As an IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant), I am always asked this question: ” How long should I breastfeed for?” And typically I say,” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for 6 months to 1 year as long as it is mutually desired by both mother and child.” For some people the recommendation seems too long, and for others it’s not long enough.
Just recently the AAP updated their recommendations with an interesting twist. They echoed previous statements by saying “The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant”. However, they now assert that “infant nutrition should be a public health issue, not only a lifestyle choice”. This is a ground breaking statement. The AAP represents 60,000 pediatricians who have always advocated for breastfeeding but are now placing its importance in the realm of public health. The new statement reminds us that breastfeeding benefits the community as well as the mother and baby, and it encourages us to further our efforts to support breastfeeding.
The other important recommendation in the new statement is that breastfed infants should be weighed using the World Health Organization’s growth charts specific for breastfed babies. In the first few months, the weights of breastfed and formula fed babies are similar. Across many cultures, formula fed infants begin to weigh more than breastfed infants at around 3 to 4 months old. The weight difference becomes more marked in 6 to 20 month olds when formula fed babies and babies fed both breast milk and formula weigh more than exclusively breastfed infants.
These recommendations are based on many studies proving that breastfeeding has a strong positive impact on infant health. Some of the healthy outcomes cited are reduced ear infections, gastrointestinal problems, obesity and lower respiratory tract infections. IBCLCs(Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants) are on the fore front of implementing these recommendations by assisting mothers and babies who may have difficulty with breastfeeding. Indeed, the role of the IBCLC has long been considered the “gold standard” in breastfeeding care around the world.