In the UK there is no official guidance on when women should stop breastfeeding their child. Breast milk is recommended exclusively for the first 6 months of a child's life. There are some however who believe that breastfeeding should continue until a child starts school.
In the UK more than 73% of mothers breastfeed their baby. There are a number of reasons why this is encouraged, One of the main reasons is that it is good for your baby's health. Colostrum is the first milk your breast produces after you give birth.It is incredibly high in antibodies. It is higher in protein, minerals, salt, Vitamin A, nitrogen, white blood cells and antibodies than normal milk. Two to four days after you baby is born mature milk comes in and contains water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and white blood cells. Many of the elements, including the white blood cells simply can't be manufactured. So breast milk, with its unique content, helps to protect babies against infections, diarrhoea and vomiting, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
In addition to providing health benefits to babies there are also health benefits for mothers. Breastfeeding can lower your chances of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity. It can also help bond baby and mother and certainly it can help save money as it is free compared to formula milk. But the debate continues as to when you stop breastfeeding.
There isn't official guidance on when you should stop. So what do the different experts say?
The NHS advises that you should try to continue breastfeeding into the second year of your baby's life, alongside other foods. They also see no problem if a woman wants to continue beyond this.The World Health Organisation agrees with this and says that breastfeeding up to two years or beyond is fine.
The argument as articulated by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is that there is limited evidence that there is any nutritional benefit beyond the age of two. This is because a child, by the age of two, should be getting all they need from their diet.
A new development however to the debate is that the Royal College of Midwives have made a statement that women should be more supported if it is their choice not to breastfeed. Women often report being judged unfairly if they choose not to breastfeed at all. Researchers at Liverpool University studied the experience of 1600 new mothers and of those who bottle fed 67% reported feeling guilty, 68% felt stigmatized and 76% felt they had to constantly defend their actions.
This has led midwives to call for more support for women who bottle feed but they also express concern that so many women stop breastfeeding after only a few weeks. They are therefore also calling for more support to be given to women who want to continue breastfeeding but need some help. They conclude that it is ultimately the womans choice as to whether they breastfeed and for how long.