If You Nurse Your Baby...

By Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC
Photos © 2009 Danelle Frisbie

Breastfeeding your baby for even a day is the best baby gift you can give. Breastfeeding is almost always the best choice for your baby. If it doesn't seem like the best choice for you right now, these guidelines may help.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR JUST A FEW DAYS, he will have received your colostrum, or early milk. By providing antibodies and the food his brand-new body expects, nursing gives your baby his first - and easiest - "immunization" and helps get his digestive system going smoothly. Breastfeeding is how your baby expects to start, and helps your own body recover from the birth. Why not use your time in the hospital to prepare your baby for life through the gift of nursing?

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR FOUR TO SIX WEEKS, you will have eased him through the most critical part of his infancy. Newborns who are not breastfed are much more likely to get sick or be hospitalized, and have many more digestive problems than breastfed babies. After 4 to 6 weeks, you'll probably have worked through any early nursing concerns, too. Make a serious goal of nursing for a month, call La Leche League or a Lactation Consultant if you have any questions, and you'll be in a better position to decide whether continued breastfeeding is for you.
IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 4 MONTHS, her digestive system will have matured a great deal, and she will be much better able to tolerate the foreign substances in commercial formulas. If there is a family history of allergies, though, you will greatly reduce her risk by waiting a few more months before adding anything at all to her diet of breastmilk. And giving nothing but your milk for the first four months gives strong protection against ear infections for a whole year.
IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 6 MONTHS, she will be much less likely to suffer an allergic reaction to formula or other foods. At this point, her body is probably ready to tackle some other foods, whether or not you wean. Nursing for at least 6 months helps ensure better health throughout your baby's first year of life, and reduces your own risk of breast cancer. Nursing for 6 months or more may greatly reduce your little one's risk of ear infections and childhood cancers. And exclusive, frequent breastfeeding during the first 6 months, if your periods have not returned, provides 98% effective contraception.
IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 9 MONTHS, you will have seen him through the fastest and most important brain and body development of his life on the food that was designed for him - your milk. You may even notice that he is more alert and more active than babies who did not have the benefit of their mother's milk. Weaning may be fairly easy at this age... but then, so is nursing! If you want to avoid weaning this early, be sure you've been available to nurse for comfort as well as just for food.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR A YEAR, you can avoid the expense and bother of formula. Her one-year-old body can probably handle most of the table foods your family enjoys. Many of the health benefits this year of nursing has given your child will last her whole life. She will have a stronger immune system, for instance, and will be much less likely to need orthodontia or speech therapy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for at least a year, to help ensure normal nutrition and health for your baby.

IF YOU NURSE YOUR BABY FOR 24 MONTHS, you will have continued to provide your baby's normal nutrition and protection against illness at a time when illness is common in other babies. Your baby is probably well started on table foods, too. He has had time to form a solid bond with you - a healthy starting point for his growing independence. And he is old enough that you and he can work together on the weaning process, at a pace that he can handle comfortably. A former U.S. Surgeon General said, "It is the lucky baby...that nurses to age two." [AAFP statement on nursing until at least 24 months.]

IF YOUR CHILD WEANS WHEN SHE IS READY, you can feel confident that you have met your baby's physical and emotional needs in a very normal, healthy way. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, children tend to nurse for at least three years. The World Health Organization and UNICEF strongly encourage breastfeeding through toddlerhood: "Breastmilk is an important source of energy and protein, and helps to protect against disease during the child's second year of life."(1) Our biology seems geared to a weaning age of between 4 and 7 years(2), and it just makes sense to build our children's bones from the milk that was designed to build them.
Your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances as long as you continue nursing, and families of nursing toddlers often find that their medical bills are lower than their neighbors' for years to come. Mothers who have nursed longterm have a still lower risk of developing breast cancer. Children who were nursed longterm tend to be very secure, and are less likely to suck their thumbs or carry a blanket.
Nursing can help ease both of you through the tears, tantrums, and tumbles that come with early childhood, and helps ensure that any illnesses are milder and easier to deal with. It's an all-purpose mothering tool you won't want to be without! Don't worry that your child will nurse forever. All children stop eventually, no matter what you do, and there are more nursing toddlers around than you might guess.

Whether you nurse for a day or for several years, the decision to nurse your child is one you need never regret. And whenever weaning takes place, remember that it is a big step for both of you. If you choose to wean before your child is ready, be sure to do it gradually, and with love.

Got breastmilk? and other breastfeeding onesies and tshirts available at Made By Momma


1.) Facts for Life: A Communication Challenge, published by UNICEF, WHO, and UNESCO, 1989
2.) Katherine Dettwyler. A Time to Wean. Breastfeeding Abstracts vol. 14 no 1 1994

©1997 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC
Used with Permission
Email Diane or write to her for information on how to obtain more of her articles.

136 Ellis Hollow Creek Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

Related information:

Natural Weaning 

A Natural Age of Weaning

How Weaning Happens (book)

Baby-led Weaning (book)

Baby-led Weaning (website)

Breastfeeding Resource Page (books, articles, websites).



  1. I just love that piece! I stumbled across it when my son was a newbie and I found it helped me push on through with breastfeeding.

