that you hear from the moms of 12-15 month olds), some breastfeed only once or twice a day, and some breastfeed a few times a day on some days and frequently on others. No matter what the breastfeeding pattern, average breastfeeding frequency decreases gradually as baby gets older. Once or twice a day breastfeeding sessions can continue for months and even years, depending upon the child and mom.
What are some tips for weaning?
Weaning happens, ideally, when both mom and baby are ready to wean. We don’t recommend weaning when a baby is sick as they can become dehydrated if they are not getting the fluids they need. During this time it’s important to still be affectionate with your child and give hugs, kisses, focused attention and cuddles as this is what your baby was used to getting while nursing.
Some working moms naturally do a partial wean when they go back to work and have difficulty maintaining their milk supply, face barriers to pumping, or choose not to pump while working.
We recommend weaning gradually (if mom and baby are healthy) and slowly dropping a feeding every few days or weeks - depending on what feels comfortable to the both of you. You can either drop your baby’s least favorite feeding first or do an activity or provide your child with a toy when they would normally nurse in order to extend the time between feedings so that there is one less feed in the day. During weaning you can offer your child a snack or water if they are hungry or thirsty instead of nursing them. Some people choose to create new routines so that children don’t expect to be nursed at certain times, others use the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method where they don’t offer to nurse their baby’s and they don’t refuse to nurse when the baby asks for it. Having other family members help hold, play or do nap/sleep time routine with your child can also help during the weaning process. Most parents find that night nursing is the last to end as many children continue to nurse during the night.
If your child is older, you can talk with your child about when they can nurse and when they cannot. Some parents use weaning books for toddlers such as “Nursies When the Sun Shines”, “Mama’s Milk is All Gone”, “Bye-Bye Nah-Nahs”, “Milkies in the Morning”, and others.
And definitely reach out to support groups and your friends to see what tricks they tried that helped them:) Support is everything during this time.
Is it normal to feel sad or depressed after weaning from breastfeeding?
Some mothers experience sadness, mood swings and/or depression when they stop breastfeeding. This is believed to be related to the drop in oxytocin (love hormone) and prolactin (milk making hormone) in her body, as well as a potential decrease in cuddling with her child. It can feel like the end of a part of a mother and child relationship, and it’s important to acknowledge this. Here a mother who is a breastfeeding counselor gives a few tips to help reduce the sadness.
This is different from dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER), which is negative emotions that abruptly come on just before a mom’s milk lets down and continues for a few minutes into the nursing. This is a physiologic response that generally resolves within 1-3 months while breastfeeding and is not associated with weaning. If you believe you have D-MER we recommend talking with a lactation consultant and health care provider.
If you, your partner or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression, please reach out to Postpartum Support International or contact your healthcare provider (they can also reach out to PSI for resources).
Breastfeeding is a journey for mothers, and one that the majority of mothers find extremely rewarding, though challenging at times. Breastfeeding is the optimal food for our babies through the first 6 months of life and continues to play an important nutritional role for our children as they grow to two years and beyond. We celebrate all mothers who have breastfed, are breastfeeding or are planning to breastfeed, no matter the duration - you have provided human milk to your child which positively impacts your relationship together and their health long term.
We hope that you were able to access the support that you needed, and we know that we all can do better to increase these supports within our community. Please check out our state-wide lactation directory and contact us with any questions, concerns or comments. Happy National Breastfeeding Month!
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Huge mahalo to Breastfeeding Hawaii for providing such amazing information on breastfeeding!
If you'd like to read more about the breastfeeding journey, please check out the other installments of this series:
The First Two Weeks
Months One - Three
Six Months - One Year