Breastfeeding beyond the first few months
Breastfeeding continues to be important for children’s nutrition, development and care after the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding at current levels is considered to be able to contribute on average at least:
- 75% of the energy requirements for children 6-8 months
- 50% between 9-11 months
- 40% between 12-24 months
When breastfeeding is well established and supported it can contribute an even larger percent to energy and nutrient requirements.
Breastmilk is also a major provider of protein, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and protective factors. It provides more calories and nutrients per ml than most of the other foods, and much more than the soft cereals, baby rice or pureed vegetables that are typically some of the first foods given to older babies.
If babies stomachs are filled with nutritionally poor foods, they will take less breastmilk and their overall diet and health will be inferior. The contribution of breastmilk is often overlooked in the enthusiasm to get complementary feeding started. The challenge is how to feed other foods so that they add to the nutritional contribution of breastmilk, rather than replace it.
Read Marian’s story about breastfeeding her 4th baby after bottle-feeding the first three children.
The Breastfeeding Network supports the recommendations set out in the World Health Organisation’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (2003) which states that:
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond . Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.
Click here for a full version of The Global Strategy
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) frequently focuses on the value of continuing to breastfeed children up to 2 years or beyond.