It's a common saying that when it comes to feeding your baby, breast is best. Moms are busy on instagram popularizing this hashtag and calling mama's milk liquid gold.
With that in mind, why are so many of us are choosing to move to the bottle sooner than later?
Now we certainly promote that mom should do what feels best for her and her baby. Fed is best, ultimately and no matter what. Many moms have trouble breastfeeding, or baby decides he/she doesn't want to. There's these things called teeth too!
There are a multitude of understandable reasons why breastfeeding may stop in the early months. Whether you use bottle or breast, it is all good, but for the sake of diving into the subject at hand a little deeper, let's look into it.
Stopping breastfeeding too soon can deprive your baby of the vitamins and minerals needed for growth. It can also alter the relationship you both share.
Studies show that 44% of new mothers breastfeed in the first 6 months. But only 15% rely on it as the primary means for their baby's nutrition up until the 6-month mark.
Why is breast best and if it truly is, why are so many of us choosing to stop at 3-6 months?
Let's explore some common problems, the causes of premature weaning, and how to tell when your baby is ready to move to solid foods.
The Role of Breast Feeding in the Development of Your Baby
Breastfeeding is essential to the development, growth and health of your baby. Breast milk is jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, especially in those first weeks.
The levels of colostrum in your breast milk are at their highest in the first few days following your baby's birth. Colostrum is a rich substance that contains important immune-boosting immunoglobulin which stops your child from developing illnesses.
It takes a few days for milk to come through after birth, but the colostrum levels are so concentrated that a little goes a long way.
The American Academy of Paediactrics states that breast feeding can help protect against respiratory illnesses, ear infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and allergies like asthma, eczema and atopic dermatitis.
It also reduces the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by over a third and reduces the risk of adolescent and adult obesity by 15-30%.
Breast feeding is so good for children, experts say it will still give them benefits right up to 6 years of age. It also may have benefits for you; breast feeding isn't just great for baby--it can also be used as a means of birth control for up to 6 months. This is because continuous breast feeding stops your body from making the hormone needed to kickstart monthly ovulation. If done correctly, it can be 99% effective.
Breastfeeding is a great way for new mothers to lose baby weight, too. You can burn 500 more calories a day just by breastfeeding, which comes in handy if you're trying to get back to your pre-baby weight in a healthy way. That is with clean, nutrient dense eating habits.
When the benefits are this good, why choose to stop sooner than necessary?
Why Are We Stopping Breastfeeding So Soon?
Unfortunately, figures from the NHS show that 90% of women who are stopping breast feeding early don't actually want to give it up. So why are they?
Breastfeeding problems, like mastitis, cracked nipples, clogged milk ducts, or trouble getting the baby to latch can kickstart the weaning process early.
Experts state that many of these issues can be overcome. And it's worth trying to find solutions if it means keeping your baby on the breast for a little longer. Even if you baby has those lil' teeth, there are ways to learn to keep your baby from biting you.
Pressure from society is another factor in stopping breastfeeding. Many women report being made to feel unwelcome or even embarrassed for feeding their baby in public. This could be due to the media's over-sexualization of the breast. It's sad that moms need to feel that way. Sometimes new moms can fill their wardrobe with nursing friendly clothing to overcome the insecurities and taboo stigma that society has created.
A return to work after maternity leave also forces new mothers to start the weaning process early. Work can cause schedule problems for mom and have her feeling conflicted as a mom and as an employee. However, there are ways to continue to exclusively feed your baby breastmilk even though you are working.
It's important to remember that there are ways to do both at once, such as expressing at work or making arrangements with HR. Explore your options before you resort to weaning early because giving your baby breastmilk, even as a working mama, can be done.
When Is The Perfect Time to Wean?
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding till 6 months of age, but only you and your baby will know when the time is right.
It's agreed that the best method is to breast feed until 6 months. After that, you can gradually introduce solid foods into your baby's diet while continuing to use breast milk for nutrition. (You could also still exclusively breastfeed)
At this point, solid foods are purely for taste, texture and learning the technique of chewing and swallowing. Your baby is unlikely to digest solid foods until they reach the age of 9 to 12 months. Breastmilk is still essential for nutrition, but there are signs baby might want to try other things.
You'll know that your baby is ready to make the transition because they'll start showing an interest in what other people are eating. You'll also find that they stop rejecting solid foods given to them.
Another good indicator is the rate of your baby's development. Once their neck muscles are strong enough to support the head, you might consider stopping breastfeeding and moving on to bottle feeding.
How To Start Weaning
The best way to tackle weaning is to cut out whichever daily feeding session your baby seems least interested in. Maybe during playtime in the afternoon and during playdates where they are distracted and will find plenty of interest in a breastmilk momsicle than the boob. You can progress by slowly cutting back and transitioning to solid foods. Introduce the bottle throughout the day, little by little each day.
This slow elimination makes the process easier on you and the baby emotionally. It also helps prevent clogged ducts or mastitis. Plus, your baby's natural immune system will increase slowly as you reduce the breast milk doses.
You can use this integration period to help introduce your baby to the exciting world of solid food. Try pureeing a little of what you're having for your own meals. You can even try soft-textured foods like avocado, banana and yogurt.
It's important to remember that although there are recommended guidelines for how long you should breastfeed, only you will know when the time is right and what works for you.
If you're feeling pressured into stopping breastfeeding before you're ready, especially if there are friends or family making you feel uncomfortable, try some of these techniques and find one that works for you. They'll give you options and help make the transition far smoother.
By overcoming some of these common obstacles and knowing that you aren't alone, you can continue to give your baby the essential nutrition they need for much longer.
For more information on how long you should breastfeed, check out our article on the average age to transition your child away from breastfeeding.
Whatever you do mama, keep up the good work. You're inspiring those around you even though you may not know it!