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Overwhelming evidence suggests infants should be breastfed for at least 6 months, but how long should it continue? The American Academy of Pediatrics implies up to one year [1], but the World Health Organization seems to imply two [2]. What factors should affect our choice? Is one time frame better than others?

1: "New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding," AAP 2012
2: WHA55 A55/15

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The question implies that breastfeeding is an unpleasant and inconvenient thing that should be put up with as long as possible to give a baby "enough" benefit, at which time the box can be ticked and everyone can stop. However most families that nurse past 6 months find it a convenient and pleasant thing, so there's no particular pressure to stop.

The Canadian government, in conjunction with the medical association, recommends exclusively breastmilk for 6 months, and a mix of "real food" and breastmilk after that up to age 2 or longer. The "or longer" part is typically determined by how nursing is working for that particular family.

Here is a whole paragraph of studies and sources from that page:

Breastfeeding beyond six months has been associated with a number of positive infant and maternal health outcomes. Breastfeeding longer, in addition to a wide range of other determinants, may have a protective effect against overweight and obesity in childhood (Arenz, Rückerl, Koletzko, & von Kries, 2004; Scott, Ng, & Cobiac, 2012; von Kries et al., 1999). Limited evidence suggests breastfeeding continues to provide immune factors during the first and second years (Goldman, Goldblum, & Garza, 1983; Goldman, Garza, Nichols, & Goldblum, 1982). An observational study suggests breastfeeding to 12 months may protect against infectious illnesses, particularly gastrointestinal and respiratory infections (Fisk et al., 2011). Findings have consistently shown a decreased risk of maternal breast cancer with longer durations of breastfeeding (Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, 2002; Chang-Claude, Eby, Kiechle, Bastert, & Becher, 2000; Brinton et al., 1995). Limited evidence also suggests a protective effect for the breastfeeding mother against ovarian cancer (Luan et al., 2013; Su, Pasalich, Lee, & Binns, 2013; World Cancer Research Fund & American Institute for Cancer Research, 2013). Mothers who breastfeed their older infants and young children also report experiencing an increased sensitivity and bonding with their child (Britton, Britton, & Gronwaldt, 2006; Fergusson & Woodward, 1999; Kendall-Tackett & Sugarman, 1995).

I recommend not trying to decide before birth how long the baby will nurse. After age 1 it's not only up to the mother, and it's possible a toddler will wean even though the family had planned to keep providing breastmilk for some time more. Committing to "at least 6 months" is probably the best strategy to start with.

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    Be sure to see the related Meta post under my question. – Atl LED Nov 12 '16 at 14:05
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    I think this might have to be trimmed for fitting the guidelines but I'm not sure. – Atl LED Jul 6 '18 at 14:04
  • @Kate Let's try to get this into the tour page. AFAIK it will get selected for that if you just remove the quote. Leave it that way for a day to let the robot pick it up, then roll it back? – LаngLаngС Jul 6 '18 at 14:13
  • @LangLangC I don't understand? – Kate Gregory Jul 6 '18 at 14:20
  • The tour page talks about unicorns, unrelated to this site. To improve this, we need a short Q with two short As. E.g.: As are prohibited to contain block quotes (when selected by the bot, although later they are allowed to [so you might rollback that shortening]). – Cf here and several other discussions in chat. Or ping us in the waiting room for more info. – LаngLаngС Jul 6 '18 at 14:55
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The evidence for a specific timeframe beyond six months is inconclusive. Therefore: When to wean is a personal choice that has to look at the health of both: mother and child. "Individual infants must still be managed individually."

Reference: Optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: what is the evidence to support current recommendations? DOI:10.1093/ajcn/85.2.635S

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