So your baby is now 6 months old. Congratulations! You survived and are hopefully enjoying the crazy ride that is parenting.
Now that your baby is getting bigger, what happens to breastfeeding? It’s a common question - so here are 6 tips for breastfeeding beyond 6 months of age.
1) When it comes to solid food and breastmilk, what do you offer first? The approach I like best is to offer baby some food when you or the family are eating food, then offer a breastfeed straight after. Offering cooled, boiled water in a sippy cup with meals is fine, if you choose. At other times, if baby indicates she wants a breastfeed, just follow her cues and continue to feed on demand. Don’t hold off on giving her milk in the hopes that she will eat more food at the next meal, or because you are worried about filling her up.
2) Remember that milk is still her main source of nutrition throughout the first year of life, and some babies take a lot longer than others to take to eating. This is normal. When you do start introducing food, stick with vegetables, fruit and protein. Empty carbohydrates such as baby cereal or baby rice have little nutritional value and in my opinion, are wasted opportunities for baby to explore real food.
3) The frequency of baby’s breastfeeds does not matter. Whether they are still feeding every 2 hours, or every couple of hours, or only once or twice in the day and then frequently overnight - as long as baby is happy, hydrated and satisfied, it’s OK. Most importantly, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that baby’s breastfeeds should decrease at this age, because…
4) Breastfeeding is about more than just nutrition. Not only does your baby get calories, vitamins and minerals from your milk, they also get continued immune support and the warmth and comfort of being snuggled into their mother. For a baby who is exploring the world and realising how big and scary (and wonderful and exciting) it can be, breastfeeding is such a wonderful way for him to slow down and reconnect with mum (even just momentarily!)
5) Night feeds are still important, for both calories AND comfort. Even if baby just has a few sucks and drops back off to sleep, that closeness is still fuelling important brain growth (which is arguably even more important than piling on delicious baby-chub). Feeding to sleep is still FINE so long as mum and baby enjoy doing it. You don’t have to stop out of fear that he will never learn to settle in other ways. If there comes a time in the future that feeding to sleep stops working for you, you can explore other gentle ways to help baby off to sleep then. But until that time comes (and for many parents, it never comes - their child just naturally shifts to enjoying other forms of comfort) enjoy it. Guilt-free.
6) Around this age you might start hearing comments such as: “are you really still breastfeeding?” “How long are you going to keep doing that for?” “When are you going to wean him so he can have a sleep over with his grandmother?” (Sigh!) Keep in mind that the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond. So, even though you don’t really need to dignify those nosy questions with an answer, quoting the WHO is usually enough to put people in their place. Bottom line: when you decide to wean is up to you and your baby. Nobody else.
Breastfeeding beyond 6 months of age really doesn’t look that different to breastfeeding in the early months. The main thing to remember is that, just like with everything else related to parenting - there are no set rules.
Just continue to follow your intuition and follow baby’s cues. If you do that, you really can’t go wrong.
Georgina Dowden is a mother, midwife and lactation consultant (IBCLC).
In her day to day life, she looks after her two beautiful children and also supports other families on their parenting journey.
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Home visits for breastfeeding support available if you live in the Northern Rivers of NSW.