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The Average Duration of Breastfeeding

by C. Giles, studioD

Whether to breastfeed your baby is your individual choice. However, health organizations across the world agree that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for a newborn baby. If a mother has plenty of support and the infant has no health issues ruling out breastfeeding, there is no reason why breastfeeding can't be mutually beneficial. Naturally, every mother (and her baby) is different, so the breastfeeding experience is an incredibly personal one that can last for varying lengths of time.

Official Recommendations

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of an infant's life, followed by breastfeeding supplemented by other appropriate foods until the age of 2 or older. The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that anything other than breastmilk, such as water, juice or solid food, is unnecessary until a baby is approximately 6 months old.

Average Duration of Breastfeeding

According to the WHO, the average duration of breastfeeding worldwide is 4.2 years. However, this takes into account many cultures where it is normal for breastfeeding to continue until a child is age 5 or older. The average duration of breastfeeding in the U.S. is far shorter: 3 months, according to The National Association for Child Development. According to a 2013 study led by Laurie Nommsen-Rivers, assistant professor of pediatrics, more than 75 percent of American mothers breastfeed their babies from birth, but only 13 percent of those mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding when their infants reach 6 months, the length of time recommended by the WHO and the AAP.

Reasons for Stopping

Common reasons for stopping breastfeeding are the mother's uncertainty about her breastfeeding ability, the mother's concern that her baby is not latching onto the breast properly, and high levels of pain or discomfort during breastfeeding, says Nommsen-Rivers. Some mothers may feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public and move to bottle feeding to avoid feeling isolated. If a mother has older children, she may find breastfeeding too demanding alongside her other parenting responsibilities.

Support For Breastfeeding Mothers

Without adequate support and accurate information, mothers are more likely to stop breastfeeding before their babies are 6 months old. Time magazine suggests that hospitals may not have the resources required to provide sufficient support and advice to these mothers. Nommsen-Rivers recommends addressing an expectant mother's concerns about breastfeeding during the final few days of pregnancy.

About the Author

C. Giles is a writer with an MA (Hons) in English literature and a post-graduate diploma in law. Her work has been published in several publications, both online and offline, including "The Herald," "The Big Issue" and "Daily Record."

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images