To Breastfeed for 6 Months or Not To Breastfeed for 6 Months…

…that is the question…

This week a small group of pediatric health experts from the UK published a report in the British Medical Journal questioning the 2001 World Health Organization’s recommendation to provide 6 months of exclusive breast feeding. The WHO and UNICEF recommend:

  • Initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life
  • Exclusive breastfeeding – that is the infant only receives breastmilk without any additional food or drink, not even water
  • Breastfeeding on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night
  • No use of bottles, teats or pacifiers

This is based on significant evidence that breast milk reduces the rate of pneumonia, ear infections, gastroenteritis and other infections.

Given however the much lower incidence rate of these illnesses in “developed countries” some medical professionals have voiced their concern about applying the 6 month restriction universally. They argue that while “exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is readily defendable in resource-poor countries with high morbidity and mortality from infections, in developed countries, other concerns can take precedence”.

This aligns with the new report which suggests that babies who are breastfed exclusively for six months are at a higher risk for iron deficiency and food allergies including celiac disease, and may also lead to a delay in developing a taste for food products which could have a long term impact on diet. Among the questions asked – “will babies who aren’t introduced to bitter-tasting foods in the first 6 months continue to have an aversion to them for the rest of their lives??” If this does in fact occur, will it make it even more difficult to win the battle against obesity?

All of that being said, the current debate is not one which attempts to answer the question of whether or not a mother should breastfeed. That is a separate conversation with its own proponents for and against. But even for those moms who make the decision to breastfeed, many still struggle to continue for the recommended 6 months – especially if they return to work. (According to the CDC , although 75% of new moms in the U.S. start breastfeeding, only 13% are still breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months).

So what is the right answer? Can solid foods be introduced as early as 4 months? The WHO and UNICEF are continuing to support a 6 month guideline while a number of experts are now recommending the alternative. One area they both seem to agree is that each child is different, and watching for baby’s cues will be the best guideline of all.

So what about you?? How did you know when your little one was ready for solids?



About the Author

Stefanie Zucker is President and co-founder of Pediatric Medical and Managing Director and co-founder of Axios Partners, a strategy consulting firm. After a number of years spent researching the safety issues associated with transporting children on ambulances she became a child health safety advocate and formed Pediatric Safety with a goal of creating a world-wide movement of parents and caregivers inspired to protect the health and safety of kids. Stefanie is a member of the PedSafe Team


10 Responses to “To Breastfeed for 6 Months or Not To Breastfeed for 6 Months…”

  1. With my first son my breasts were far too large for him to latch on. I was a 36DDDDDD and I couldn’t even reach him all the way out to get to the football pose so I pumped for a year. Twice a day, I got 16oz out each time. No joke. Then i had to have a reduction and of course my second latched but we couldn’t get a drop out of me. It appears my glands went along with the other five pounds they took from each one.

  2. CK says:

    First of all, I just want to say that I appreciate that you explained both sides of this argument and shared rather unbiased info here. I generally think it is a good idea to promote breast feeding for babies under 6 months. But, I, as a Mom, have had first hand experience in realizing that each baby is different and they all demonstrate their own signs for when they are ready for solids or ready to taper off on breast milk. All three of my kids are so different so I think it is ultimately important for each Mom educate herself and then learn to pay attention to her own babies cues.

    Great article.

    • Stefanie Zucker sazucker says:

      Hi CK, thanks so much for saying that…and I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately there isn’t a one-size fit all manual for child-raising, but at the same time what makes each child different is that same thing that makes each of them special…and wonderful! In the end, as you said, it is “important for each mom to educate herself and learn to pay attention to her own babies cues”. If what we do helps support that, then we’ve accomplished what we were hoping for… Thanks again!

  3. Yebo says:

    I would suggest that the health of the mother is paramount in whether the baby should continue to breast feed exclusively for 6 months….. or more. I agree with CK that the baby will often cue the mother with it’s needs and she offers a great suggestion for paying attention to the baby’s signs, and what the baby may be trying to communicate is “what you are feeding me is what I want and need” or not. Basically, if a mother is in good health, she is passing on her nutrients to her child, if the mother is nutrient deficient, then I am suggesting that the baby knows this at a certain level and perhaps that also could be what the baby cue’s are about. Are baby’s in tune with what their rapidly growing bodies want and need physically and spiritually? I believe so.

  4. Well I had a CT scan and mammogram and while I’m still waiting on results from the biopsy it appears as though I had nerve damage with my reduction that could have been the reason I didn’t produce milk the second time around. I felt guilty nursing Jake then having the operation and being unable to nurse Josh but he was a happy healthy baby so I guess I got to see it from both sides. Nursing sure was cheaper though!

    • Stefanie Zucker sazucker says:

      Amazing isn’t it…our capacity for guilt. We sooo want to do everything right…but how can we do that when there really is no right or wrong. I have yet to meet a mom who doesn’t feel guilty about some decision or choice she’s made for her child. Sometimes I think we just need to give ourselves a break.
      btw – that goes doubly for you Miss CT, mammogram and waiting on results from a biopsy. Sounds like it’s time to do something for yourself. And in the meantime, we’ll be thinking of you and hoping for great results!

  5. Victoria says:

    We started solids at six months, I’m not sure how we knew they were ready, we just did and they loved it!

  6. I nurse for the first year. It worked out so well for us.

    I am stopping by from the SITS Cocktail Party!


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