  2. A lovely post , your blog makes me smile and nod along in agreement)
    Fwiw as i read and type my 15month old (non circ of course) son is feeding to sleep . I love it :)

  3. What a wonderful post! It made me tear up and so much of it rings true to me. My daughter is a year and has only been sick, mildly, once for less that 24 hrs when I had the same thing for days and other kids her age seem to be sick all the time.

    I attribute this to the great antibodies I was giving her from my breastmilk. We plan to go until at least 18 months or self weaning and will re-access at 18 months whether we need to go further if she is not ready.

  4. Oh I loooove this post. I myself keeps reminding my fellow new mothers to breastfeed their babies because simply it's the BEST for both mothers and babies. I nursed my daughter Zahra until she's 2 years and 3 months... she never had formula even a sip! And I'm very grateful of the outcome... she's now 3 (and 4 months old) and we only went for a sick-visit to her doctor ONCE! and that was a very mild ear infection (when she got a very bad cold during winter). And it only took me 3 days to wean her completely from nursing "all the time", hee hee :). And simply had a conversation with her about it... and that's it! Thank you for this post... I would love to translate it to Indonesian and so my fellow mothers (in Indonesia who doesn't really speak/read English) can read it too on my own blog and I will link back to this original post, if you don't mind :)

  5. Yaty - please do translate for sharing with mothers in Indonesia and let us know the URL/link so we can include it here for others as well.
    Thank you for all you do!

  6. Thank you for the awesome reminder to those of us who were limited in the time that we were able to breastfeed that we still gave our children an amazing gift by trying. :) Even though my oldest was only exclusively breastfed for a couple of days and supplemented with breastmilk for a few weeks, he has never been seriously ill, and every bout of illness he's had (maybe one ear infection and a bout of foot and mouth) in four years has cleared up quickly and been very weak. My youngest was exclusively breastfed even longer (several months) and supplemented with breastmilk until he was six months or so, has only ever had pneumonia (out of nowhere), and at 18 months has fought it off with nothing more than a high-grade fever that tipped us off to take him in for antibiotics. I have happy, healthy, bright kids and I know I helped them!

  7. I loved nursing by babies!!!!

  8. DrMomma, so sorry for sending this a bit late. I did translate the article in Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) and put it on my blog. Here's the link:

  9. My three kids were all nursed until about age three. They are now age 13, 9 and 9 (twins - yes you can exclusively breastfeed twins too). The 13 year old has had antibiotics exactly one time and the twins have never had any at all.

  10. My 2.5 year old shows no signs of weaning, even though he has to share with his 4 month old sister! He nursed throughout my entire pregnancy, and contrary to popular belief, did not cause preterm labour ... my daughter was born the day before her EDD, at home, in water! Both of them nursed throughout the day. Sometimes they tandem feed and hold hands as they do so ... it's gorgeous to watch. My older 3 all self weaned between 13 and 17 months old, so this was a totally new experience for me!

    1. how sweet to see them holding hands, you're so lucky:)

  11. This is a great article because it highlights the advantages that ANY breastmilk days/weeks/months can give rather then just promoting the absolute ideals of exclusive breastfeeding until the child weans.
    For those of us us struggled and strived to feed for as long as possible it is very comforting to read the advantages of those shorter time periods even as we mourn the time periods that we were not able to achieve.
    Every single individual feeding is valuable!

  12. Hey, nice! Signed, mama to Canaan who is four years old today and still nursing strong!

  13. I love this!!! this is the first time I have seen it! WILL share it!!!!!!! I am 15 months and counting!

  14. I love this. I breastfed my child for 2 years (now 2.5). I always needed encouragement to hit my next personal BFing 'milestone'. Originally, I committed to nursing the first 3 weeks. As I breastfed, I was motivated as I learned more about the benefits of breastfeeding. In fact, I had planned to wean her at 1 year but as I researched "how to wean" I came across all the benefits of BFing into the 2+ year...and recommitted to another year. Our daughter has only had 1 fever in her 29 month life! No ear infections, or any other medical issues (food allergies, etc). Her speech is advanced and easy to understand because nursing strengthened/toned her facial muscles. We have a wonderful bond. I wasn't sure I *could do it* for 2 years--but I did. And it feels SO GOOD. I would also like to add that it is important for fathers to support mothers who want to BF. My husband also feels 'proud' for being there for me, bringing me water, carving out time for for us to nurse, supporting BF in public, etc. He was happily involved with the baby when I felt "touched out"- and needed a break from nursing. I look forward to BFing our next child...

    1. I have never regretted breastfeeding my son, now 20 months and still nursing strong along with solids. I began thinking i would EBF for 6mo, then kept going as it became so easy. Sometimes night nursing is tiresome but its a few spurts here and there when he is teething, sick etc. He is happy, alert, strong and healthy. Now I'm ok with the idea of 24+ months until he is ready to wean. It's worth the investment in time, and you save a ton of $$ not having to buy formula. The best tool to heal a boo-boo or soothe a fear. I'm proud of my mothering, mostly due to breastfeeding.

  15. I loved breastfeeding. I lost all the baby wieght and didnt put on a pound the two years I nursed. My children have never had an ear infection and are advanced in school. Why anyone would spend all that money on formula that couses gas,vomiting,bloating ext... is beyond me. Not to mention getting up in the middle of the night to heat it up? Not me.

  16. Love this, so positive and encouraging! I'm nursing my 4th child, he's almost 3 and going strong!



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